Is humanity facing a “perfect storm” of social and ecological challenges?
Global warming is likely to result in rising sea levels and a loss of annual glacial runoff which, together, may displace and impoverish well over a billion people in the coming century. At the same time, the age of inexpensive energy is coming to an end as we approach peak oil and the best energy alternatives will be significantly more expensive than sweet crude oil (i.e., these alternatives will have a much lower “net energy” ratio). Meanwhile, the gross inequities of the global economy, along with persistent ethnic and religious conflict, are leading to widespread instability and insecurity just as ever-more efficient technologies of mass destruction proliferate around the planet.
To navigate these challenging times, responsible and effective governance is urgently needed. But governance in even the most “enlightened” democracies has descended into a state of paralyzing dysfunction. Long-term planning and global coordination have proven to be elusive goals for partisan systems characterized by unceasing competition for short-term political advantage within anachronistic national boundaries.
How long will it take for people to recognize the scope and urgency of the problem? The anachronistic models of governance we’ve inherited from the eighteenth century are incapable of meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century. Those inherited models may have been significant historical accomplishments, but history is far from over. Indeed, our history as an interdependent global community is just beginning.
As Baha’u'llah wrote more than a century ago: “How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society?… The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective… Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead… The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
It is clearly time for a serious conversation about the construction of just and sustainable systems of local, national, and global governance for the twenty-first century.