Will we roar or roast
in the 2020s, asks
Roger Ratcliffe

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Well, there goes the Teenies, a decade that for me has passed with such lightning speed my brain still seems to be stuck at a freeze-framed picture of Boris Johnson getting trapped on that zip wire at the 2012 London Olympics.

But let’s move on. Every decade appears to have a defining characteristic, providing a collective name to help us understand what it was all about. The Swinging Sixties, for instance, nailed the youth-driven cultural revolution of music, fashion, politics and hallucinogenic drugs, which according to The Who’s Pete Townshend was so mind-blowing that “if you remember the sixties you weren’t there”.

In contrast, the author Tom Wolfe christened the 1970s the “Me Decade” after the hippy-dippy communal spirit gave way to individualism and narcissism. Now people were getting high not through popping pills together but by jogging and going to gyms.

Perhaps inevitably this egocentric culture spawned a lack of compassion in the Greedy Eighties, encapsulated by the words of Michael Douglas’s financier Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street: “Greed… is good.” Then came what I’d call the Net Nineties, with the rapidly spreading interweb, and – my description again – the Nasty Noughties, a decade dominated by horrific terrorist outrages like 9/11 and 7/7, the near collapse of the world’s financial system, the rise of food banks in the UK, and the first major symptoms of global warming in the shape of Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans and widespread floods in England during the wettest summer on record.

So how might the Teenies be remembered? What events defined the decade that we are now leaving behind that people might still be talking about
in 50 years’ time?

Trying to maintain the tradition of alliteration, it’s tempting to call the decade the Traumatic Teenies. There is no doubt that we have woken up to the planet being a worse place than it was on the cusp of 2009 and 2010. Think of the huge flight of refugees, almost six million of them as a direct result of the Syrian civil war and a further two million fleeing conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan. Think of the ominous ascendancy of right-wing leaders in western democracies – no names, no pack drill. Think of our sudden horrific realisation that the oceans are awash with decades of discarded plastic. And think of one continuing theme from the Nasty Noughties, the accelerating crisis
of climate change.

In the UK, we now see that those once-in-a-century floods in places like Sheffield and the Calder Valley can quickly happen again. Similarly, the fires on Pennine moorland in the summer of 2018 were said to rage once in a generation, but were promptly reprised in 2019. And as I write this I receive a Sky News alert telling me that Australia is having its hottest ever day, the average maximum temperature hitting 40.9C.

And so to the 2020s. After a couple of decades of despondency it would be great to enter a period of optimism like the 1920s, known as the Roaring Twenties, after the post-WWI economic boom produced the hedonistic cafe society in western society. And we certainly do need cheering up. For starters, it would help if there was immediate concerted action on global warming before the decade becomes known as the Roasting Twenties.

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