The United Nations is playing host to a global conference on climate change (COP26) being held this week in Glasgow, Scotland. 197 countries will be participating and hopefully some concrete action plans will be agreed upon that many are saying are the last best chance to reverse the dangerous path we are currently on that would result in drastic and catastrophic changes to our environment. After many decades of talking and waffling on what should be done, most of the world is finally converging on a consensus that destructive climate change is real, that our poor planet is in genuine peril and that further delays can no longer be countenanced. Failure to take drastic steps now could lead to dire ecological consequences by the end of this century. Likely I won’t be around to see the worst of it, but I have children and grandchildren that I would not want to inherit such a problematic future.
Regrettably, too many countries that are dependent on the fossil fuel economy have had their heads in the sand, denying that there is a problem and doing everything they can to postpone having to make the tough decisions and fund the huge investments that will be required to transform our economy and our energy usage in particular, to avert the impending environmental Armageddon. The world’s largest and most powerful countries such as the U.S., China, Russia and India have been especially recalcitrant in addressing this issue with the priority and seriousness that it deserves. Since the departure of Trump from the U.S. presidency, however, I have noticed a decisive shift in the American government’s perspective on this and this bodes well for there finally being some tangible international progress in dealing with this existential issue. Strong leadership from the G7 and G20 countries is vital to implementing effective measures that will reduce carbon emissions to net zero by the middle of this century.
Although climate change is the number one threat to our long-term future, it is not the only existential issue that our planet and generation is facing as we look towards the decades ahead. The COVID pandemic that has caused such havoc in the world over the past two years, has dramatically demonstrated that there are certain challenges that we face as a civilization that can only be dealt with through the highest degree of cooperation and effort by all countries that share this planet. Prior epidemics such as the Spanish Flu, SARS, HIV, Ebola and others were warnings that our species is particularly vulnerable to viral assault. COVID further showed the fatal consequences of taking such threats too lightly. It also showed conclusively that in our tightly interconnected world, no one is safe from infection until everyone on the planet is vaccinated and safe. There will be other pandemics in the future, potentially even more devastating than COVID, and only determined international effort and scientific cooperation will be able to avert future COVIDs and their deadly widespread consequences.
We cannot restrict ourselves to just climatic and health issues when it comes to recognizing serious civilizational threats in our time. Economically and politically, we are also rapidly approaching a day of reckoning resulting from the growing disparity between rich and poor, not only in third world countries, but also in the richest, developed nations as well. Increasingly, the wealthiest one percent of the population are amassing a disproportionate share of created wealth. According to a global study done in 2020, the top 1% of world’s population own 46% of its wealth, while the bottom 55% of the population own just 1%. This kind of disparity will inevitably result in social unrest and as history has shown over and over again, revolution as well. This disparity is increasing every year and undoubtedly will eventually reach a tipping point. Here again, international cooperation and efforts will be required to keep the global oligarchs and mega-corporations in check and reverse these destabilizing disparities.
There is one more looming threat that we can’t discount, and that is the continuing existence of reactionary, undemocratic and authoritarian states that still seek to expand their power, influence and territories at the expense of their neighbours and other countries. Although empires and imperialism largely died out over the past century, countries such as Russia and China continue to behave like unrepentant belligerents, seeking to conquer and control by force, both economic and military. They are joined and abetted by tinpot dictatorships such as North Korea, Iran and others whose ideological and moral backwardness destabilize large swaths of the world. The future will not be safe unless the free and democratic countries of this world join together to effectively counteract, isolate and eventually transform these pariah countries into more responsible citizens of this planet.
These are all generational challenges that we will have to deal with in the next several decades to come. Failure to do so will cause consequences far worse than we could imagine.