Politicians fail. Anyone who addresses problems in meetings that the world is currently struggling with, quickly comes up with the question to what extent people expect ‘politics’ to solve those problems. The recently published IPCC report, widely embraced by scientists and the public alike, is another good test case. The general answer to this question is almost always negative. Few people have high expectations of the current generation of politicians as solvers of the major, long-term problems.
Large groups of scientists in numerous areas (biodiversity, ecology, migration, cybercrime, technology conflicts, overpopulation leading to overconsumption) have been warning for years of situations getting out of hand. The advice is often to intervene now in order not to get stuck in the long run. However, all these long-term issues are brushed aside or trivialised in favour of short-term issues. Why is it that we are unable to tackle these issues, which are widely recognized?
Primarily, our classical instincts are bothering us. Our brains, like those of most animals, are built for short-term survival. Nature around us has always been considered inexhaustible and eternally available. Now that we have come so far that this basic assumption is no longer valid, we find ourselves in a new situation, which has never existed before. Suddenly we have to undertake systematic care of the environment, something we are not familiar with.
The second thing that taints our thinking is the influence of religions and cultures that for centuries have pontifically positioned man as the pinnacle of creation and as beings that are above or beyond nature. Our distant and arrogant attitude towards nature has led to ruthless and large-scale destruction of the habitats of other creatures on our planet. This is going to hit us like a boomerang. Partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, larger groups of people are starting to again become aware of our dependence on a healthy environment.
A third flaw in our thinking is thinking in terms of territory. For the sake of security and food security mankind once started, to divide the world into defined areas.
The idea was that if each people remained within the defined boundaries, we would be least bothered by each other. As long as population growth was limited, geographical areas could be maintained and consumption of raw materials remained moderate, this concept worked quite well. But as the world has become more intertwined, large groups of people have started to migrate, mainly for lack of prospects and means of subsistence in their territories of origin. At the same time masses of raw materials are acquired from areas elsewhere and the political autonomy concept has started to falter more and more.
End of national sovereignty? In rough terms: does President Bolsonaro have the right to burn down the Amazon basin in favour of plantations for multinationals and his friends? May the Chinese build fifty coal-fired power stations in the coming years? Are many countries allowed to let their population growth get out of hand while it leads to unacceptable environmental damage, overconsumption and migration? Are the position of women in Afghanistan and the world’s lithium reserves merely a matter for medieval thinkers like the Taliban? Is economic growth sacred, while the world’s resources are being dangerously depleted? In short: is the current world order with international rules of law, national autonomy and economic growth as formulated today still the right compass? Anyone who follows the world news in healthy horror understands that there is an urgent need for fundamentally different political, legal and economic concepts, preceded by different ways of thinking about how people should deal with the world. For politicians will only care, if many people, en masse in many countries, start putting pressure on them.
There is a saying: the future belongs to the young. There are numerous movements of young people who no longer accept classical frameworks. Examples of young women who are breaking with medieval cultures that gag them. Courageous actions on the climate front or young entrepreneurs starting up sustainable businesses. Young people who speak out about their gender situation without hesitation or rebelling against autocratic rulers of their country. Thanks to social media, all these young people, worldwide, maintain contact with each other and reinforce each other’s actions. This creates digital groups of like-minded people who are increasingly exerting their influence. This is well understood by tech companies, who have been thinking and working from a globalized world concept for a long time and who address young people in particular.
They are signs of hope for the emergence of other ways of thinking, in which origin, culture, religion, nationality, “us-versus-them” and unlimited economic growth are disappearing in favour of thinking in terms of responsibility for the world as a whole, for a healthy environment, climate and way of life, for the preservation of biodiversity, for moderate consumption and for inclusive thinking with a place for everyone. Only when politicians are able to translate this into new political concepts can lost trust be regained and do we have a chance of overcoming the great problems of our time. However, it seems that most politicians still have a long way to go. Until then, our hopes are pinned on a growing group of young people who think and act differently.