5 Things Seriously Wrong With The World
21st Century World Needs New Global Rules
The world entered 21st century with new hopes, but could not say goodbye to the baggage of the last century. With year 2016 expected to be hotter than 2015, the threat of global warming and global climatic disorder is now too glaring to be ignored. Yet, the world leaders show no sign of shedding their slumber and the corporate-consumer model of development shows no sign of respecting the limits of the planet. Even the most ignorant person living in any corner of the planet can tell that the climate is no longer smooth and orderly. The feeling of not being able to do anything is stirring the suppressed conscience of the ordinary people across the world.
As world leaders continue verbal posturing (for public consumption) and carry on international negotiations (not meant to be honoured) giant corporations continue to “maximize profits” and the powerful and “free” corporate media continue to tow the lines of rich and powerful. Yet, the silent pain of ignored ordinary citizens is gathering momentum against the global power centers who dictate terms.
It also infuriates people when they see ‘developed’ nations waging trillion dollar wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but when it comes to fighting climate change and global poverty their disinterest makes their status tag of ‘developed nations’ look empty.
What make fighting wars more important than fighting poverty and climate change?
5 Drivers of People’s Dissatisfaction
Our world is certainly at a crossroads. The present drivers of global politics, operating since the end of the WW-II, fail to meet people’s aspirations in the changed world we live in today. The new realities demand a new global arrangement better suited to meet the aspirations of global citizens.
1. Sick Planet
Climatic Disorder and Environmental Degradation
The phenomenon of global warming is a manmade problem that resulted chasing the myth of eternal GDP growth. It is the most serious threat facing the humanity today and is the un-refutable “proof” of many things wrong rooted in our ecologically blind lifestyle. Reflecting more than the rising global temperatures, melting ice-caps and depleting natural resources it covers multiple and associated ills which not just point to the growing inequalities and injustice but also to local, regional and, potentially, global conflict.
Despite serious global attempts of past two decades, we are already over 400 parts per million of CO2; it was 325 ppm in 1970. Over the past decade, much has been talked about peaking it between 2015 and 2020. Yet, even in 2015 it is still a pipe dream. It doesn’t help when experts claim: “We underestimated the risks… we underestimated the damage associated with the temperature increases… and we underestimated the probabilities of temperature increases”. The Paris climate summit of December 2015 saw more and more people worrying about global warming that raises hope, but rich nations led by the US will walk 'their talk' is a big question mark.
From the perspective of common people, the climate battle is already lost and there is nothing to save them from untimely climatic disasters, now getting more frequent than ever before. Farmers in the poor countries are already seeing destruction of their crops by untimely rains and hailstorms. The mainstream global media, led by the rich West, still continue to report such events as natural accidents unconnected with the issue of global warming. The US and its allies still find creating Islamic terror groups (now it's ISIS) and then fighting them more rewarding than fighting global poverty or climate change.
Since 2011, each successive year has been warmer than the previous. Thus, 2016 is expected to be warmer than 2015. Should we merely keep counting and talking about emission cuts?
2. Unsustainable Economic Growth
Robbing the Future Generation
In Affluenza, Oliver James says: “The Affluenza Virus ...replaces our true needs with confected wants. As the “developed world” in particular stays under “Affluenza” its high consumption and control over world’s resources are coming under increasing attacks. Looking at the lifestyle of people there is no evidence, nor likelihood, of decoupling economic growth from resource use and environmental damage. We now realize just how small our global cake is; it ought to be shared more fairly. It means ending consumerism as the driver of economic growth and shifting away from the current corporate-consumer capitalism to a sustainable model of development.
Today economic growth is only straining planet’s resources; it is not leading us anywhere near equity. The rich get much richer; the poor get fractionally less poor and the planet burns. And it is the poor and mostly women who ultimately suffer the most from ecological damage and are the first to face the climatic disasters. The rich can move to mansions at safer locations – the poor have nowhere to go.
Compulsion to Consume!
If the WW-II helped economic recovery in the US, the war economy needed to grow in the peacetime too. This compulsion gave birth to relentless consumerism we see today. The GDP served the purpose of checking national progress and economic ‘growth’ turned into the sole national goal. Here is the thought process that went into that.
“Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” – Economist Victor Lebow in 1955 in his paper Price Competition
3. Rising Inequality
Please Mind the Gap!
“The magnitude of the change in the absolute gaps in per capita incomes between rich and poor is staggering. The likelihood of escaping from the bottom rung is almost negligible.” – Lance Pritchett and Branko Milanovic, World Bank economists
A recent research report titled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More published by Oxfam shows that the richest 1 percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. If the current trend continues, the combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people by 2016.
The remaining 52 percent is dominantly owned by the rest of richest 20 percent. The bottom 80 percent shared just 5.5 percent and had an average wealth of $3,851 per adult – that’s 1/700th of the average wealth of the 1 percent. The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half. In 2014, 80 richest persons have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent (about 3.5 billion people). In 2013 85 richest persons held that much, significantly down from 388 in 2010.
