2021 really does mark the start of a new era. Let’s make it a good one.
Each January a lot of us sit down to set our New Year’s resolutions. Things are going to change this year, we tell ourselves. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we do hold ourselves to our promises and take that next step. On other things we’re pretty lax. Gyms are often full through January before life gets in the way and numbers dwindle.
A lot of us thought 2020 was going to be our big year. Birders certainly did. There was something about the number that spoke to people. The calendar lined up nicely. A meme early in the year highlighted the fact that July 4 and Halloween both fell on a Saturday, Valentines, Christmas and New Year’s Days were all on Fridays, and other fortuitous calendar quirks.
It’s safe to say that no one’s 2020 went according to plan. Instead, we got a year that was full of isolation yet was simultaneously the most universal shared experience that those who went through it will likely ever have. In a way, those of us proclaiming 2020 to be a big year were right. It was the most consequential year of our lifetimes. We will be dealing with the ramifications of 2020 for decades at a minimum. In the big picture, the events of 2020 will change public health policy, the nature of work, and the level of trust we have in our institutions and even each other.
Something both deeply personal and of large public consequence is the drop in birth rate that will come along with the pandemic. There could be half a million fewer Americans born in 2021 than would have previously been expected. It will take a long time to measure the effects of that on the children who are born this year, the future workforce, and immigration. We also don’t know the full impact a year of disjointed learning will have on the kids a few years older than these pandemic babies.
There will be consequences of 2020 we won’t even realize until years or decades from now. But in the immediate term, we know that 2021 doesn’t just mean “new year, new you,” it means “new year, new world.” Effective COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out at record pace, giving promise to the notion that this year we’ll be able to get back to many things we missed. But very few things will be the same as they were before.
When we go out to eat, celebrating that we can gather with friends on the spur of the moment again, we’ll feel the pang that many of our favorite restaurants are gone and won’t come back. A significant percentage of us will never return to a regular office environment. The gyms won’t fill up in January like they did in years past, but they probably will at some point this year.
We’ll be able to go out into the world again. But all those countries we visit will be dealing with the fallout of the pandemic there, the scars it’s left on society, the devastation it’s wrought on tourism industries. Some places that were overcrowded before will make a concerted effort to limit numbers and develop a more sustainable approach to tourism. Places that lost a significant percentage of their GDP when travel stopped will be more desperate for travelers, but their own citizens might not be able to get a vaccine this year. And there will be a lot less business travel as companies have learned to do much more remotely.
The shortages global supply chains faced at various stages as various countries went into lockdown prompted calls for shortened, more local supply chains and more domestic manufacturing. Some corporations are giving it a go, and others will follow suit, but some will find it’s easier said than done. A new presidential administration will bring in different priorities. It might be able to get large relief and infrastructure bills passed. When Joe Biden starts his new job, there will still be millions of Americans out of work. His administration will try to push back against the tide of a changing climate.
It might be able to make some headway. As with the problems 2020 either caused or brought to the surface, 2021 is just a jumping-off point. But that’s why we write those New Year’s resolutions each year. We force ourselves to think about the things we want to change and the ways we can improve. We won’t solve all our problems in a year, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves, we have a lot of them. But we can sure as hell roll up our sleeves and get started.