In this entry, I do not try to predict what may occur within our lifetime or even in the future several generations from now. It’s about a possible optimistic path humanity as a whole can take by solving our current problems which solutions we already have.
The 2020s have just begun; doom and gloom scenarios alone won’t get us anywhere.
Let’s begin with the biggest threat not only to our way of life, but also to the ecosystems and the animal kingdom.
By investing in public infrastructure (thereby also reducing car usage, especially in cities where they just use up space and make it an unsafe environment) and renewable energies, a lot of Co2-emissions can already be cut down. Once cars are pushed out of the cities, more places will be available to build public parks or apartment buildings (example: in the US, a lot of houses were destroyed in favour of car lanes which led to the current car-dependency. This can also be reversed). Renewable energies on the other hand, as well as nuclear energy which functions complementary, can phase out fossil fuels while ensuring that the energy demand is met. Taken the results of the sixth IPCC climate report into account, this must be done in a fast pace – the quicker fossil fuels are phased out, the better for the planet and humanity.
On an individual level, this also means changing from a throw-away-society to a repairing-society and consuming with awareness (e.g. buying Fair Trade products). Companies – through regulations if necessary – must make it easier to repair their products (especially technology) – whether it is provided as a service when there are more complicated issues or simple replacements such as the display and battery.
From mass consumption to responsible consumption – it won’t lead to a decline in the living standard, since the goods remain available and affordable.
There’s much more, but you get the idea. It’s in our hands, and through democratic means – from organizing and educating on various subjects to voting and people initiatives – this necessary change can be achieved. If a government does too little, they must be put under pressure through protests, petitions and other legal means.
Now one might rightfully ask: ‚What about the developing countries? They neither have the technological means nor can draw on accumulated wealth – financially and in assets such as institutions and infrastructure – to do the same.‘
The first step is to reduce the damage where developed countries play a major role, such as deforestation which not only destroys plant life but also wildlife. As it is explained in an article by the WHO: „Other global environmental changes, such as loss of biodiversity, can have health consequences by increasing instability in disease transmission in animal populations, which are the source of most of the pathogens affecting humans (18). Loss of biodiversity can have other health consequences as well, as a result of the depletion of the genetic resources available for future crop/food production and development of medicines.“
For instance, the maintenance of forests and reforestation could be incentivized by reducing the debts of developing countries: „The link between debt and deforestation that is suggested in this paper implies that debt-for-nature swaps may have a dual effect on deforestation. First, the contractual agreement is designed to preserve forests as part of the swap. Second, the reduction in debt may itself reduce the pressure to deforest, although this indirect effect is small. Our research provides evidence that reducing debt reduces deforestation, which may be an argument to offer deforesting third-world countries some form of debt relief, and to utilize more fully debt-for-nature swaps as a tool for preserving environmental quality.“
Improving the standard of living and societal conditions (an older article of the WHO) will also contribute to a healthier environment. Thus being beneficial both for the population and the flora and fauna. Of course, at every point the natives must be included and it shouldn’t be done in an imperious manner – that only results in alienation, is counterproductive and undemocratic.
Technology transfer is also required to combat climage change and mitigate the effects of climate change. By providing knowledge and knowhow through cooperation, we are not only combatting climate change but also ensure that every country can fully develop.
Looking back at recent history, a global successful treaty is realistic – if everyone acknowledges the danger it poses and actively participates to avoid it.
The older generation is very likely more familiar with it: the Montreal Protocol.
After it was implemented, 24 nations (over the time 173 more joined) first reduced and then banned chlorine- and bromine-based chemicals. The destruction of the ozone layer would have been catastrophic: „The destruction of the ozone layer allows more of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation to reach the surface of the planet, increasing the risk of sunburns, skin cancer, and eye damage. The most prominent and infamous sign of depletion is the annual “ozone hole” that forms around the South Pole.“
Through this combined effort, an environmental disaster was prevented. Showing that humanity has the potential and the will to implement what is necessary.
Working Conditions and Worker Rights
The recent strike of Kellog’s workers in the US has shown that unions are of great importance – and a prime example of trade unions is Sweden.
Unions exist to balance the power between the employees and the employer. Their history is over a century old, and when one looks back at the terrible conditions during the early phase of the industrial revolution, there’s a lot to thank the worker movement for and those who fought for their representation in parliaments. It’s their task to protect the rights of the worker and extend where possible, making sure that the working conditions aren’t being neglected and democratize the working place overall.
As you can already guess, bad working conditions around the world can be solved through strong labour laws that protect the workers (passively) and trade unions which keep the company in check (actively). As it is with other problems, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – countries that already have made significant progress, like the aforementioned Sweden, may only need slight improvements while poorer countries have yet to build up such a strong legal and public support network. For wealthier countries, this also means more transparency and stricter examinations of their multinational companies that exploit them in the first place.
Not just recent history has shown that pressure works, with the difference that over 100 years ago worker strikes sometimes ended up bloody (Ludlow Massacre, USA).
In Germany, for instance, was the growth of the Social Democratic Party reason for Otto von Bismarck to implement an early social safety net (Health Insurance in 1883, Accidence Insurance in 1884, a pension program in 1889 and the Workers Protection Act in 1891).
