Our February 2020 ‘Dawn of the Decade of Doom?’ recounted the events of Australia’s black summer, the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and other dark events that coincided with the start of the 2020s.
At the time of our April 2020 follow-up article, 13,000 Americans died in one week, pushing the US coronavirus death toll to over 50,000. UK deaths had reached 20,000. There were more than 2.8 million cases worldwide. The global number of fatalities had just passed 200,000.
The world faced a terrible test. The layering of simultaneous crises was a deep concern, and the immediate future looked bleak: California was about to experience its own black summer, Victoria was on the verge of a second covid-19 wave, and global power tensions were rising.
We were worried about what the rest of 2020 would bring – with good reason.
1 May 2020: In the disunited states of America, gun-toting protesters enter a Michigan government building, demanding ‘liberty’ and an end to coronavirus lockdowns.
19 May 2020: China imposes an 80% tariff on Australian barley, in part because Australia is seen as spearheading a global push for an investigation into the coronavirus outbreak.
20 May 2020: The remarkable coronavirus bipartisanship in Australia begins to fracture. The state vs state ‘border wars’ begin.
24 May 2020: After a series of bungles and failures, Rio Tinto’s iron ore division blows up the Juukan Gorge heritage area in WA. It was the only inland site that showed more than 46,000 years of continual occupation. It provided a deep-time link to the present-day traditional owners.
24 May 2020: Hong Kong protests continue. Armoured vehicles and water cannons are deployed. Police fire teargas as thousands rally against the national security law.
25 May 2020: On Memorial Day, Minneapolis Police Department officers kill George Floyd. His plea of ‘I can’t breathe’ becomes a rallying cry. Trump’s subsequent tweets fuel the biggest civil unrest in America since the civil rights era.
26 May 2020: Australian Black Summer Bushfire royal commission hears that smoke killed up to 450 people.
30 May 2020: China threatens war if Taiwan thwarts reunification.
31 May 2020: 40 American cities impose curfews. A police car drives into protestors in New York.
1 June 2020: Ebola outbreak in Congo. Sixth night of protests in USA, against systemic racism and police violence. Trump is rushed to an underground bunker. There are now also racism protests in Europe, the UK and New Zealand.
2 June 2020: The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating. Five-hundred species are on the brink of extinction – as many as were lost over the previous century. The previous year, the world lost 9.3 million acres of primary, tropical forest – an area nearly as large as Switzerland.
8 June 2020: Global COVID-19 cases top 7 million, deaths pass 400,000. Case numbers surge in India and Brazil.
10 June 2020: UK epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, whose research prompted Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, to introduce strict measures in late March, gives bombshell evidence to a committee of MPs that 25,000 lives could have been saved had Britain implemented a lockdown when its European neighbours did.
11 June 2020: California is burning. Wildfires rip through the hills north of Los Angeles. Scott Morrison’s incorrect claim that there was no slavery in Australia is a step back on reconciliation’s rocky road.
14 June 2020: Philippine-American journalist and head of news organisation Rappler, Maria Ressa, and a former colleague are convicted of cyber libel in Manila. Facing up to six years in prison, each is also fined $8,000. The verdict is a new setback for press freedoms in the Philippines, where President Duterte calls journalists ‘sons of bitches’ who are ‘not exempt from assassination’.
16 June 2020: India-China tensions increase after Chinese troops kill 20 Indian soldiers in a high-altitude border fight.
21 June 2020: Verkhoyansk in Siberia hits 100oF, the hottest temperature on record this far north. The Presena glacier in northern Italy is now covered with white tarps every summer, to protect it from the sun. The glacier has lost more than a third of its volume since 1993.
25 June 2020: Victoria is now in its Covid-19 second wave. Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announces more than 1000 troops will be deployed in Victoria to assist with the coronavirus response (the request is soon withdrawn). Premier Daniel Andrews announces a testing blitz to target ten suburbs across Melbourne.
28 June 2020: At least 2.5 million coronavirus cases in the US, including more than 125,000 deaths. India’s total reported coronavirus cases tops half a million, as locusts swarm Delhi.
29 June 2020: A sombre landmark is reached with 10 million Covid-19 cases worldwide and nearly 500,000 deaths. No sign of the pandemic slowing.
30 June 2020: The Hong Kong national security law comes into effect. Tens of thousands protest. The first arrests are made under new, anti-protest law, with penalties of up to life in prison.
1 July 2020: New swine flu-type virus with ‘pandemic potential’ identified in China.
2 July 2020: Trump says coronavirus will disappear. This is not the last time he will spread misleading advice. Worldwide, divisions between the Covid responsible and the Covid recalcitrants widen. A landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar kills at least 162 people.
