Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

22 Nov 2022

What kind of future?

Posted by Michael Keating

The world that seemed relatively safe and stable even a few decades ago is in deep trouble. It is beset with problems, including climate change, biological extinction, economic instability and inequality, war and a pandemic. It’s been 35 years since publication of the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland report which popularized the term sustainable development. A whole generation has been born, grown up and is taking control of the world. Did they even hear the messages of the Brundtland report? Do they understand the need to move from our current free markets to sustainable development? Can they do it?

A thoughtful series of essays called Which Future Are We Living In? tries to look at where we are and where we are headed on the quest for sustainability. It’s from a group of thinkers called the Great Transition Initiative, a project dating back more than two decades. In the words of Paul Raskin, head of this project, we are moving into the “the Planetary Phase of Civilization… a global social-ecological system,” that includes economic globalization, digital technology, ecological destabilization and far-flung cultural influence. He ways we are trying to deal with this new world with, “A political economy rooted in globalized capitalism and a state-centric order … ill-adapted for managing the interdependencies and instabilities it generates, as illustrated by feeble official responses to mounting perils.” Raskin warns that outdated institutions are failing to deal with the great crises and losing public confidence. There is a rise in authoritarianism and a decline in democracy.

The international system is struggling with how control powerful business interests who want a free market where they can make vast sums of money with little or no accountability for the environmental and social side effects. Some are trying to reform the current system, often working through the United Nations with its set of goals for sustainability. The recent global conference on climate change in Egypt gives a sense of how that fails to do enough. Despite ever worsening climate change effects, the latest conference was were unable to get an agreement to actually cut emissions.

Raskin and others in his group fear we are sliding into an authoritarian Fortress World where the rich and powerful grab what they can of shrinking natural resources and leave most people poorer off. It’s the scenario from The Hunger Games movies.

It’s not the world that most people want to live in but it’s the one we’ve built. Can we build a better world? The essays find some hope in the uptick of civil society campaigns across the spectrum of justice, peace, labor, and environmental issues. People are mobilizing against uncontrolled climate change. Young leaders like Greta Thunberg are galvanizing youth to call for real efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. People are trying to find a better model of civilization, but there is still no powerful global movement with a coherent plan for the future.  

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