The reality of our global troubles had become unnerving before COVID-19. Every day we’d wake up to news of growing inequalities, global warming, immanent mass extinction, rising populism and political unrest. The reports seemed to grow more troubling each day. We talked about the relentless stress of it all and the need for reform, but changes have been slow at best. Then, the pandemic hit us with its devastating medical and economic impacts and we’ve been told to brace ourselves for the worst is yet to come.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wishing we could just hit the reset button and try again.
Humans have made so many ill-fated choices in the service of immediate gratification. We’ve consumed beyond our means. We’ve become untenably divided over political agendas; and, social needs are have been compromised by savage corporate tyrannies and the bottom line. We are globally interdependent and simultaneously nationally isolationistic.
If we could start it all over, would we make different choices?
How would we build a better world?
Well, for starters, I guess we wouldn’t want a total reset. Without question, the world is a better place to live in now than it was even 50 years ago. Worldwide, the average life expectancy has doubled, poverty has reduced, health has improved and we’ve seen positive strides related to education and gender disparities. But we have also made backwards movement in terms of income inequality; the consumption of finite resources and environmental destruction; and, rising global threats such as debt, terrorism and pandemics. The top 1 per cent controls almost half of all income, and an even larger share of wealth, using tax havens and offshore banking to protect their assets.
If we want a better world, we need to make better choices.
Some of our problems can be solved within defined geographic locations, utilizing elite knowledge from specific fields of disciplines; however, complex far-reaching problems can only be solved with systems thinking and international co-operation. In an interconnected world with universal threats and challenges, sustained global cooperation is in everyone’s best interest. But, international solidarity is a big change.
As it is, our world is made up of many communities and countries, each pursuing survival and betterment without much curiosity about its impact on others. Science is predominantly specialized and reductionist so we learn more and more about less and less. But, everything is connected. Solutions to complex, global issues require a holistic perspective. Global challenges require multilateral global responses. If we only break issues down to find solutions for the component parts, we miss the connections. Connections are important. The connections allow us to understand complex issues so that the solutions we develop don’t cause new problems to arise in another part of the system. Systemic thinking allows us to see both the elements and the connections between the elements that make up the total system.
We cannot continue to operate as if individual governments and institutions can address global challenges. We need to figure out how we can make progress while preserving our natural resources and reversing environmental destruction. We need organizational transformation in banking that includes efficiency, agility, transparency and contributions to the resolution of social ills. We need to establish global mechanisms of coordination that address our shared environment and health and represent interests not only of the wealthy but also the disadvantaged. These are big changes.
But without radical change we pay a steep price. COVID-19, as well as the resultant economic crisis, are global, complex issues. Neither can be solved effectively without international co-operation. Systemic impact could be made, for instance, with global inventories of medical resources and fair distribution based on need; international coordination of travel restrictions and supply chains; and, the open sharing of information and data. It may be difficult to imagine this kind of global solidarity; but, without significant change, our future looks dismal.
The only way to ensure a better future is for us to develop perspectives that are long-range, global and systemic. Collaborative action is required between governments, industry, universities, non-profits, and across disciplines, including the Arts, to generate integrated solutions that are beneficial for the whole planet. We need to adopt a path to global solidarity that enables conditions for freedom, equality and human rights for all.
Change is tough but when large numbers of individual begin to behave differently, change does occur. When 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, that the majority of people will adopt that belief. Large-scale social change occurs when 25% of people take a stand.
The world is well positioned to tackle complex issues. Scientific progress and technological development, combined with boundary spanning transdisciplinary collaborations and platforms that enable them, hold great promise for innovation and creative problem solving.
Can we reset our global trajectory and create the future we want?
Human nature may well be driven by self-interest; but what is in our self-interest has changed. We now face complex problems with accelerating interdependence. Our global challenges require new ways of thinking and behaving and demand that we accept collective responsibility for our planet and our future. Collaboration is the basic mechanism for fostering change. International solidarity during this time of crisis can provide the impetus for broader collective responses to interconnected challenges.
We are all participants in shaping our future. Look around. It’s time to change. We must let go of what is familiar and embrace what is true – we are all connected in a dynamic, ever unfolding system. Change is hard but the choice is clear. We must evolve to thrive.