It’s been almost two years since the coronavirus became part of our everyday life. Undoubtedly, we are all hoping that this is the year normalcy returns. Even in the face of the Omicron variant, there are reasons to be optimistic. Various immunologists are indicating that we will soon view COVID as an ongoing, seasonal part of life. An endemic, as opposed to a pandemic. From this standpoint, many believe 2022 will be a “better year” - we certainly do.
Not long ago, pundits pro-claimed 2020 to be one of the “worst years” on record. A quick Google search found an article from the New York Post entitled “2020 events: Yep, these things all happened in the year from hell.” Included in the reasoning for that dubious distinction were COVID, California and Australian wildfires and a Presidential impeachment. Oh, and don’t forget “murder hornets.” Similar arguments can be made for 2021 being the “worst year ever.” And while we understand COVID affected different families to different degrees, generally speaking, there have been much worse periods of time to be alive.
Medieval historian Michael McCormick concludes that 536 takes the prize - even over such years as 1918 (Spanish Flu killed 50-100 million) and 1349 (Black Plague wiped out half of Europe). He came to this determination after numerous scientific studies emerged piecing together the puzzle as to why 536 was such a difficult year for all of humanity.
For nearly 18 months, a mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness. Additionally, temperatures in the summer fell 3-5 degrees, leading to the coldest decade in over two thousand years.
Recently, a team of geologists studied ice core samples from ancient glaciers in northern Europe to determine weather patterns thousands of years ago. Much like growth rings in trees, a similar phenomenon in ice samples enables scientists to determine, with amazing precision, what the weather was like in any given year. Studying the chemical composition of these samples led the team to conclude that an enormous volcanic eruption occurred shortly preceding 536 AD. In addition, it’s speculated that a large fragment from Halley’s Comet plunged to earth that same year. It was these events that led to the extreme cooling of the climate, which in turn led to severe crop failure and famine across the globe.
To make matters worse, the bubonic plague struck the Middle East in 541 just as much of the world was beginning to rebound from the climate challenges. The plague was responsible for the deaths of nearly half of the Roman Empire, effectively leading to its collapse and the onset of what historians refer to as the “Dark Ages.”
So, while COVID has certainly had a major effect on most every area of our lives, it has not been nearly as catastrophic as previous pandemics. Medical, agricultural, and technological innovations have drastically improved our ability to deal with such “disasters.”
Social researcher Ian Goldin argued in his book Age of Discovery, we’ve never had it so good. Life expectancy has risen more in the past 50 years than the previous 1000; the likelihood of a violent death has never been lower; we’re better educated than ever, and childhood mortality has plummeted. Among the most striking changes is in global poverty: in 1981, almost half the people in the developing world lived below the poverty line; as of 2019, that figure had dropped to 9.2%.
On top of this has been a continued bull market through-out the pandemic, other than a few short months at the on-set. So, while you may hear the media opining about the bleakness of the last few years, it is important to keep everything in perspective. Yes, collectively we have been through a lot lately, but even if COVID sets us back a step, you can be sure that the inexorable march of progress and the sheer will of humanity will propel us forward.