The stories that are likely to make headlines in 2017

It’s likely that 2016 will be remembered as one of the most tumultuous years of the early 21st century, marked by Britain’s EU exit, worldwide terror attacks, and the highly contentious U.S. election.

Only time will tell what 2017 will bring, but six Northeastern University experts foresee a future in which the trends and pitched battles of 2016 will spill over into the coming year.

In the first installment of this two-part series, we look at some of the big news stories and bright ideas primed to make headlines in the fields of health, security, and sustainability.

When it comes to healthcare, ‘it’s not all division all the time’

As president, Donald Trump will look to make good on his campaign promise to “repeal and replace” President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. But this will be much easier said than done, says Jeanne Madden, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Health Systems Sciences.

“Many parts of Obamacare are popular and its interconnectedness makes it hard to kill off selected parts,” Madden explains. “There are also plenty of reasons to doubt that agreement can ever be reached on a replacement, or that a replacement will function adequately if Obamacare’s funding mechanisms are given away as tax cuts.”

Despite the partisan divide over the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans and Democrats have managed to come together to support the 21st Century Cures Act, which Obama signed into law last month. As the largest piece of healthcare legislation since “Obamacare,” the law, U.S. News & World Report explains, “has the potential to invigorate medical research, promote innovation, and speed the development of new treatments for cancer and other chronic diseases.”

According to Madden, it also includes substantial mental health reforms, including early intervention for psychosis and grants to increase the nationwide number of psychologists and psychiatrists.

“It’s not all division all the time,” she explains. “The bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act suggests that there is still broad support for medical research.” But, she adds, “people with mental illness risk disproportionate losses of coverage if Obamacare is repealed and Medicaid is eroded.”

‘Politically-motivated hacks will continue’

The annual number of cyberattacks will continue to increase in 2017, according to professor Engin Kirda, director of Northeastern’s Institute of Information Assurance.

Kirda pointed in particular to the vulnerability of the Internet of Things, including web cams, which can be appropriated by hackers to launch effective denial of service attacks.

“As our dependency on computing systems increases,” he says, “such cyber-systems become even more attractive targets for attackers who have a wide range of motivations.”

Alluding to Russia’s hacking attempts to influence the U.S. election, he added: “We saw that politically-motivated hacks can shape what people think while influencing the news cycles. In 2017, I think politically-motivated hacks will continue.”

‘Innovative, holistic solutions’ will unite climate change stakeholders

Climate change doubters can’t escape the facts, no matter how hard they try, says environmental policy expert Brian Helmuth: Despite the uptick of those who reject mainstream climate science, 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record and global warming will continue to disrupt society in 2017.

“As a colleague of mine recently said, ‘Thermometers don’t give you a different number depending on whether you vote left or right.’ This makes it more important than ever that we seek proactive, creative solutions that help society to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts, especially in vulnerable urban coastal areas.”

Helmuth, pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, expects the best solutions to unite a diverse range of climate change stakeholders, people who heretofore have never seen eye-to-eye on global warming. The strategies will be data-driven. They will make sense socially, economically, and ecologically. As he puts it, “The real breakthroughs in climate science that we will see in the next year are innovative, holistic solutions that bring together people representing truly diverse perspectives and who up to this point may have found little common cause.”

Northeastern is busy building bridges between these stakeholders. For example, Helmuth said, “we are successfully integrating traditional engineering solutions with green infrastructure in ways that both enhance resilience as well as maintain healthy ecosystems.”

The second installment of this two-part series will examine sports, politics, and TV.