The world would end without politics

Building instructions for a better world

Common challenges, common prosperity

The greatest challenge of the 21st century will be to face the fact that on a densely populated planet the fates of all people are inextricably linked. And this common fate will require new forms of global cooperation. Many leaders have still not understood or accepted these basic and obvious facts. In the past two centuries, technical and demographic developments have always preceded social understanding. Industrialization and advances in science have changed the world at an unprecedented rate. Philosophers, politicians, artists and economists find it difficult to keep pace with social developments. As a result, our understanding of social realities is constantly lagging behind reality. (...)

Whether our global society will prosper or fail in the 21st century depends on humanity's ability to agree on a set of common goals and practical measures to achieve them. The scarcity of energy resources, growing environmental pollution, the increase in world population, legal and illegal migratory flows, the shift in economic power and large inequalities in income distribution are too big problems for market forces and unrestricted geopolitical competition between states to deal with to leave. There could well be a clash of civilizations due to mounting tensions, and it could be devastating and ultimately our final battle. If we are to find a peaceful solution to our problems, we must learn at the global level the same crucial lessons that successful societies have gradually and often reluctantly accepted at home throughout history. (...)

Today the challenge is less to invent global cooperation than to refresh, modernize and expand it.

Globalization without trust

Against all common sense, however, the global willingness to cooperate has decreased in recent years. (...) The paradox of a united global economy and a divided global society poses the greatest threat to our planet because it makes cooperation impossible. And without them, we cannot face future challenges. A clash of civilizations would destroy everything that humanity has built and, if we survived, burden our descendants for generations. We've been that far before. The first great wave of globalization in the 19th century ended with the corpse-strewn battlefields of the First World War. What is particularly sobering is the thought that globalization and the triumphant advance of science seemed just as natural before August 1914 as it is today. (...) But distrust and the failure of the European institutions ultimately led to a war with devastating consequences that were felt throughout the 20th century. The war itself was unprecedented in terms of its brutality and the number of victims. In its course, Bolshevism triumphed in Russia, the great flu epidemic of 1919 followed, followed by the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, the Chinese Civil War, the Holocaust and the division of the world after the Second World War. In 1914 the world was truly torn to pieces. In many ways, the wounds are still not fully healed.

Today such devastation seems impossible, but wars and conflicts, in which American foreign policy often acts contrary to the prevailing opinion of the world public, remind us daily that world peace is increasingly threatened.

Learn from the past

Many young people around the world associate the term “history” with September 11, 2001 and the Iraq war, a world of violence and terror. (...)

But there is another story that goes back to the end of World War II that can guide us and give us hope. After the Second World War, despite the Cold War, the world powers worked together to limit pollution, overpopulation, poverty and the arms race. They invented new forms and institutions of global cooperation, such as the United Nations, and carried out worldwide campaigns to combat smallpox, vaccinate children, fight illiteracy, promote family planning and protect the environment. In this way, they proved to all cynics that global cooperation can produce good despite adverse circumstances.

The carriers of change

The challenges of sustainable development, whether it is climate change, eradicating extreme poverty, stabilizing the world's population or supplying drinking water, can only be met if we rely on a wide variety of institutions. The problems are so serious that neither the state nor the economy or a certain organization can solve them on their own. Many actors are involved in complex social problems who are part of the problem and therefore also have to do their part to solve it. We are now faced with the difficult task of getting the many different parties involved to work together.

If market forces could handle the problems alone, it would be relatively easy to work together. Markets are wonderful because they coordinate the actions of numerous vendors and customers who often do not even know each other. (...)

This has led some economists to the erroneous and simplistic view that the market can solve all problems. (...) If it were simply a matter of supplying customers with large quantities of vaccines, the forces of the market would be quite sufficient. However, if we want to provide vaccine to all children who need to be vaccinated, the market is not up to the task. And if we want to primarily care for the poorest people who live far from paved roads, public transport, hospitals and health education information, the market is at the bottom of the list of institutions we need to mobilize. (...)

