To thrive sustainably we must uproot injustice & abuse
Across the world, resources are stretched by overlapping crises; never has it been more important to invest intelligently to secure a livable future.
It is hard to know where to start these days:
Vladimir Putin is repeatedly admitting on national TV that he was nearly overthrown in a revolution and the country narrowly avoided a civil war.
The Wagner mutiny has emboldened the dictator of Belarus to now assert that his generals are deciding how to use Putin’s nuclear weapons.
Russian civilians were seen by the entire world cheering on the mutineers; no matter what tired, brutal tactics he tries, Putin will not be able to restore the illusion of his invincibility or genius.
Donald Trump is on tape unlawfully sharing stolen national security secrets with people not cleared to have that information. (People have gone to jail for a long time for a lot less.)
China has yet to reckon with the million or more deaths (some think far more) that resulted from Xi Jinping’s decision to end all COVID safety measures suddenly without warning and without adequate vaccination to prevent mass death.
The same Supreme Court that took away women’s right to govern their own health and their own bodies—breaking shockingly with the Bill of Rights—has roundly rejected the lunatic theory that Trump-friendly state legislatures can ignore voters and name him President.
The faith of Americans in the legitimacy of Supreme Court decisions is deeply shaken by the decision to reduce women’s legal personhood, and by revelations that Justices Alito and Thomas have concealed six- and seven-figure gifts.
Democracy is complicated, messy, and often frustrating. Collective decisions are often bewildering to some or most of the population of a democratic society. Reversing those decisions is not easy but is often a moral, economic, or structural imperative. That messiness does not excuse any abuse; it confers on all of us an obligation to see through the fog of controversy and demand better from everyone who claims to lead.
No matter how far from perfect the political system may be, democracy is the opportunity to say: No more! Injustice must be countered. Leaders have duties they cannot leave untended. To hold public office is to be of service; an unwillingness to be a servant of everyone else is disqualifying.
Brazen autocracies are being challenged by their own people as incompetent, corrupt, and illegitimate. Repeatedly, we are seeing that people subsumed in the propaganda of malicious oligarchies—polls touting Putin’s enforced popularity, for instance—are in fact unhappy with the endless abuse they suffer and waiting for the moment to say so with some measure of safety in numbers.
We must not overlook, however, the degree to which abusive powerholders seek to leverage moments of vulnerability to accumulate still more undue power. At this writing, human rights across the world are being challenged by compounding degradations of human security and wellbeing.
Three years and three months after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everyday life across the world, far more people live on the edge of chaos and despair.
In 2022, 50 million people across 45 countries were living on the brink of famine—a hunger catastrophe of unprecedented scale. More than 820 million faced hunger, with more than 300 million facing acute hunger—three times as many as before the pandemic.
In the United States, gun violence and opioids (including an epidemic of fentanyl poisoning) have taken hundreds of thousands of lives since 2020 alone, with loss of life still getting worse. Together with a rapid rise in traffic deaths on top of 1,132,872 lives lost to COVID, the country is seeing life expectancy decline.
India—one of the world’s fastest growing major economies—faces a terrible challenge: only 60 million of its 1.4 billion people have formal jobs. That subjects an unimaginable number of people and communities to abuses and injustice that will demand redress.
Since the 1940s, we have talked about “development” as the solution. Moving societies from pre-industrial to industrial to post-industrial standards of living is thought to serve as a proxy for wellbeing, prosperity, and security. But in the United States, where development has consistently led the world, 40 million people (a population roughly equivalent to Spain’s) live in poverty (as do 1 in 6 children), while tens of millions have no affordable access to healthcare or no hospital facilities within a reasonable distance.
Unfettered, extractive development does not automatically translate into wellbeing, prosperity, and security. The kind of development, and who is included, will determine whether most people experience real improvements in living conditions. This is especially true in this time of polycrisis:
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains, spurred massive spikes in prices, and spread hunger and insecurity across the world.
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and daily war crimes have worsened food insecurity in most of the world.
Unsustainable debt and inflation have combined to put dozens of nations on the verge of default. (The U.S. narrowly avoided default this month.)
Climate disruption and nature loss are making all of this worse, subjecting communities constantly to physical and economic risk.
Mass migration is already accelerating, even as measures are taken to make the lives of migrants unbearably challenging.
We are facing the uncertainties of a world beset by income inequality, price spikes, unsustainable debt, climate disruption, food insecurity, pandemic ripple effects, and conflict. That long list of costly challenges is causing many to say the time is not right to commit new investment to solving our biggest problems. And yet, the United States, the European Union, China, and India, are all spending to succeed.
We need to recognize that transforming economic development in all countries, so extraction is no longer the governing logic, is a universal imperative.
We are facing the need to urgently reinvent prosperity—to treat health as a fabric of wellbeing and value, design to transcend crisis, leave no one behind, and invest in the future-building capability of everyone.
The global effort to engineer a serious, funded response to climate-related loss and damage must turn to mobilization of resources, right away and at scale.
No-nonsense cooperative financing of food systems transformation will be critical, because without healthy, sustainable food systems, deep destabilization will soon impact every region.
At no time in the history of human experience has so much disruption of nature and climate impacted people in every region, simultaneously. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Financial Stability Oversight Council have both reported that unchecked climate change will collapse the financial system and wider economy. Missing this moment will cost all of us more than we can imagine.
It is right now, in the midst of these many converging and costly challenges, that we need to find the smart, workable way to invest in our collective rescue.