2012 has barely begun, but there is little time to reflect on the turmoil of last year’s remarkable events before preparing for the challenges ahead. In just a few months, seemingly unchallengeable Middle Eastern dictatorships were overthrown, and Europe was shaken by the uncertainties of the Euro crisis.
Not long after the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Fukushima provided a sobering reminder that even rich and well prepared countries like Japan can still be humbled by Nature, with aftershocks for the nuclear industry felt as far away as Germany.
And media organisations, already stretched by falling advertising and the desperate search for a new model of sustainable financing, were hit by the high one-off editorial costs of covering 2011’s events while – for some in the UK – questioning the ethics of news gathering with the ugly use of illegal phone tapping.
All that in a year when the global population reached 7bn, a sobering reminder of the underlying structural challenges for humanity in coping with rising urbanisation, tensions over food production and continued global warming – a trend for which the Durban summit that brought 2011 to an end offered scant reassurance.
Meanwhile, those studying and researching in British universities faced little protection from the harsh headwinds facing their colleagues elsewhere, with tuition fees rising, growing pressures on financial support and uncertain times for future employment.
But Imperial College is special, as this New Year edition of A Global Village testifies. It brings together some of the most remarkable people from around the world, reflecting the continued international lure of London and its focus beyond its own national and subject borders.
A welcome interdisciplinary focus is reflected in articles on a wide range of topics, whether the co-existence of prostitution alongside India’s rapid recent growth; the limits of lacto-vegetarianism in reducing food and energy waste; or the strains triggered up by a growing role for private, patented agricultural research in developing countries.
Technology and engineering, as befits Imperial’s roots, are underlying themes offering great potential, reflected in examples cited of the internet’s value in eLearning and apps for better informing consumers. Combining the best technical knowledge with a deep understanding of its social consequences across different subjects and borders would not be a bad resolution for the coming year.
Andrew Jack is Pharmaceuticals Correspondent with the Financial Times based in London.