Rather, such cases require more complex forms of collaboration, involving not only businesses and consumers, but also the public and non-profit sectors.

Corporate social responsibility

The primary task of a company is to generate profit for its owners. But that in no way excludes the fact that business is actively committed to solving non-market problems, such as access to AIDS drugs. In fact, business leaders know all too well that they may jeopardize the company's success by neglecting the nonprofit side of doing business. If a company blocks solutions, its reputation can be immensely damaged, affecting corporate culture, customer loyalty, employee morale, recruiting, and even social acceptance of its activity. (...)

In most cases, a company's most important assets are its technologies, its suppliers and customers, its good name and its people. A company can bring these values ​​to bear in the fight against poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation. (...)
I myself have found that corporate charitable work works best as part of a comprehensive development project in which many partners - including philanthropists, aid organizations and private companies - contribute together. (...)

A special form of cooperation initiated by the Gates Foundation are so-called Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in the field of research and development, in which laboratories and scientists in important academic and private institutions are supported by the private sector be financially supported. The PPP was founded to research and develop new drugs, diagnostic techniques, vaccines and treatment methods in the fight against deadly diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and various parasites. From a market economy perspective, the research costs for these diseases would not be justifiable, because there is no market to solve the problems of the poorest of the poor. In cooperation with innovative scientific institutions, the Gates Foundation steps in where the forces of the market are insufficient.

In general, companies should develop in three directions. First, they should agree to make the Millennium Development Goals part of their commitment. Second, they should be creative and consider how their specific technology, products, networks, and expertise could be part of the solution. (...) Thirdly, a company should be ready to become active in countries in which it is not yet represented. Perhaps it doesn't earn much with its first assignments in Mali, Malawi, Tajikistan or Bolivia, but on the other hand it doesn't have much to lose, especially when a company works with like-minded companies in these new markets. The Millennium Villages project and similar projects offer a platform in which each company can contribute in its own way and which at the same time can greatly facilitate entry into a new market.

Non-governmental organizations

No other sector of our modern world plays such a constructive role in the fight against poverty, disease, hunger and environmental protection as the field of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). (...)

The term NGO encompasses a wide range of organizations: academic foundations, individual philanthropists, activist groups, professional charities, academic organizations, the charitable organizations of the churches, and so on. What they all have in common is that they are non-governmental and non-profit. (...)

In theory, the state can always intervene where the market does not, but governments can only partially compensate for the failure of the market. (...) The ability of the state to levy taxes and provide loans provide the necessary financial resources. The ideas of what to do, on the other hand, require research and entrepreneurship in their development phase. The non-governmental organizations make a decisive contribution to this. (...)

In the past 50 years some NGOs have received the Nobel Peace Prize - an indicator of the leadership role that the NGO sector is now assuming. (...)

One could even say that the most important institution for the economic development of the world in the 20th century was a non-governmental organization, namely the Rockefeller Foundation. No other organization - neither the World Bank, USAID, nor any other international organization - played such a formative role as the Rockefeller Foundation in the first 75 years after its inception. (...)

About 170 scientists who were supported by the foundation received the Nobel Prize. (...)

Today, Bill and Melinda Gates can do something similar with nearly $ 40 billion from their own resources and another $ 30 billion from Warren Buffett. The couple rightly focuses on combating disease and extreme poverty. Like the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation relies on research to eradicate poverty worldwide with the technical innovations it has developed. Originally the health sector was the focus of the foundation's interests, but now agriculture, water and other areas that play a decisive role in the fight against poverty are also focal points. (...)

The current list of the richest people in the world published in Forbes magazine brings another aspect to the fore. According to Forbes, there are currently around 950 billionaires worldwide with combined assets estimated at $ 3.5 trillion. That's an increase of a whopping $ 900 billion in just one year. (...)