5 July 2020: Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak continues to accelerate. Nine public housing towers and 12 suburbs are locked down. Kanye West announces 2020 Presidential run. Elon Musk tweets his support.
6 July 2020: UN experts warn that zoonotic diseases (those that can jump from animals to humans) are increasing and will continue to do so without action to protect wildlife and preserve the environment. A suspected case of bubonic plague is found in an Inner Mongolian city. US health officials confirm a case of a rare brain-eating amoeba in Florida.
8 July 2020: NSW-Victoria border closure. Picturesque ‘watermelon snow’ in the Italian Alps spells bad news for the Earth’s climate. The pink colour is thanks to algae that carry the carotenoid pigment.
10 July 2020: Tearful WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus blasts a ‘lack of leadership and solidarity’ during the pandemic.
15 July 2020: Study concludes the record-breaking heatwave in the Siberian Arctic was made at least 600 times more likely by human-caused climate change.
19 July 2002: Kayne West holds bizarre first rally for presidential campaign.
20 July 2020: Study finds polar bears could be extinct by the end of the century.
21 July 2020: Images of the Amazon in Brazil ablaze shocked the world in 2019, but since then the forest hasn’t stopped burning.
22 July 2020: Mayors in major US cities including Chicago and New York warn Trump not to send federal officers to patrol their streets. America is at war with itself.
23 July 2020: Australian Treasury forecasts two years of negative economic growth.
25 July 2020: UK to boost its ability to handle threats posed by Russia and China in space. With a name and a job worthy of an Ian Fleming character, Will Whitehorn is president of UKspace. He warns: ‘If you actually fired at other satellites, space would quickly become a field of massive shrapnel and, as you can imagine, that would be the end of space.’
29 July 2020: Australia records its biggest quarterly CPI fall since 1948, and the first negative result since 1997-98.
2 August 2020: Victoria declares a state of disaster. The first ever widespread night-time curfew is imposed on Melbourne.
3 August 2020: Hell smiling back: A smiley face is spotted in the lava in the crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano.
5 August 2020: Nuclear-scale explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. Heard as far away as Cypress, the blast kills 135 and injures over 5000.
8 August 2020: Oil spill off the coast of Mauritius.
10 Aug 2020: In NSW a severe weather warning for damaging winds and surf is issued for Sydney, the Central and mid-North Coasts, and the Hunter and Illawarra areas. Wind gusts of 70km/h produce reverse waterfalls in the Royal National Park. Unusual ‘derecho’ storms hit several Midwestern US states, with winds of up to 140 mph. Fourteen million acres of Iowan crops are damaged.
11 August 2020: Coronavirus world tally hits 20 million, with more than 734,000 deaths. British scientists predict the Arctic could have no sea ice in summer by 2035.
13 August 2020: Worst ever GDP drop in UK since records began. Economy shrinks by over 20 per cent.
16 August 2020: California’s Death Valley hits 129.9oF, possibly the hottest reading ever reliably recorded on the planet.
20 August 2020: Potentially destructive Russian wheat aphids found in Australia’s largest grain-growing state, Western Australia. Freak waterspouts seen in the Gulf of Mexico.
23 August 2020: The second and third largest fires in Californian history are simultaneously burning, two of nearly 700 fires burning in that state. At least seven people are killed. People sleep in their cars rather than risk exposure to coronavirus in evacuation shelters.
24 August 2020: German doctors confirm Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent. The Kremlin dismisses the accusation.
25 August 2020: Mystery seeds arrive at Australian addresses from Asia, prompting fears of biosecurity risk. People around the world have been receiving similar parcels.
27 August 2020: Hurricane Laura kills 77 people and causes widespread devastation across the Caribbean and southern US.
1 September: 2020: Residents along Indonesia’s Cisadane River endure not only the coronavirus but also a deluge of medical waste: a constant stream of syringes, face masks and hazmat suits floating by.
2 September 2020: Global coronavirus cases have topped 26 million.
4 September 2020: Former head of America’s National Counter-Terrorism Centre Russ Travers warns of mass casualties from political violence if Trump keeps up his rhetoric of a ‘rigged’ election. ‘I fear there are a lot of people out there with very warped views of reality and a lot of guns who could willingly take up their weapons in defence of what they believe is the President and the constitution,’ he told ABC News. The Belarusian opposition leader uses a UN meeting to call for an end to crimes against humanity. Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, is ablaze. Thousands of animals have burned to death in the worst fires in the biologically diverse region in 15 years. Sir David Attenborough declares humanity is at a crossroads but we can still tackle the climate crisis: ‘The natural world is under serious threat and the consequences could be apocalyptic.’
