SSG Newslitter – February 2024


February 21, 2024

My first Newslitter was published in December 2022 – a one-page comment on Ukraine, two COPs, and extreme weather events. and evolution of COVID-19. The intention that it be followed by monthly quick-takes on ‘big’ news of the day was almost immediately overwhelmed by the accelerating pace at which the pile of noteworthy news continued growing. Newslitter 2 arrived in February 2023, on four pages1 about nuclear matters, education, AI and democracy, and a last-minute addition; population.

This Newslitter, #3, was promised for the summer of 2023 with a focus on the global brouhaha2 about AI, about whether its sudden and instantly-of-interest-to-all arrival signalled a destructively chaotic end of humanity and/or a thrilling brightening of planetary opportunities.

However, even by 2023’s late spring, it had become clear that focusing only on ‘large language models’, regardless of largeness or excellence, would shortchange a year already rich in all other significant news-litter. A new ‘theme’ was needed. A Frank Bruni article in the NYT led me to it. He wrote of his concern about overusing two words; iconic and unprecedented. I quickly settled on unprecedentedness and the title: 2023- Year of Peak Unprecedentedness.

2023: A Year of Peak Unprecedentedness

A summer of marching3 to a drum-roll of ever more ‘newsworthy’ events soon provoked a question. Should I halt research for NL 3 ‘now’, already months after originally intended, or carry on until 31 December 2023 to truly reflect my title. I carried on. It was the right decision because unprecedentedness continued throughout the autumn and, arguably, ramped up.

By New Year’s Eve, I had a collection of 261 examples, all wrapped in one powerful impression: No individual and no organization was in charge of, or prepared for, the stormy flood – an ‘issue-river’ – of what had been unprecedented in 2023 nearly enough to understand, let alone control or exploit them.

My Philosophy on Unprecedentedness

I believe highlighting and reflecting on unprecedentedness is greatly needed and inherently beneficial. This is because the awareness so generated represents a potentially4 valuable foundation5 for understanding what has become called a “polycrisis”, which is key to proactive, timely preparation for ‘future’ events, with or without a 2023 precedent.

Becoming more resilient in the face of today’s polycrisis can offer some confidence that the consequences of what was unprecedented in 2023 and what the future will hold – its unpredictability already demonstrated early in 2024 – will not be less likely to spread and intensify into a permacrisis6 that overwhelms even the most competent policy-makers, and the hopeful ‘futures experts’.

How we fared in 2023 when faced with unprecedented major, life-changing, or inevitably-to-be-repeated challenges can be considered benchmarks; a set of KPIs for what needs to be done – or not done – more, better and quicker, next time. Although human nature is to take ‘lessons’ from catastrophes and disasters more seriously than from happy surprises, both ends of the unprecedentedness spectrum deserve attention.

Are we really worse than ever before?

Everything unprecedented has one common feature, regardless of the theme or context. It is the date in the past at which it is backstopped, in relative or absolute terms. This can be as ‘past’ as when history began to be recorded or as recently as minutes ago. The unprecedented event or condition backstopped at the ‘beginning of history’ is usually described as ‘the first time’. A recent unprecedented event or condition – of natural or human cause – can also be noted as a ‘first….ever’ or an ‘unparalleled’ one. But, given how much ‘history’7 now exists, the more recent unprecedented examples are most noteworthy because of their suddenness, destructiveness or costs compared to previous ‘same-type‘ events. ‘Worse than ever before’ is a common refrain.

Ignored at peril is that the unprecedented, given their ‘shock and awe’ characteristics, can divert attention from existing events and conditions that continue to deserve it, sometimes more so because the new event or condition increases or magnifies existing demands and challenges. This is so whether or not the newly unprecedented is the same or different to what has already happened.

Also, unfortunately, the global unevenness of humanity’s circumstances and the planet’s condition guarantees that other than death or extinction, there are no common metrics against which to prepare for, measure, survive, respond to, mitigate or remedy the unprecedented that is so catastrophic or cataclysmic as to be existentially threatening.


The following thematic lists include my selections from the now 271 examples from 2023. This was done somewhat ruefully because each example deserves more than its title or a short phrase8.

Remember: Each set begins with “Unprecedented….”.


Number of casualties from and duration of conflicts (since WWII). Russian resurgence after a bad first year in Ukraine. Drones are key to winning wars. Nagorno-Karabakh settlement by Azerbaijan. New (all-) arms races., Myanmar rebels winning against the junta. Wagner’s attack on Moscow. Number of conflicts over religion-ideology. Number of war journalists killed since WWII. Near-end of arms controls. Hamas invasion of Israel. Transnational repression by directed diasporas.


Hottest year ever. Highest heat index ever. Wettest year ever. ‘Fastest’ storms ever. Windiest year ever. COPS 28 is a 3-way unresolved battle over methane+financing+semantics. The ocean off Florida reaches 100 degrees F. The salt water reaches New Orleans. Arctic thaw acceleration. Drought in the Amazon. Glacier ‘floods’. Flora and fauna are existentially threatened.


Weather outpacing forecasting. Tens of 1000s of wildfires. Number of disaster evacuations. A smoked-out continent. Multiple extreme atmospheric rivers, heat bombs, wind bombs, and wildfire weather.
Artificial Intelligence. Role reversal (see footnote 1). Non-stop debate about the number of types of AI. Non-stop, all-media, extreme analysis+debate+demands. Unpredictably disruptive influence (on every human activity). Opportunities for criminals. ‘Information’ explosion. Attack on privacy. Democratization of ‘expertise’. Reordering of worker essentialness. Hopes for global learning and health.