The 400 wealthiest Americans have as much wealth as the poorest 150 million Americans. The average CEO makes 204 times as much the average worker — an increase of 1,000% since 1950. [see Mind the Gap: The Dangers of Income Inequality]
High inequality is also a danger to democratic processes. When wealth captures government policymaking, the rules are created to favor the rich, often to the neglect of ordinary masses who fail to realize the fruits of their talents and hard work. The danger of wealth inequality was once summed up neatly by the US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’
The question is how much more unequal the wealth distribution can become, before the resulting political instabilities and flows of migrants begin to pose a direct threat to the wellbeing of the citizens of the rich nations and the stability of their states?
4. Falling Wellbeing
More Growth, More Unhappiness!
The current global economy seems to be blind not only to the planet but also to the humanity as well. Ironically our addiction to consumption and economy’s addiction to growth are central to our reduced Wellbeing.
“Consumerism helps anaesthetise the dread produced by empty lives – lives that consumerism and modern capitalism helped empty of meaning.” – Thomas Homer Dixon
Since 1980s, despite ever more economic growth, the economies are actually destroying value and progress, not adding to it. It is a case of rapidly diminishing returns on growth – adding less and less to wellbeing of people whilst consuming ever more of planet’s resources.
Consider few facts here:
- Suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the past 50 years, most strikingly in the developing world, and that by 2020 depression will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world, according to the World Health Organization reports.
- Globally, over 350 million people suffer from depression. In the US, the use of antidepressant rose by 400 percent between 1988 and 2008, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The number of diagnoses of depression in Japan more than doubled between 1999 and 2008. The country also tops in suicide rates, despite the accumulated opulence.
There are people happy about increasing urbanization and point out that in 2010 more than half the world’s population lived in cities. ‘Growth experts’ see cities as place of possibilities, symbol of people’s faith and aspirations. Then comes ‘studies’ to claim that cities break traditions, fracture families, promote loneliness and alcohol/drug abuse and breed psychiatric illnesses. If so, then I really wonder why they want to see urbanization as development. Obviously, it is nothing but a GDP growth fetish.
Is the world safer today from terror attacks than 15 years ago?
5. War Crazy Leaders
End of WW-II created a bipolar world; the US and its allies on one side, opposed by the communist bloc led by the former USSR. Post WW2 global politics was shaped by the power struggle of the two blocs on much predicted lines, each trying to poke the other. When the communist bloc fell apart towards the end of 1980s people hoped for a conflict and war free world, but it proved short-lived. Opposing the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan by arming Islamic armed groups the US ended up creating a new rival – Islamic terrorism which sustains on its morbid hatred against the Western ideals.
If the 9/11 attack invited US military to launch a ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan hunting for Osama Bib Laden, its oil politics in the middle east led it to invade Iraq under the pretext of destroying its weapons of mass destruction (which never existed!). Many in the US proudly call the war on terror the “costliest” war in the human history and the ‘war experts’ estimated the ultimate cost in the range 4-6 trillion dollars.
Regardless of the economics of war on terror and armed protection of Western political interests in the oil rich Middle East, one thing is clear – the US and its allies have no long term vision for a conflict free peaceful world through equitable and just global policies. In their minds they are as violent and destructive as the enemies they have been fighting for over a decade.
Ordinary people don’t understand why the rich west doesn’t wage wars against global warming and global poverty or how weapons enter poor societies easier than food and education. It could be that they have been only growing their economies and stopped developing long ago.
This is the new politics. Personal responsibility. Not leaving it to others. I am my planet's keeper.
- Hilary Benn, Former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
People Rising for Change
Increasingly people are getting tired of waiting for political and business elites to address their concerns. Across the world, community organisations and individuals are making efforts to change the way they live. More and more people are waking up to the social and environmental crises and evolving ways to do what leaders should have been doing.
Rise of Global Digital Democracy
Their task is facilitated by rise of digital democracy ushered in by the revolution in communication technology and increasing penetration of internet connectivity. National boundaries are now too meaningless and anyone can share and exchange information across the world. The emergence of powerful social media means even insignificant people like “you and me” can be heard. People are no longer passive recipient of information, but opinion makers and influencers. It is a cultural transformation – it’s about free and honest dialog which is empowering people. As the digital democracy gets bigger, the traditional power centers are getting into “adjustment” mode.
If ‘experts’ still occupy the “knowledge space” in the traditional media their privileges and sphere of influence are shrinking. Now the ‘faceless non-entities’ are increasingly setting the agenda for mainstream discussions. They may appear isolated and fragmented but can coalesce online into a formidable force and dominate any discourse. In this virtual democracy information travels very fast and allows people to stay with the latest happenings around the world. In the 20th century we were defined by what we owned, but in the 21st century we are increasingly defined by what we know and share.
The Way Forward
A momentum is gathering against the growth focussed global economy, which is not sustainable but is the source of all global ills. The path of progress needs to shift towards qualitative development. It means making people’s wellbeing central to development which can be sustainable. This requires a fundamental cultural shift away from passive consumerism and towards responsible citizenship. Given the state of global environment this is a global concern and the push will come from the gathering mass of the digital democracy.