5 September 2020: A 30 year study of southern right whales reveals unexpectedly reduced numbers in the last two years.
6 September 2020: Scorching heatwave wallops southern California. Record temperatures are set, fuelling new fires, fanning existing ones and causing power outages. These extremes fit a long-term trend towards longer and more intense heatwaves in Southern California.
8 September 2020: The last two Australian journalists working in China flee the country amid a ‘diplomatic standoff’. For the first time since the mid-1970s, there are no accredited Australian media journalists in China.
10 September 2020: ‘’Good morning, hell.’ Californians wake to apocalyptic skies as wildfires rage. The World Meteorological Organisation warns the Earth may temporarily pass a dangerous 1.5℃ warming limit by 2024. The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report notes animal populations worldwide have declined by almost 70% in just 50 years.
13 September 2020: Queensland Chief Health Officer under police protection after death threats over border closure. The Queensland Premier accuses PM Morrison of bullying over border restrictions. The Chinese military calls the US the biggest threat to international order and world peace.
18 September 2020: Coronavirus infections pass 30 million worldwide, with 942,989 deaths. Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies and Trump seizes the opportunity to transform the US Supreme Court from a fragile 5-4 conservative majority into a 6-3 supermajority.
19 September 2020: ‘Age of Fire’: International fire expert and historian Stephen Pyne tells the ABC Landline program we are living in the ‘Pyrocene’ age and warns the world is about to be overwhelmed by this new era.
20 September 2020: Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney quits her special envoy role over Britain’s pending Brexit breach: ‘It threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences for the world.’
21 September 2020: UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warns about 6,000 Britons a day are now contracting coronavirus, and on the current trajectory the UK could have 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October. Massive rescue operation underway to try to save more than 450 pilot whales stranded on Tasmania’s West Coast. 380 whales perish.
22 September 2020: Australia’s domestic spy agency reveals a dramatic rise in the number of violent right-wing extremists under surveillance; warns some groups are employing Islamic-State-style radicalisation tactics.
24 September 2020: New study finds melting Antarctic ice will raise sea level by 2.5 metres – even if the Paris climate goals are met: ‘The more we learn about Antarctica, the direr the predictions become.’ Donald Trump refuses to commit to ‘peaceful transfer of power’ if he loses US election.
29 September 2020: Coronavirus global death toll hits 1 million.
1 October 2020: During the first presidential debate, Trump fails to condemn extreme right-wing group the Proud Boys, tells them to ‘stand back and stand by’.
2 October 2020: Donald Trump and wife Melania test positive for coronavirus after close aide Hope Hicks contracts the virus (though the Trumps may have had it first).
6 October 2020: World Health Organization expert Mike Ryan warns 10% of the world’s population may have contracted COVID-19.
9 October 2020: There are ‘credible threats’ via social media to kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan’s attorney general.
11 October 2020: COVID infected President Trump takes his mask off to address a campaign rally at the White House. North Korea shows off its nuclear weapons, including a monster missile that can purportedly reach mainland America.
12 October 2002: Research shows that coronavirus can last longer on surfaces than first thought – up to one month on glass and 28 days on plastic money. Parts of the UK are back in lockdown. The UN reports that extreme weather events have soared in the past 20 years, Asia being hit the hardest, and the world is on track for more frequent events.
Now: Australia’s promised federal integrity commission has again been delayed, despite lurid scandals and warnings of heightened corruption risk in the coronavirus era.
Our arts, education, entertainment, sport and hospitality sectors are all doing it extremely tough. Thirty thousand university staff have lost their jobs. This will hamper our recovery and our capability to meet future threats.
JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments are being wound back while unemployment is rising and Australia’s second biggest city is locked down. Impacts are falling disproportionally on women in particular, and on people already experiencing disadvantage. We need a rainbow recovery not just a blue one.
Superannuation has been raided and zombie businesses are about to be unleashed. Nationally, we are heading for a fiscal cliff.
Apart from causing millions of deaths, COVID has caused a retreat on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Global poverty is set to double this year.
COVID has also triggered an unprecedented reduction in the use of fossil fuels: global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to drop nearly 8% this year, the largest fall ever recorded. But California is still burning and Australia is entering another extreme bushfire period. (Imagine trying to maintain social distancing during an evacuation or in an emergency shelter.)
Scientists warn that, unless world governments turn to clean and green technologies, the post-crisis economic re-boot could be disastrous for sustainability and our efforts to meet the pan-generational, existential challenge that is climate change.
Many of the worst climate predictions are coming true. Water wars, climate refugees, sea level rise, mass extinctions. No-one expects the world’s current rough patch be over by 1 January 2021, even if we see the end of Trump and his cronies. This year is indeed the ‘Dawn of the Decade of Doom’.