Every human being deserves protection.
Geoversiv New Year’s letter for 2022
As we move into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, one transcendent value stands out as a way to focus our collective work in science, economics, policy, and innovation:
Every human being deserves protection.
This is an underlying transcendent reality, on which every society’s social contract is based. The manner in which specific people or groups exercise power can quickly take a society away from the core logic of its social contract, but the transcendent truth remains: Every human being deserves protection.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes this transcendent truth:
the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Where we fail, collectively or individually, to honor that principle, injustice takes over. Injustice is more than unfairness to its victims; a tolerance for injustice becomes a structural threat to the rights and wellbeing of every person.
We must take stock of our responsibility to one another. No person believes they should be vulnerable to preventable harm, where perpetrators of that harm prosper and are never held to account. The institutions that structure our society should not be designed in ways that facilitate cruel injustice and undermine the possibility of repair.
If none of us wish such a fate for ourselves, we must not be willing to accept preventable harm and suffering falling on others.
On December 13, 2021 we learned that 1 in every 100 Americans over 65 years of age had lost their lives to COVID-19. That’s not 1 of every 100 infected; COVID has taken 1 of every 100 who were alive 2 years ago.
As we now watch an “omicron blizzard” overtaking much of the world (on December 1, the first US case of the new variant was publicly confirmed; less than 6 weeks later, on January 8, 98.3% of new infections are omicron), we are experiencing record numbers of hospitalizations and record numbers of children being hospitalized. The US has already lost 846,506 lives. Globally, more than 5,523,000 have been killed by the virus.
During the 12 months ending in April 2021, 100,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdose—an all-time record. Four years of cruel and incompetent use of high office, along with a wave of mass death and economic destruction the likes of which 99% of Americans never witnessed before, led to this secondary wave of mass death.
In many ways, the message of those four years of abusive government was that people do not deserve protection. In fact, the former President went out of his way to communicate that freedom is defined by the degree to which you have no obligation of any kind to anyone. Such disregard for the humanity of others leads to violence and abuse of vulnerable people, and does real damage to societies and their institutions.
Around the world, we have seen the erosion of basic commitments to mutual protection and with that erosion a concurrent (and expected) rise in authoritarian abuses, extrajudicial killings, assassinations of journalists and activists, and the use of political violence and propaganda to subvert democratic processes.
The effect of this erosion is far more pervasive and damaging than just the direct victims of such abuses. Even those who champion democracy now more readily speak about the transactional costs of holding murderous dictators to account for brutal political killings. In a world where such discussions take place, no one is safe.
The thug who says he alone deserves power will never honor his supporters’ hateful belief that they alone deserve protection. Systematized degradation and persecution of any person or group is an open door to the dehumanization of all people.
The convergence of a now 2-year-old pandemic, shattered economies, clogged supply chains, worsening climate emergency, and resulting nation-state instability, means we are facing increased risk of armed conflict and non-stop disaster conditions for hundreds of millions of people.
A few years ago, almost no one had ever seen real people driving through city-sized firestorms in a desperate attempt to escape with their lives. Now, we see this over and over again. Major firestorms are devastating regions as diverse as the deep Amazon and the Siberian tundra.
Billions of people are at risk of losing infastructure, food, water, and security, to climate shocks, but official policy to eliminate climate emergency risk and compensate for loss and damage is lagging behind lived experience in nearly every country. The overall cost—including the erasure of future opportunity—from these delays is already overwhelming, and rapidly accelerating.
We are beginning to see future ambition orient toward the climate alignment of mainstream finance. For this to begin to be real, the 450 institutions of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero will have to not only make science-based target commitments, in line with limiting global heating to 1.5C; they will have to mobilize all possible capital across our everyday economy, to begin converting risk into resilience.
Beyond that, we need to find our way to a Global Goal on Adaptation—a single unifying target all nations can aim for and which the private sector can innovate towards. There is only one natural approach to defining this target:
Act on the UN Climate Convention’s mandate to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
Align with the recognized scientific consensus that preventing danger requires limiting global heating to 1.5ºC or lower.
Invest wisely, to reduce the frequency and cost of major shock events.
As the Adaptation Committee notes in its 2021 technical paper:
The global goal on adaptation [as described in Article 7 of the Paris Agreement] features three core components: enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change.
Taking all of this together points to one adaptation goal that is at the same time logical, ethical, capable of providing the organizing force needed to serve as a global goal, and conducive to long-term fiscal stability:
We must jointly reduce preventable harm from human-caused climate disruption to zero.
The primary benefit of a zero harm goal would be to calibrate local and national policy and international cooperation to the best-case adaptation outcome for people in every country. The most concerning risk might be that countries would misrepresent the reality of what their people face and claim success while people suffer. Justice advocates would rightly observe that this is currently the rule, so the key is to set ambitions high and then make sure we are working together to:
Value human health and wellbeing;
Remove incentives to profit from pollution;
Invest in sustainable development that reduces risk and builds resilience;
Use non-market approaches to cooperative climate action to reward concrete action toward the zero harm goal.
Setting a zero harm goal will not reduce real-world harm to zero, but it can achieve a state where no community is so vulnerable to climate shocks that rapid recovery is not possible. And by doing that, it will be possible to reduce mass death and prolonged insecurity and suffering from shock events to near zero, and to design and implement more cost-effective responses to risk and impact.
This year, we must make rapid global progress—in a way that makes everyone safer and creates real opportunity for the least fortunate—on:
the right to health,
science-based pathways to climate resilience,
the universal right to shape the policies that shape your world.
So, we open 2022 with a reiteration of our call from a year ago, to work together, every day, everywhere, to restore, by action, our faith in the power of solidarity.