Geographical Decade Review: 2010-2019 (Part 2)

So forget the run-down of the top pop-hits of the twenty-tens, ignore those sporting achievements that, not all of us are that bothered about really. Here we go with a review of the ten most noteworthy items through a Geography lens.

Part one posted on New Year’s Eve gave numbers 10 to 6, ordered in ascending rank of significance and importance (by no quantative measure, just by my opinion!). And now, for the final five.

5. Youth activism


Youth activism may not be nothing new, but we certainly heard a lot more about it in the 2010s. While it was hard to ignore the global ‘School Strike 4 Climate‘, which started off by a lone Swedish teenager called Greta Thunberg (you may have heard of her), that has only been the most famous example of the perceived rise of youth activism, protest and political movements over the past decade. There have been other influencial youngsters addressing a range of issues that have not had the same limelight that Greta has had. Staying on the climate front, the name ‘Avery McRae’ has been forgotten. Starting her activism at the age of five, Avery became one of youngest members of the youth group that took the US government to court in 2015 over it’s persistent failure to address the climate breakdown. Closer to home, it was a delight to have ‘Birdgirl’ Mya-Rose Craig give a talk at the 2016 Geographical Association conference, whom has recently been featured in a Guardian interview alongside Chris Packham and Ellen MacArthur. There are more youth activists out there than people realise, exampled by online lists like this one. And some are motivated by necessity rather by choice, such as the movement against gun violence in US schools.

4. Smartphones, mobile networking and connectivity


When I visited Malawi in 2013, I was amazed that even in the rural parts – some of the poorest areas in the world – it seemed that almost no one was without a mobile phone. More and more people in lower income countries are getting connected. For example, sliding this Gapminder graph of cell (mobile) phone ownership in Africa between 2000 and 2017 (latest figures at time of writing) shows a surge in preceeding decade being maintained into the following. If you can spare an hour(!) the Pew Research Centre gives a very comprehensive breakdown of smartphone and digital connectivity trends, but this feature from BankMyCell gives a lighter overview with some nice visualations. But what does this growing connectivity mean and what is its potential? Mobile technology and connectivity has been featured a lot on the BBC World’s Digital Planet Podcast. Here are just some clips that cover these topics:

Listening to the short clips above will convince you of the potential benefits of being connected in developing and emerging economies. The Digital Planet podcast is well-worth subscribing for listening during your commute, you’ll pick up many things to discuss and share in the classroom or with colleagues. It’s Facebook group is a fertile bed for discussion too.

3. Extreme cold & extreme heat


There were three newsworthy major ‘cold waves’ in the decade. The decade began with the ‘Big Freeze’ (2010). I was ‘lucky’ enough to be having my year abroad when the ‘Beast From The East’ (2018) hit the UK (picture left). Just before that was the record breaking ‘Deep Freeze’ in parts of the USA. These cold wave extreme events over the past decade are noteworthy for me because of how they fuelled further ignorance and misunderstanding of the difference between weather and climate – most famously through a certain tweet mocking global warming. We will still see these cold waves in the future, but could this last decade be the last time we experience them as regularly?

The UK the Met Office have recently released an article concluding that the 2019 concludes a “decade of records”, reporting fewer cold records and far more heat records being broken. Provisionally, the recorded for the ‘highest December high’ was broken at the very end of the decade – a balmy 18.7*C in Achfary (Sutherland). And it’s not just the UK, as the WMO uses an almost identical headline to report the same conclusion globally. Of course here I’m talking about averages rather than extremes, but I’ll point to individual events in a moment.

2. Minding the gap (getting ‘woke’ over global development)


Fellow Geography teachers have ben thrilled, excited and grateful for the rise and popularity of the Gapminder Foundation. While not the only organisation to fight the scourge that has many of us thinking the world is still, statistically, stuck in the middle of the past century (let alone the past decade), it is without a doubt that over the last decade on the educational front, Gapminder, fronted by the late Professor Hans Rosling, son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling-Rönnlund has lit up the data and made it exciting and most importantly, accessible. Dollar Street is an absolute gem for younger learners; you could base a whole scheme of work on the book ‘Factfulness’; and I don’t know of a single colleague who had not made use of at least one of Hans Rosling’s TED talks or BBC documentaries. If we are to find some positivity going into the next decade, we can take it from Gapminder’s work, and that in the past decade those living in extreme poverty almost halved from around 1 billion to just over 500 million.

1. The ‘climate breakdown’ begins


While numbers ten to two in this list are arguable and debatable, whether they should be reordered or whether things should (or shouldn’t) be in the list, I am pretty confident that there are very few, if any, arguments that can knock this one off the top spot. Climate change has become so tangible now, that some commentators have changed even changed their language when reporting on it.

When I was in high-school in the 1990’s, my Geography teacher taught ‘climate change’ to our class using ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’. In the early 2000’s, I explored the data and read research closely as part of my university degree, and now scientists were talking about signals, probabilities and likelihoods. When I first started teaching in 2005, I was using language such as ‘would happen, if…’. Within the past ten years we’ve been ever increasingly starting attitribute, with significant confidence, current events to climate change. The Met Office now give a yearly publication and infographic, visualising the current state of the UK’s climate in relation to climate change (the latest being 2018 as 2019’s wont be out until the middle of this year). And NOAA do a fantastic visual summary each month (and each year) of the global state-of-play that you can access though an easy-to-use archive.

Seeing the need to make it easier for people to draw possible links between individual events and climate change, the organisation ClimateNexus has launched the ClimateSignals website. Here, you can use a clickable map or a search to look up an event, and in most cases, explore an easy-to-interprite diagram showing you the potential links between that weather event and climate change. Have a look at the page for the European Heat Wave July 2019 (top diagram below) and while the current Australian bushfires are too recent to yet be included it seems, the bushfire season of 2015-2016 can be used as a proxy (bottom diagram below).

Source: ClimateSignals

2019 saw a number of articles, such as this from the National Geographic, start to question whether are now starting to see ‘climate tipping points’ – changes to various parts of the Earth’s biosphere that could launch the planet into rapid and horrifying climate change. So while the last decade was when the climate breakdown became visible, the 2020’s may be the decade that may truly be the one which sees real breakdown. Are we too late to do anything about it? Will the upcoming decade be the last chance for mitigation on any level, or will it be full-steam ahead with adaptation?



Do you agree with my top-ten noteworthy geographical items of the last decade? What would you change, add or remove? Let me know in the comments below, or react via my respective Twitter and Facebook posts.

Thanks for reading, and the very best wishes for the next ten years.



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