Can lessons from 2022 help us shockproof the world in 2023?

Here is a list of challenges we might face next year, with some caveats

Nurses participate in a protest outside the St Thomas' Hospital in London in December. AP Photo
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What shocks will 2023 have in store for the world? Think of the surprises over the years and how they forced us to change our perspectives and decisions; Brexit, Donald Trump's US presidential election win, the Gulf crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are examples.

Then consider in 2022, there was also the US Supreme Court overturning its landmark 1973 "Roe v Wade" ruling, which had enshrined a constitutional right to abortion. And Liz Truss recorded only 44 days as British prime minister – the shortest-ever tenure – after markets and investors revolted over her fiscal plans.

Extreme weather, from Europe sweltering to flooding in Pakistan to the "blizzard of the century" in North America, caused chaos, death and destruction this year.

In Iran, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest sparked a huge wave of protests. The UN says hundreds have been killed and at least 14,000 arrested.

An energy crisis, resulting in higher prices across the world amid tight supply, has pressured consumers, businesses and governments alike. In Sri Lanka, it ultimately meant president Gotabaya Rajapaksa having to escape the country.

Finally, Lionel Messi won the World Cup, leading Argentina to victory in Qatar, even after losing their opening match to Saudi Arabia in a shock for the sporting ages.

In Lebanon, The National recorded 27 bank heists since the start of the year as depositors took desperate measures to access savings frozen after the country's economIc collapse.

FILE - Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with the World Cup trophy in Lusail, Qatar, in December. AP Photo
It is almost certain there will be many surprises to come in 2023

Some of the above examples – not meant to be an exhaustive list – could perhaps have been foreseen given developments in 2021, nonetheless they took most of us by surprise. Picking through what occurred this past year, there are signs of what could be the shocks of the coming 12 months.

Let's begin with the prospect of climate terrorism. We have seen, in France, a cement factory sabotaged by activists for its high emissions. In London, tomato soup was thrown at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting. SUV tires have been deflated in cities across Europe and the US. The top of a Christmas tree in Berlin was chopped off as climate campaigners in Germany literally stepped up their activity. The blockading of motorways, major city roads and airports, and individuals gluing themselves to various structures, have become common. It is worth wondering if this is only the beginning of the cycle of protests over climate action.

Andreas Malm, associate professor of human ecology at Lund University and author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline, told Bloomberg to expect more extreme acts. “The task for the climate movement is to make clear for people that building new pipelines, new gas terminals, opening new oil fields are acts of violence that need to be stopped – they kill people,” Mr Malm said.

Such a course would create fresh levels of fear and anxiety.

Next, one must think about rising levels of industrial action. In the UK, driving examiners became the latest group to strike over pay. A familiar scene in train stations has been crowds of people left waiting on platforms. Doctors and nurses are also taking measures.

The trend is set to spread across Europe, and perhaps beyond, as inflation and economic recession take more bites out of falling standards of living. The impact of millions more lost work days in 2023 to industrial action would be felt across borders and further disrupt supply chains.

Two protesters threw tomato soup at Vincent Van Gogh's 1888 painting 'Sunflowers' at the National Gallery in London in October. EPA

There's also the chance of a big company failing. It has been a rocky few months for stock markets and share prices. The outlook for growth for a number of former investment darlings are more pessimistic with global economic forecasts weakening. Business paradigms are swiftly changing and the nature of the herd mentality, thanks to social media and ubiquitous trading apps, means there could be a shock collapse of a huge company in 2023.

Also, technology hasn’t surprised us too much since the iPhone and we are due a real gamechanger. One even that might eviscerate a previously unassailable business model overnight, leaving the corporate landscape emptier.

Could this be the year when the football bubble finally bursts? So far proving immune to outside economic forces, the English Premier League has only become bigger since it was formed 30 years ago. In the past, there have been isolated crises at several big football clubs in Europe – most notably, Glasgow Rangers and Barcelona.

But it would be a huge surprise if billions of pounds were suddenly sucked out of the English game, especially given that the Bournemouth football club was recently taken over by American businessman Bill Foley in a sign many still believe in the health of England’s top flight. However, it cannot defy gravity forever.

Overall, we cannot, of course, predict such shocks with any great confidence, although it is almost certain there will be many surprises to come in 2023. Already there are signs of more war and conflict on the horizon. After the experience of this past year, we are all braced for worse.

Unless, of course, the real shock in 2023 is that there are none. Now, that is a thought worth savouring as the year draws to a close.

Published: December 29, 2022, 2:00 PM