The worker movements and early socialist politicians laid the foundation of the modern social safety net and democratization of the workplace. Unfortunately, in the 1980s a regressive course was taken due to Ronald Reagen (40th President of the US) and Margaret Thatcher (first female Prime Minister of the UK).
40 years later, the devastating effects are reflected in the income and wealth inequality, bad working conditions and other social illnesses (the worst development occured in their respective countries, Europe experienced a neoliberalism that was not as quite as severe).
It’s not too late to reverse the trend and build on what is left. In those countries which never experienced an economic upswing post-WW2, and are still exploited, the workload is much higher to establish a strong social safety net and worker rights.
By organizing and reviving international solidarity (especially through social awareness), better living conditions for the working class can be achieved around the world.
Under basic needs I understand access to food, clean water, shelter and healthcare. In other words: all goods and services that are needed for a life in dignity (i.e. no destitute).
In already-industralized countries, covering the basic needs of an individual or family is – theoretically – not a problem since both food and clean water are widely available.
Moreover, the money to build shelter is there. In most countries there exist universal healthcare as well, though it does happen that some fall through due to still-existing gaps (e.g. Germany, source in German). Under these circumstances it is mainly a question of closing the gaps by improving existings laws, establishing a new mechanism or organizing a new service/infrastructure that distributes food and water among everyone (thereby also reducing food waste).
It’s another story in developing countries. As it has been criticized before, international aid alone won’t do any good as long as nothing is done to build up the necessary infrastructure to support the basic needs of the population. This must be done in a cooperative manner, not a commanding one. International aid should still be provided, but with the goal to build schools, universities and fund other infrastructure projects. Over a long period of time, self-sufficiency can be achieved (as it is with any modern country, only partially though, since globalization did lead to an improvement of living conditions and some form of interdependence always existed in the history of humanity). Along with the accountability of multinational companies, this paves the way to an own industralized society where child labour becomes a thing of the past and labour rights are modernized.
Our climate crisis will only be solved, if we treat every country equally. Water shortage, for instance, must be combatted together – both to avoid war and contributing to the welfare of a people in the long-term. It starts by listening to these voices.
Democratization and Human Rights
Democracy, as a system of government, is proven to be the best form of government to represent the people and their will – the latter is not a monolithic expression, various interests from different groups (e.g. religious, political, ethnic) are the ingredients to this colourful receipt. It may not be perfect due to current flaws, depending on the country more or less severe, but a democracy also allows to fix these flaws through various means – be it protests, people initiatives, petitions (e.g. Switzerland), or else.
It’s not only about voting for a party or candidate on the national and local level each election cycle; it’s also about the liberties guaranteed by a constitution (civil rights) and state of law. An independent court, separation of powers, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, freedom of information and so on.
When fighting for democratic values its long history shouldn’t be forgotten either – from the French Revolution of 1789 to modern day struggles such as in Belarus.
Lastly, protecting, preserving and expanding democracy is also the best way to conserve and protect knowledge humanity has gathered over millennials. Consequently, a democracy must also be defensive to protect against its enemies while always being vigilant that the own values are not undermined or even destroyed in this battle (from the civil society to the military, it is of utmost importance that these values are shared in order to keep any kind of authoritarianism and tyranny out).
From that you can already see that human rights and democracy are intertwined.
And here it is where we also come to the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in reality:
Not only are their violated in countries which are run by autocrats or near-autocratic rule (e.g. China, Uyghurs), but also in democracies around the world (e.g. USA -> NSA, Torture Programs, etc.). It therefore also becomes a battle on the home front, a very important one for a failure in our own democracy to defend these values – or ignoring that they take place – also results in losing any credibility when fighting for it elsewhere (i.e. hypocrisy). This doesn’t mean that whenever you criticize country C for a violation, you have to counter-balance it with criticism of your own country or a close ally of your country. Otherwise it would become too exhausting with the time and result – in the worst case – in a burnout due to the constant pressure.
How it develops in countries that are currently governed in an authoritarian way is unknown – either these nations try the Chinese way with totalitarianism and chauvinism, or the democratic values gain permanent foothold and manage to get rid off the authoritarian regime. Some may be slower and take decades while others change in a few years. Most importantly: strengthen international democratic solidarity (e.g. if they seek asylum reacting quickly to allow them in) and assist them if possible.
Despite the obstacles that are in front of us, we shouldn’t be discouraged by the current situation we find ourselves in. Through continued effort and increasing awareness we shall emerge victorious – both nationally and internationally.
As it was with the monarchs of the time of absolutism, so shall the time of dictatorships and illiberal democracies end. Transparency and further democratization in existing democracies shall put an end to corruption and abuse of power.
It may be a long way until then, but it is achievable.
We’ve got the answers to our issues and, the solutions are well within reach.
As we see more and more people becoming environmentally and socially aware, the problems we face nowadays will be easier to overcome. Democratic forces are confronted with major challenges, but none that are impossible to overcome. There may be setbacks, and sometimes one coud lose all hope, but our future isn’t set in stone!