(Other) Technology

Renaissance of nuclear energy (and fusion hopes). Knowledge of the brain. Dam degradation. Cheap DIY weapons. Infrastructure failure. Numbers of recalls (vehicles, accommodations, furniture, drinks, food, literature). Cyber mega melt-down. Ransom-ware impunity. Corporate computer Chip bonanza. Number of computer code vulnerabilities.


Africa’s 3500 km coup belt of six nations. Corporate influence in military planning and performance. The humbling of superpowers. NATO expansion. COPs cop-outs. Russia-China ‘compact’. Rule of man; Xi, Putin, Erdogan, Trump, Netanyahu, Aliyev, Musk, Jong Un,…. . Weakening of personal freedoms. ‘MAGA’ durability. Multi-polar, three-power world.


BRICS increase to 119, UN impotence; expelled from Mali/useless to Haiti/irrelevant in Ukraine…. Confirmed multinational/muti-polar election interference. Transactional protectionism. Number of VVIPs disappeared, killed, jailed, and purged. Israeli extremism. Obstacles to nations’ neutrality. American polarization since the Civil War. Intensification of re-shoring. Delay of a UN global Summit; 2023 Summit of the Future. Level of distrust of government. Numbers of humans profitably trafficked with impunity since slavery times. Withdrawal from Africa (less Russia/China). Weapons hand-in by London police. Number of tit-for-tat ‘diplomat’ expulsions. High-quality disinformation and deep-fakes.

Reputation (Reversal)

China rising until October. The US is the ‘city on the hill’. (Trump indicted 91 times, speaker ‘vacated’, freedom of abortion widely erased). Canada is a respected, competent middle power. India is a ‘democracy’. Happy Sweden (gang wars). UN relevance (General Assembly attended by leader of only one of P5, retreat from Mali, ignored by NATO, powerless UNSG. Importance of ‘Human Rights’. Democracy is ‘the best’ system. EV and Hybrid vehicle reliability;49 and 79 % less than ICE. Windpower is good.

Civil society

Concurrent, consecutive, force-multiplying disasters. Housing crises; price/availability/accessibility. Fear and anger (one media article attracted 11,424 comments in 24 hours). Hundreds of new words/terms. ‘Barbieheimer’ celebration. Air travel chaos from multiple causes. Growth in number of urban homeless camps. DNA-enabled solution of decades-old Cold Cases. Deepening of embedded global inequality. Number of desperate migrants/displaced. Mass civilian killings. Population-issue contradictions; aging + falling fertility + tax base + health demands. Debunking of ESG ‘values’. Failure of multiculturalism. Spreading of intense opioid epidemics/crises. Numbers of threatened school children. Domestic fatal violence. Removals of history. Prohibition of books, Crises in public well-being.


Number of teenage, unseeded, unranked international/global champions. Saudi Arabia sports purchases. Number of scandals. Number of coaches fired and/or jailed. Player/Coach salaries and incentives. Failures of storied Rugby Union clubs. ‘Diplomatic’ strength of international cricket. Attendances at women’s events. Price/costs of tickets. Criticism of IOC and FIFA, ignored by IOC and FIFA.


Sea lion escapes in New York floods. Number of fatal car accidents globally. Number of massive earthquakes in one year. Drought disruption of the Panama Canal. Ramming of boats by Orcas. Number of massively embarrassing national scandals exposed to the public. Number of pets abandoned/returned. A boom in MEGA-yacht sales. Number of faked art/antiques. Estimates of disaster damage and consequences costs. Weaponization of history. Displacement of China as most populous state.

Concluding Remarks

Today, 15 Feb 2024, all signals are ‘on’ for another year of unprecedented events and conditions. Weather extremes. Continuing conflicts. EIGHTY elections. American incivility. Russia unleashed. Fractious EU. The first Trillionaire. India ‘insistent’. Nature’s outbursts. The unknown Unknowns.

For Newslitter # 4, the themes may be new words and speckled justice, their trends in and drivers of the world’s stressed geopolitics. It will emphasize that there will never again be an opportunity to return to ‘normal’.


[1] As of today, 273, because some ‘news’ was not known until early this year.

[2] It is an experiential extravaganza that continues to feature an unprecedented role reversal regarding AI. Its inventors and experts expressed fears – some approaching certainty – of doomsday and the urgent need for loop-hole controls/regulations/guardrails/slow-downs/moratoriums, while the non-experts just got on with trying it out.

[3] Please note I have NOT called on any AI source or service to contribute to this Newslitter.

[4] Potentially, anyone can ignore the ‘news’ or know it is false (See Trump).

[5] Akin to a precedent in law. A decision in the past sets the tone and boundary conditions for legal decisions thereafter.

[6] Permacrisis. Element(s) of the polycrisis that are likely to be permanent crises.

[7] The very incomplete Victor-written histories plus ever more cyber-distributed additional facts and even more fiction provoked by biases, assumptions and interests that are immune to any threat of fact-checking.

[8] Please let me know if readers do not ‘see’ what an item in a list refers to. <>

[9] “In the end, History was made. Surpassing even the greatest of expectations, the BRICS nations performed a giant step for multipolarity by expanding the group to BRICS 11.“ Starting on January 1, 2024, the five original BRICS members will be joined by Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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