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The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.

Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018
by Cory Steinhauer


Inequity, poverty, collapsing ecosystems, epidemics, famine, war, and other social injustices continue to grab the headlines. Seemingly insurmountable challenges face humanity.

In our era of short-termism what is being done?

Some of our problems

  • Over 150,000,000 people require humanitarian aid - the largest number since the end of World War Two;
  • Daily, over 500 women and teenage girls die from pregnancy and birthing complications in emergency contexts;
  • Gender-based violence brutally continues, for example in Papua New Guinea 70% of women face domestic or gender-based violence, 50% experience rape within marriage and 68% are beaten at home;
  • Safe drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce –almost 1 billion people don’t have access to it;
  • From the late 80’s to 2008 approximately 3,362,000 people died as a direct result of conflict, this is an average of 168,100 deaths each year. Since then? Sadly, deaths have risen to over 200,000 per year, mainly because of the number and intensity of fighting in the Middle East;
  • The number of refugees and internally displaced has reached 60,000,000, with the number of internally displaced people doubling over the past 5 years. There are now 30 major long-term refugee situations around the world, with the average length of time in this state approaching 20 years;
  • Today, it is estimated that 124 million children do not attend school and 757 million adults are illiterate. Every person on Earth has a right to education. This right has significant impact on poverty rates. Removing someone’s right to education results in illiteracy, low enrolment, high dropout rates among the poorest and the inability to engage in the formal economy – simply it reinforces poverty. However, if the right to education is achieved it enhances access to other human rights – health, freedom of expression and employment – all of which are non-negotiable in the battle against generational hardship;
  • Asia Pacific is the source of 45% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and is on a growth trajectory to reach 50% by the end of the decade;
  • Sustainable development and humanitarian issues have become highly politicised;
  • Our assumption that social development and the inequity dilemma are secondary concerns to the state of the economy;
  • The list could go on…

2 Leadership 

Converging limits

Climate change, water scarcity, food insecurity, peak oil (declining energy return on energy invested), and financial and social instability are all symptoms of an unsustainable world – and they are all inextricably linked.

So what?

With the interests of all global states and territories often at different and competing stages can we safely (and blindly) let policy makers lead the way? Even if we, for example, minimise global warming to 2 degrees (a big if – 4 degrees is more likely), our society will have to respond to ever increasing and intense impacts such as:

  • Extreme weather (heat waves, air pollution, droughts);
  • Physical system changes (river flows, ocean temperatures, soil acidity);
  • Biological and ecological stresses (crop yields, insect range and activity);
  • Human health concerns (infectious disease, under-nutrition, mental stresses);
  • Economic and social changes (economic productivity, jobs, displacement, conflict);
  • And so on... 

3 Leadership 

A dilemma

As the days of fossil fuels end, the same fuels that drove our economic growth (and subsequent population boom), we see that a fundamental change in societal behaviour is inevitable.

We now need a normative approach to prepare and respond to these impending changes. We must, individually and collectively, set out the real risks, opportunities and time frames of response:

  • Change the context of the debate (from incremental change to emergency response);
  • Build ever growing coalitions of champions across the private, civil and public sectors;
  • Go around conventional politics (for the common good);
  • But also mandate critical policy outcomes (not constrained by ‘political realism’);
  • And again, we could go on…

We must have leadership

Our challenges are far greater and more urgent than is officially acknowledged. ‘Official’ solutions, and current policies, are not working and will not deliver the transformation required in time.

We can no longer sit back and play the waiting game, because without change there will be catastrophic outcomes. It is time all of us - from large multinationals to community groups - are made aware of the evidence and acted upon it.

It is about human behaviours and the type of world we want to live in – we all can make a difference, but empowerment is also a mind-set, it cannot always be given.

You have a choice to make.

4 Leadership

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