By Jakob von Uexkull

.][This article published in: Wissenschaft und Frieden 1/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Jakob von Uexkull is founder of the World Future Council.]

Global challenges arise today through breaking limits - "the end of the others" (Ulrich Beck). The consequences of our decisions and non-decisions are global for the first time in history. Geological time periods have become morally relevant. How will we deal with this once-in-a-lifetime responsibility without being overwhelmed? Can we manage our responsibility somehow?

The scientific consensus says "Yes" but only if we radically reverse ourselves in many areas in the next years (no longer decades). The limits of growth have been reached once and for all. The climate chaos allows no escape. The consequences of ecological globalization are not taxable. Money debts can be delayed and terms of debts changed. But the melting glaciers cannot be negotiated. The consequences of an environmental bankruptcy can have endless effects!

The climate report by Sir Nicholas Stern describes climate change as the greatest market failure of all time. However the failure is also an unparalleled political- and market-failure because the climate chaos was not chosen by informed citizens. Quite the contrary! Shocked by the increasing catastrophic news, more and more people now reject the whole direction. In the forerunner neoliberal countries the US and Great Britain, less than 20% are convinced globalization on the whole is positive. The idea that more consumption is better begins to lose support. The British newspaper The Guardian recently reported of a village that is trying to reduce its CO2 emissions. "Suddenly the couple feels guilty instead of envious about a second home in Barbados. The values of the middle class begin to change."

We now have the choice, either pursuing "business as usual" with little reforms or possibly becoming even richer like a successful poker-player on the sinking Titanic. Or we could take the future seriously and reverse ourselves now. Privately and vocationally we could change many things to become part of the solution. However we know this will not be enough! We must be engaged socially and politically to change the rules, institutions and information streams so they reflect our highest values and support our personal changes.

The main problem today is we cannot solve the great global crises although we have the knowledge, labor power and resources. Why is this? Many surveys show large majorities are aware of problems, ready to act and take great steps. What keeps the majorities back? The answer is clear: the firm belief that decision-makers in politics and the economy will not play along! Thus we must convince more people now through our own initiatives that they can accomplish changes and the3ir steps will be worthwhile! Every existing law, every rule, every agreement, every institution and even every custom must be reexamined and if necessary changed as to future- and environmental-friendliness or compatibility.

The basis of our action can only be that value that was and is common to all people, the deeply felt obligation to pass on a better world to our children and grandchildren. How quickly our modern civilization can break down was clear in the superdome sports-stadium of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when young strong men snatched the scarce supply of drinking water while women, children and seniors looked on helplessly.

We need a new understanding of dangers and risk hierarchies today. Climate change threatens our security, human rights and our fight against hunger and poverty and is more than an environmental risk. Ulrich Beck points ou9t that "insurance protection paradoxically decreases with the size of the danger" in the world risk society. Our main task is developing integrated answers. For example, an effective energy efficiency revolution demands a far-reaching ecological tax reform. Increased growth can no longer mean sacrificing our true wealth - a healthy earth - in exchange for computer printouts telling us how rich we supposedly are. For many, the consequences are already concrete. In Australia, whole cities have been evacuated because of water shortage.

Creating quality of life with less energy and resources must be our goal if we want to avoid a future full of conflicts. We need an economy on the basis of maturity and cooperation, not immaturity and greed. Optimal services will be the ethical criterion, not possession of a maximum number of products. Most oil experts now accept the imminent climax of the global oil supply, so-called peak oil, predicted a few years ago only by several outsiders. The coming inexorable mass migration of climate refugees from North Africa etc. will reach dimensions in Europe that will put our human nature to a very severe test. Our present problems will seem laughable. The necessary changes must begin with us in rediscovering the quality that ancient Israelites called "hochma," the ability to feel and act as though the future depended on each of us.


"From Bubbles to Living Economies" by Jakob von Uexkull
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