According to the usual conservative asset management of foundations, $ 3.5 trillion earn five percent interest annually, or about $ 175 billion, a sum that can be used to secure basic medical care in all poor areas of the world, and to contain pandemics such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Start a green revolution in Africa, overcome the digital divide and secure the urgently needed drinking water supply for a billion people.

The billionaires, not even a thousand people, would have their money surpassing the $ 105 billion development aid provided by 21 donor countries with a combined population of nearly a billion people. That says a lot about the incredible wealth of the super-rich, but also about the current myopia in Washington, Tokyo and many European capitals.

The role of the universities

Among the non-governmental organizations, research institutions and universities have a special task in implementing the Millennium Development Goals. Only universities accommodate in their faculties the broad range of scientific knowledge that is indispensable for solving problems in sustainable development. Universities also have three other strengths:

First, universities, like many social institutions, take a long-term view. (...)

Second, universities can view global political, economic and social problems more impartially than other institutions. They do not seek profit (which is partly regrettable) and do not represent commercial interests. In most cases, they are not obligated to the state and therefore do not act as representatives of any particular policy. They manage themselves, often through a combination of faculty-level institutions and elected supervisors. Senior positions are often held for life, which gives office holders additional independence. (...)

Third, most universities were founded with a mission to make the world a better place, not just through research and education, but also by doing something for the community. There is therefore a long tradition of universities getting involved with local problems. (...)
However, this does not mean that universities will immediately and automatically take the lead in the major global tasks. There are three reasons against this: The first is the tradition that most universities see themselves primarily as national rather than international institutions. (...)

Second, universities are often reluctant to tackle sustainable development challenges in practice, such as improving health care or economic development in poor countries. Such projects are considered risky and there is a fear that they will attract criticism because they do not contain enough basic research. But the relationship between theory and practice is weighted incorrectly. Research on sustainable development is often difficult if you stay in the university's premises. (...) Rather, dealing with real problems is indispensable for developing a comprehensive theoretical explanation.

Third, universities, like governments, are not organized in terms of their organizational structure to take on the intellectual challenges of sustainable development. Teaching and research are broken down into academic subjects such as economics and business administration, politics or ecology and not according to possible solution approaches. The problems themselves (poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, water pollution and the extinction of species) do not adhere to the traditional subject boundaries, but require interdisciplinary research strategies and teamwork. (...)

Interdisciplinary projects like the one I lead at the Earth Institute at Columbia University offer promising opportunities to break the dividing lines between the disciplines and to use all of the university's expertise to solve complex, interdisciplinary problems.

New forms of governance

Businesses, universities, non-governmental organizations and professional associations are all being reshaped by the forces and opportunities of globalization. In order to adapt, governments need even more radical restructuring than these institutions. For organizational restructuring, the guiding principle must apply that the form of government depends on its function. Governments and international organizations such as the United Nations must be restructured; only then can they give the Millennium Promises more substance. Nation-states were originally formed through wars or to create a national market for goods and services, capital and labor from a collection of local markets.But these driving forces of political organization are increasingly a thing of the past. National governments are too small to take on global economic, demographic and environmental threats, but at the same time they are too big to preserve cultural diversity and traditions at the local level.

In addition, governments are not designed to meaningfully process and implement scientific findings on sustainable development from various disciplines. Therefore, they react blindly when globalization presents them with problems that they do not understand. Challenges such as global poverty and environmental degradation are interpreted as traditional threats to security. But military interventions produce poor results. (...)

The relationship between the states must also fundamentally change. The European Union shows the way to progressive regional integration. Since our problems are global today, the old nation-states turn out to be too small to take care of the common good on a transnational level. The EU not only guarantees that a war between the member states is unthinkable today, but also invests across Europe in important areas such as environmental protection and infrastructure. At the same time, it supports the member states in the “software” of governance, for example in monetary policy, in food safety and in regulating the financial markets. Other regions, especially Africa, will follow the European example and establish a strong transnational organization. Even the USA, which always goes its own way, tied part of its national economic and environmental policy to the transnational North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to which Canada and Mexico belong alongside the USA.

