I am searching for blood for my poem.
My fingers grow sharp as I write it.
I find Suleika in a refugee camp.
The hot iron she carries
burns and blisters her fingers.
On the wall, a photo of her dead brother;
I can see how her hands bleed as she does the dishes,
how her beauty is there in the rags she wears.
(Search for Suleika, Abbas Baydoun)
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
The advanced nations have already attained a material prosperity at great cost to our environment. They use more of the planet’s resources than the developing world. Now it is almost impossible for any part of that world to ever enjoy equal levels of prosperity. As chance plays out its artful hand, Yes, there will be some brighter spots!
According to several Nobelists and the World Philosophical Forum (WPF), a think tank in Athens as well as countless citizens everywhere, the choices we now face can be succinctly stated: either the end of nuclear weapons or discontinuation of the human race or an overheating of the planet to such a level that humanity’s habitat is irreversibly compromised.
Our earth is running down in very complex ways, on multiple time constants, short and longer, fast and slower. These dilemmas have given rise to several world images, mindsets and models, accepted, denied, questioned. Perhaps the most import one is the tension and conflict between two world models in two different thought spheres. They unfold on different time scales. Will it be democracy or authoritarianism, globalization or multiculturalism, isolationist or participatory, collective or individual. These are images that straddle a dichotomy of politics and profit in the free market versus humanity’s sustainability on earth. Reality is a complex arena and following Einstein’s advice the tools to deal with it have to be at least as complex as the problem spaces within it.
Climate change is recognized as a threat multiplier while a nuclear Armageddon can reduce culture to rubble. Drivers are two dark and overwhelming processes; ongoing biological annihilation carrying a potential for absolute destruction and of all species and until then we have an awful emergence of social dementia in earth societies, in daily life. Both processes jeopardize a meaningful and fulfilling life. Both processes make it difficult for us to hold on to our humanity. The antidote to social dementia is earth citizenship; a belonging to community, individual self-worth and a life of purpose. A rapidly growing mindset of concern tells us that there is little, or no time left to look back and that we must expand our efforts to reshape the future. Anxiety is on the rise and children see that little is being done.
The consequences of climate related disaster are suffered by vulnerable countless millions while a nuclear miscalculation can wipe us all out. Incredibly, modernization of the nuclear arsenal has the highest political priority, clearly seen in America’s clash with both Russia and the international community.
Security is mainly described in political or military terms as the protection of national borders and the ability to prevent or counter any attack on the nation and its people. The result has generally led to an arms race with all sides trying to gain advantage over the other. Its ultimate limit being mutually assured destruction. In fact, the arms race can only lead to increasing insecurity in the name of "national security”. If there is a defense it is to shore up and reshape the international community.
The World Philosophical Forum under the direction of Igor Kondrashin believes that an unused instrument to do this is classical philosophy with its platform of wisdom, reason, morality, justice and responsibility. UNESCO proclaimed World Philosophy Day, after a proposal by Mohamed Achaari the Minister of Culture, Morocco, and was first celebrated in 2002. Two names closely associated with it are Ban Ki-moon and Irina Bokova. This year the Forum will conduct or participate in three major events, namely, in Moscow ( April 22-25, 2019, International Mother Earth Day, dedicated also to the 80th anniversary of British Scholar Nicholas Hagger, officer of the WPF), Athens (October, 2019 ) and Kuala Lumpur (21 November, 2019). In Moscow, Svetlana Chumakova-Izmailovskaya President of National Ecological Foundation, will preside; in Athens Igor Kondrashin; in Kuala Lumpur Secretary General WPF Dato Professor Dr. Halo-N will preside, when a project the mind of philosophy will be discussed.
It is a given that the United Nations has done incredible things for the world of women, children, education, health and philosophy; health for all, a society for all ages, sustainable development goals. It has given birth to the concept of human security, which aims to protect civilians at the mercy of their own governments.
Six decades ago the United Nations approved an Earth Charter. Paul Kennedy rightly said “the UN has brought great benefits” adding that with civic resolution and generosity by all, we can contribute further to its work… it will bring benefits to our children’s and grandchildren’s generations. Takahiro Togo, Japanese senior ambassador added that “in the Balkans we can add our own small contribution to the concept and application of human security with further gain for the ‘unique and irreplaceable’ United Nations”. It is humanity’s current best organized hope for the future. It gives the only chance of substituting the conference table for the battlefield. But we are losing our earth and its capacity to support and sustain life.
Back then governments were called upon to sign a pledge, supported by prestigious individuals that would make the earth our secure and hospitable home; secure in a common future for all. The Pledge is now defunct, having run its course. Rio came and went. The future will be in the red since the present has taken too much; the present is depleting the future; our children and their children will be the victims. However, according to the composite State of the Future Index (SOFI) the state of wellbeing is gaining ground with gains in life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy; those who have now have more and fewer people are in poverty and the trend it says continues. The numbers with no tears may be right, but the dynamic time constants in their unfolding may suggest a dismal future. Some down sides; economic asymmetry, greenhouse effect, corruption, new forms of slavery, organ commerce, terrorism, the growing digital divide and pollution of space. While science can tell us that the gas already spewed into the air will raise the earths’ temperature and change the weather there is no optical lens that can clearly reveal the depth of lifes’ complexity or the misery on the ground; life in the raw.
