How many more warnings do we need before we get serious about working together? We — people of all “races,” religions, genders, cultures and other distinctions that divide us — share a common planet.
All humanity is affected by global warming, by COVID-19, by their poorly understood ramifications. Multiple layers of government — national, state, local — and all manner of organization — international, regional, and local — struggle to coordinate. What will it take to bring us together?
For a bare beginning, each institution needs to determine how to cooperate with each other, then how to trust, to integrate ideas, and finally to implement those ideas — all just to begin solving problems.
History records a trajectory of societal development over millennia. Social units developed from family through clan, tribe, village, town, city, city-state and nation-state, culminating in nations that share Earth today.
A radical transformation took place in the 18th century when 13 colonies, each a nation-state, created for mutual protection a single nation independent of its colonialists. The need for unity was clear, as Benjamin Franklin noted just before the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Thus began the remarkable experiment known as the United States of America. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident,” wrote the founding fathers (no mothers here!), “that all Men are created equal ... .” Women? Forget it. They couldn’t even vote until 1920.
Those fathers, many of them slaveholders, agreed that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” among which “are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Happiness is elusive, especially in societies fraught with dissension as our nation was (and still is). A most uncivil war nearly cleft our experiment in two 85 years after its birth. People weren’t happy.
Yet we recovered, proffering hope for generations of immigrants seeking new lives in a new nation that promised unheard-of ideals. Immigrants built roads, railroads, and telegraph lines — a 19th century internet — all of which helped unite us physically over great distances.
We also wrested territory from neighbors and indigenous peoples. The 20th century dragged us unwillingly into “the war to end all wars.” Following World War I, nations began to realize that countries are interdependent. Europe looked for leadership to that upstart democracy across the Atlantic.
President Woodrow Wilson helped shape the League of Nations, the first institution to formally recognize international interdependence, but our Congress wouldn’t agree. Two decades later World War II threatened to rend all nations.
Even before thermonuclear explosions ended that war, allied powers began forming the United Nations. For 75 years the UN, through its many agencies, has increased awareness of global interdependence. The UN isn’t perfect. Yet it has advanced our understanding of how to work together.
Thanks to UN agencies we now realize that a warming atmosphere is foreclosing future options. “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis,” published in February, examines starkly contrasting options.
Authors Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac outline two possibilities for our planet. One scenario describes life on Earth in 2050 if we fail to meet the 2015 Paris climate targets; the other considers what it might be like to live in a carbon-neutral, regenerative world.
The second, optimistic vision postulates “good stewards” of the land and of one another, humans emerging “from the climate crisis as more mature members of the community of life.”
Climate change is a “threat multiplier.” It exacerbates other problems. Is there a connection between climate change and COVID-19? Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe explained in a simple tweet: “The short answer is, very little, but the long answer is, everything is related.”
Crises are opportunities. Will these crises help us recognize our interdependence, allow us to reconcile our myriad differing perspectives, and unify us as interconnected people on Earth — a single human race?
In the 19th century, Baha’u’llah predicted a future in which humankind recognized its own oneness, when prejudices would all but be abolished. “So powerful is the light of unity,” he wrote, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
That future is upon us. It’s time.
Pete Haug has been a one-worlder for most of his life. That’s why he’s so concerned about global issues like climate change and COVID-19. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.