By Huck Fairman
In the last week, warnings from several sources were issued about the planet’s future. And along with them came strong recommendations for what should be done.
As a necessary early step, President Joe Biden is scheduled soon to hold a virtual climate summit with world leaders. Its purpose is to reduce emissions in order to increase the hope, and likelihood, that the nations of the world will limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
If they don’t succeed, people around the world will face life-threatening conditions. We’ve seen the beginnings of these threats globally in the last several years.
President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, recently visited China for talks on the issue, and they have reached an agreement to deal with climate change. This could be a very important step, as China currently accounts for 28% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions; the United States contributes 15%. Unfortunately, China continues to build coal-powered energy plants, despite coal being a leading source of carbon dioxide emissions.
We will have to wait and watch to see what they actually do.
Kerry noted, however, that pretty much the entire world is falling short in reducing emissions. In response, President Biden is expected to announce more “ambitious plans” for reducing our emissions.
But within days of these announcements, the United States National Intelligence Council released its 4-year assessment of where the world appears headed, Global Trends. Its predictions are not optimistic. Washington experts who have read this and prior reports “do not recall a gloomier one.” And the authors of the report are not looking at only several trends, but at all of the major developments in most human activities around the globe.
By the way, the 2008 Global Trends report warned of the potential emergence of a pandemic originating in East Asia and spreading rapidly around the world.
Among the threats are: climate change, aging populations, disease, financial crises, political and governing turmoil, a decline in international cooperation, challenging technologies or their absence, and a gap between expectations and realities. While several decades ago democracy appeared to be spreading in many parts of the world, today autocracies are increasing in number. “Strong men” have taken control of many nations.
Possibly the greatest challenge of this sort is China’s dictatorship vying to gain influence around the world, at the expense of democracies and international cooperation, doing so by often ignoring international law and human rights. Perhaps the climate agreement will lead to other ones on a number of issues.
But the Global Trends report raises the question: are governments, global institutions and societies capable of understanding the many threats and responding to them in time? Our country is significantly divided politically and ideologically, and that is the case in many other nations. Political discourse has become “poisonous.” The internet and associated technologies have allowed the dissemination of misinformation and lies, rendering populations doubting and mistrustful of governments.
As many readers know, segments of our population will not take the vaccinations, extending the threat of and turmoil from the disease. Many of those same doubters disparage reports of climate change, despite verifiable temperature rises, melting glaciers and sea ice, wildfires and droughts.
What to do? Serious talks and agreements, as we see with China, but among all parties, are essential, certainly. Yet a former principal editor of Global Trends, Matthew Burrows, argues strongly that the necessary leadership “has to come from the executive branch. You have to have a driving force to compel agencies to engage in long-term planning.”
We are seeing that leadership in New Jersey’s governor and our president. But in order to adequately, and in time, prepare for that planning, we need at the state, national, and regional levels, the means, the research and resources, and maybe above all, the leadership, to anticipate and respond to trends and challenges such as are now gripping our world.