Some of the first concerns for the limits to growth were conceptualized by the Club of Rome, while Jay Forrester developed a dynamic world model that traced out the quality of life on the planet in a computer simulation. There were several scenarios with underlying interacting knowledge-based feedback loops. It was based on five variables in a mathematical function: population, food production, level of industrialization, resulting pollution and the rate of consumption of nonrenewable natural resources. The outcome variable related to the quality of life for the population. One scenario resulted in a stable world and life went on. Another two led to world system collapse early in this century; pollution growing to levels that caused population demise; population growth outrunning food production.
Much ridicule was heaped on the limits of growth somewhat similar to climate change and global warming today. The same process of denial by politicians and parts of the business world are present with challenges to it by scientists, more then, than now. The Club of Rome was right to alert the public to the potential for and consequences of resource depletion that could precipitate economic collapse. The down side is that government and the international community lost several decades in which to put a brake on inappropriate development. Some members of the Club received the prestigious International Gusi Peace Prize for their contribution to humanity and peace.
Of note, the scenarios outlined then did not touch upon health matters but now the effects of pollution on health are clear as pollution caused mortality rises. Neither did they consider the consequences of new and older types of pandemics or other manmade disasters, which now occur with greater frequency nor could they have envisaged the new unfolding vicious cycle with climate change induced sicknesses that require new prescription drugs. Just think of business opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry, which is already preparing for a windfall.
Much thought has been given to environmental matters from Heraclites to Maurice Strong1. All religions provide rules of conduct of man within his group, community and society and their great books contain instructions for the preservation of life and wellbeing as well as for the preservation of the environment. Guidelines are now available at community, national and supranational levels to direct human conduct even as the planet runs down. Wellbeing has improved dramatically over the past two centuries as public health developed in the aftermath of cholera decimating Europe. Inspirational people and creative scientific work have tried to keep our world on track, Jenner with smallpox inoculation, Salk for polio. There have been many individuals who have pointed to the ethical dimensions of the earth’s environment. Much attention has been given to its demise by such luminaries as Thoreau, Humboldt, Dubois, Barbara Ward and Gro Brundtland.
Our universe has swung full circle from a time of panta rei when all things flowed and from when it was impossible to put a hand into the same river twice. Today, the enormous level of pollution and a great need for waste recycling, makes it difficult to pull out a non-corroded hand from stagnant waters. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals emphasized by Ban Ki-moon spell the end of poverty, planetary protection and prosperity for all, by 2030. However, denial of climate change and related business interests found new heights of shame when American opted out of the Paris Treaty. The USA with the finest constitution of any of the advanced democracies has opted out of the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, and major agreements designed to contain arms proliferation. It is also walking away from the UN, the only thing we have that can hold back disaster. It has now given Russia two months to comply with the 31-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
In freedom, Vaclav Havel told the US Congress that mankind runs the risk of an earth-shattering moment triggered by the force of nuclear weapons, a product of man’s genius. He added that “without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness nothing can change for the better and catastrophe will be unavoidable”. That fear was registered by Adlai Stevenson when he spoke of the horrendous and universal implications of nuclear holocaust. Though the fear of such an event is more real than ever, Havel would never reach the steps of Congress today. Both Stevenson and Havel saw the need for a socio-political transformation.
The declaration of the Earth Charter aimed at building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society based on ethics. At that time the complex factors contributing to the creeping catastrophe of a planet running down, were made glaringly apparent. Even then, it was clearly recognized that appropriate development is only possible if poverty is reduced and gender equity and wealth redistribution become a reality; limits based on environmental considerations are needed to economic growth by both industrialized and industrializing societies; the former refuses and the latter says why should we? The report of the Brundtland Commission followed on from the Stockholm Conference (1972) held under the leadership of Maurice Strong who placed environmental issues on the political agenda. The Earth Charter became a much needed educational tool for schools and universities. It presented a platform for multilateralism and a collective search of nations to find a path to sustainable development. It should be revisited! In 2015, countries of the United Nations agreed that by 2030 a set of 17 global sustainable development goals (SDGs) would be reached. This was an inspiring achievement, a first time in its history when all member nations agreed to a shared vision for the future of its people and their habitat, in peace.
One way to reengage is through participation in the ECPD International Conference (Belgrade City Hall 25 October 2019) when the UN Agenda 2030, To Transform the World will be reexamined within a Balkan focus and directed by Federico Mayer, ECPD President. It will be looking for new definitions and forms of sustainable development, a new Balkan agenda and the development that overcomes poverty to achieve a better life for all. A socio-political transformation is now mandatory.
1 Maurice Strong was recently remembered by the ECPD, Belgrade together with Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Jim Grant with the publication of three books Remembering Maurice F. Strong; Remembering Boutros Boutros-Ghali: A Visionary Internationalist and Global Leader and Remembering Grant: Champion for Children.