Two thousand and seven was a year of significant news events, but with so much focus on Nicole, Britney and Paris, the editor in chief of "The Week" magazine says we may have missed stories of "more subtle, but lasting, importance."
Bill Falk talked about his list, published today in an editorial in "The New York Times," of the six stories or trends that he believes were most overlooked this past year but that will continue to have great influence into 2008.
The story that got little attention but, Falk says, may be of gravest importance to Americans, involves the drought in the Southeastern and Southwestern portions of the U.S. Falk says that while experts may disagree as to whether human beings are behind an acceleration in global warming, the consequences are not in contention: Forty three percent of the U.S. is in the midst of a moderate or severe drought that has already produced what Falk calls a "water war" among the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama. He describes the "big, yellow bathtubs rings" that surround the once mighty Lake Mead, evidence of how much the water level has dropped. Falk predicts that even those who don't live in those portions of the United States will soon feel the drought's impact as the price of crops, including peanuts, rise.
Not all of the magazine editor's "overlooked" stories of 2007 contain bad news. Under the heading "Hooray for Love Handles," Falk cites a recent medical study of 39,000 subjects which concluded that those who become "mildly chubby" in middle age, defined as no more than 25 pounds overweight, may actually live longer than people of normal weight or even those who are very thin. Falk says researchers conducting the study believe that the extra weight, and the muscle mass that comes with it, may actually fortify a person against disease. Not surprising, says Falk, doctors who are trying to encourage middle-age patients to lose weight don't want to spend much time talking about this study from 2007.
Another welcome trend, says Falk, in the past year is a growing acceptance in this country of gays and lesbians. Lost in the fight over gay marriage is evidence that individuals, even in the most conservative states, feel more comfortable admitting they are gay or lesbian. Falk points to a new analysis of Census Bureau statistics that found the gay population in Nebraska "jumped 71 percent between 2000 and 2005". In Kansas, the increase was 68 percent. Throughout the country, Falk notes, "the number of self-identified gay couples rose 400 percent since 1990." He says that it is not that "suddenly gay people are leaving New York and moving to Iowa." Instead, he says, people who were once afraid, "are coming out (of the closet) because their neighbors are more accepting".
As presidential candidates debate the issue of immigration reform, Falk says an important development is rarely, if ever, mentioned: the fact that the government has already started work on a 700-mile "wall" that will someday exist along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The structure, that includes both physical fences and "virtual" high tech barriers of cameras and radar, already extends for 150 miles.
And how many of us noticed in 2007 that, despite all the screens we place on our computers, we continue to be bombarded with spam? We have gotten so used to the annoyance that we may not notice that, on average, we spend 3 to four minutes a day deleting the nearly 200 billion spam messages sent out every day! Why is this an important story? Falk says that spammers are getting more and more inventive, creating spam and viruses that could continue to put computerized information at risk into the New Year.
Falk ends his list with a story about what he says is the American export of "the car culture." Working against the current American focus on "going green" is the new rage in China and India for Western cars that we are beginning to reject. Falk feels this story needs more coverage because of the warning of climate experts who worry that the love of American cars overseas will make it impossible to achieve "meaningful, worldwide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions" no matter how many sacrifices Americans make.
As Falk notes in his editorial, the drought in the U.S., caused by unusual weather patterns, caused at least one state governor in 2007 to stage a prayer ceremony on the statehouse lawn to call for rain. If we continue to export our car culture and the world doesn't take global warming seriously, Falk warns, "get used to praying for rain" in the New Year.