I have more hope for the future than I’ve had in years. No, I don’t live on another planet. I’m simply looking beyond current chaos. For example, last month a six-hour virtual meeting on YouTube featured international leaders, including Nobel laureates, former prime ministers and presidents, and environmental scientists, all discussing “green” solutions. Its most important take-away? We live in a single world and must work together to solve shared global problems.
Called “The Green Recovery,” it recognizes the COVID-19 pandemic as primarily a “crisis of public health, not of capitalism or globalization.” The future, it says, “can be shaped to meet today’s multiplying sustainable challenges.” It also identifies deep fault lines in our global economic and financial systems. “The challenge,” it suggests, “is to ‘green’ our entire operating system.”
These ambitions stimulate and excite me. When I began studying ecology in the 1960s, “ecosystem” wasn’t a household word. Today it’s widely understood to mean almost any type of complicated biological, social, economic or even electrical system. The main characteristic of any such system is that components interact both directly and indirectly.
Because of these linkages, it’s almost impossible to do just one thing without affecting other system components. Starting from the top, consider how physical, chemical and biological components interact to drive cycles of climate, seasons and an infinite variety of biological responses to these cycles, such as biodiversity and extinction.
Greening our entire system will require a major re-think of most preconceptions. Uncertainty abounds. “Normal” is extinct. Though the pandemic has our attention now, whatever the future holds, normal will be new. Let’s consider some of this newness.
Much has been written about how interconnections among pandemic, climate change, and wildfires exacerbate economic disparities. Entrenched poverty goes far beyond mere economics. It reflects realities of systemic racism and classism perpetuated over centuries. The chasm between the well-off and the poor is widening rapidly as unemployment continues apace, with little relief in sight. These issues are not limited to North America. To varying extents, Europe, Asia and South America share these problems.
So why do I still have hope? Some thinkers find a positive outlook in history. The late Hans Rosling’s book “Factfulness” is subtitled “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world — and why things are better than you think.” Steven Pinker’s encyclopedic “Enlightenment Now” marshals a broad array of data to project a positive future. His subtitle is “The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress.”
Although both books were published before the COVID outbreak, I doubt either author would reconsider. They might even view the pandemic as the opportunity we all need to restructure the world we share.
In “The Future We Choose,” Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, prime movers of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, offer options for what governments, corporations, and individuals can do to fend off disaster and survive the climate crisis.
What is needed is a science-based approach to solving problems as well as sufficient collective will to implement solutions. Organizations worldwide work to solve various aspects of these problems: the private sector is developing cheap energy sources and energy-efficient transportation and manufacturing; United Nations agencies and affiliates collaborate on health, environmental and agricultural issues; and many governments already encourage these efforts, as well as offering initiatives of their own.
But global efforts need global coordination. Last January, “Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century” was published by Cambridge University Press. On this 75th anniversary year of the U.N.’s founding, this book explores “challenges of governance far beyond what the U.N. … was designed to face.”
It considers climate change, partisan politics, income inequalities, human rights violations and other international problems. The book offers a “sensible approach” to developing foundations of an enhanced global constitutional order built on existing institutional infrastructure associated with the U.N.
Lastly, such extraordinary efforts to change the world require a woman’s touch, or perhaps touches of many women. “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis” does just that. Forty-four women share essays and poems encouraging a positive outlook for the future.
Its frontispiece asks: “Can you imagine all of us trusting each other working together for our common home?”
Pete Haug and his live-in editor and wife Jolie share ideas like these over dinner. Contact him at email@example.com.