The transnational organizations, however, have difficulties to legitimize themselves democratically in a direct way. They often appear detached and bureaucratic and are managed by a civil service or by appointed representatives of the member countries, but not through the direct democratic participation of the people. One solution would be to give transnational democratic institutions such as the European Parliament more power. Information technology, for example, can help here. A wonderful new project, the e-Parliament, tries to link parliaments and popular representations via video conference and the Internet on a transnational, global level. An e-Parliament, connecting national parliaments, could help solve many problems. How can a challenge such as global climate change be met in a democratic way if the global institutions lack sufficient democratic legitimacy? For example, if the parliaments of the world held simultaneous sessions with renowned scholars and political scientists presenting their analyzes to dozen parliaments at the same time, the democratic institutions of the world could jointly agree on global measures. Even global laws or at least global resolutions on issues such as climate change could be debated and passed. In my opinion, the feeling of legitimacy and global connectedness would have an electrifying effect. We would come to much more creative solutions if we could finally better recognize that the problems affect us all.

The power of the individual

We all have different identities and roles - as a citizen of a nation, resident of a region, member of a cultural group, employee in a company, member of civil society organizations. (...)

I believe that in the next generation we will have new, unimagined opportunities, especially in our role as global citizens. As individuals we will then be able to realize ourselves to the greatest possible extent and be able to earn our living best when we are members of global networks, both at work and in our free time. (...)

Each of us can take the following eight steps to make our generation's hopes for a peaceful world and sustainable development a reality.

First, we need to find out what challenges our generation is facing. We have to become familiar with the scientific basis of sustainable development. (...) Anyone who no longer goes to school should keep up to date with scientific developments. The weekly and monthly scientific journals (Nature, Science, New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American) are required reading these days. (...)

Second, you should travel as much and as much as personal circumstances allow. Contact with other countries and cultures is the best way to understand the common interests and hopes that unite us as well as the special challenges in certain parts of the world. (...)

Third, you should start or join an organization that is committed to sustainable development. (...)
You and your organization could change the world and inspire others to do the same. Muhammad Yunus started the global microcredit revolution with his Grameen Bank. Paul Farmer founded Partners in Health and showed the world the true possibilities of health care for all. (...) Today's activists support a green revolution in Africa, they fight malaria, research drought-resistant crops, connect remote villages to the Internet and much more.

Fourth, you should encourage the commitment of those around you and encourage others to also work for sustainable development. Ballet star Jacques D’Amboise was able to get the National Dance Institute (NDI) excited about African development aid and inspire thousands of New York students. The NDI teaches dance in schools, often in difficult, low-income neighborhoods, and taught the children about ideas such as achievement, beauty, and personal improvement. When D’Amboise dedicated the NDI's annual program in 2007 to dance, culture and the rhythms of African villages, the children reacted enthusiastically and developed numerous possibilities to encourage their school, family and neighborhood to raise funds for the Millennium Village in Potou, Senegal.

Fifth, you should promote sustainable development through social networks on the internet. (...)

Sixth, you should be politically active and ask our politicians to implement the Millennium Development Goals. If the public insists, politics will respond. (...)

Seventh, you should include your workplace. Every company can contribute to global sustainable development. (...)

Eighth, you should also base your own life on the Millennium Promises. (...) Spend time, money and energy on your own social networks. Take responsibility for your friends and colleagues. Act critically as a consumer, choose sustainable products and technologies. (...)

The greatest challenges of our generation - the environment, demographics, poverty and global politics - are also great opportunities. (...)

Our generation can put an end to extreme poverty, turn climate change around, and halt massive, thoughtless species extinction. Our generation can cope with the problem of combining economic well-being with environmental sustainability. We are the generation who can use science and a new ethic of global collaboration to leave an intact planet for future generations.