By any measure, 2020 was a tough year. The covid pandemic has touched the lives of everyone, many tragically so. With the ‘new normal’ expanding far beyond social distancing and face masks, to encompass earning power, job opportunities and limits on international travel, it’s tempting to view 2020 as an archetypal annus horribilis. However, despite this, there are some good things that we might be able to look back one day and thank 2020 for…

1) Covid vaccines

Covid will not go away but it will be managed. For this we have the hard work and dedication of thousands of scientists worldwide to thank. Hundreds of vaccines and mitigation drugs have been in production since the beginning of the pandemic, proving the contingency planning and value of pharmaceuticals as imperative national assets. Several vaccines have come to the fore, all working differently and with complementary roles in future inoculation programs, giving humanity a great chance of defeating the pandemic. The covid vaccine is the very definition of triumph over adversity: International Rescue in a lab coat.

2) Culture was proven digitally

While 2020’s lockdowns all made us miss social interaction, and the art-shaped hole in our lives that only a live show or museum visit will fill, our existential culturelust has been filled – partially at least – by digital curation. Digital gallery tours, recitals and performances are now attended by millions worldwide. While the digital experience is unlikely to replace the physical one, the export and experiencing of culture through new mediums will be invaluable in furthering its transient power. In lieu of a plane ticket, who wouldn’t want to be able to tour Saudi Arabia’s lost cities or MoMA’s new Cubist exhibition from their armchair?

3) Emissions went down and ecology mattered

One thing 2020’s lockdowns did show was that we can pollute less and still function as complex societies. Research suggests the chances of getting covid do increase greatly with dirty air. However, as transport became restricted and factories shut down, air quality worldwide improved greatly, with poisonous gases such as nitrogen oxide reported to be between 30% and 80% less present. While emissions have risen since the first lockdown, the drop-off shows we can make changes and see instant results – valuable knowledge when fighting the next airborne disease

4) Fake news only went so far

Without saying the better man won, the defeat of Donald Trump in the US presidential race was a victory for the democratic recognition of responsible, accountable media. Both sides undoubtedly spun their media message but only Donald Trump espoused conspiracy theories and did not seek to condemn hate. The outgoing president’s duplicity online and his contempt for journalism have had damaging and long-lasting consequences. It is one aspect of his politics the American electorate turned their back on.

5) Space came closer

We made great strides in our cosmic ability. Elon Musk’s SpaceX Dragon delivery system was proven with two successful launches and the safe delivery of astronauts to the International Space Station. The success of these missions provides an alternative to the ageing Russian Soyuz rockets and leads a number of space ventures looking to make space travel a competitive industry. NASA also continued the development of their Artemis programme with the aim of returning humans to the Moon by 2024.