HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal
"True civilisation is where everyman gives to every other every right that he claims for himself." – Robert Green Ingersoll.
In the first few millennia following the dawn of consciousness in humankind, primitive people lived with an intimate sense of sacredness of life in all the many forms in which it flourished around them.
Slowly but eventually an important inflection point was reached and human tribes and societies left off trying to work with nature, and instead they gradually began to work nature. Along the way, societies developed new concepts: competition, greed, and material gain which in turn helped develop new techniques for corrupting soil, water and the atmosphere. What ensued from there the whole of humanity now knows and endures.
21.2% of the world's population is currently undernourished and this results in some 50 million starvation related deaths a year. 1.5 billion people do not have safe drinking water and double that number lack basic sanitation. As if lack of food and water are not enough and to add insult to injury, some 40 million people already have HIV and by the year 2010, 70 million people will have the disease.
Our environment is also suffering: it is estimated that by 2050, 40% of the remaining forests will disappear, and with them so will the quality of the air we breathe. Deforestation, overgrazing and poor farming practices have led to the degradation of one quarter of the land mass that is suitable for agriculture, and that will soon translate to worldwide famine.
The greenhouse effect threatens to flood our oceans, and when one billion people live on lands likely to be dramatically changed by the rising waters, the potential refugee problem will be unspeakable.
Our world is past its peak in oil; our oceans are being contaminated; our atmosphere polluted and our own existence threatened by conventional, nuclear and biological weapons; and still we hesitate to ask ourselves why.
In our quest to build a new civilization, we have destroyed the most crucial element of civilisation- the human entity. For as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "the true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of the cities, nor the crops, but the kind of man that the country turns out." And I am sad to say that our civilisation has turned man into beast.
The only way to overcome these daunting challenges is to think, to plan and to act. Already our world is thinking; numerous initiatives to save the world have been put forth. Let us not forget the UN Millennium Goals, and years before that the Meadows Report on "Limits to Growth". And the historic decision of the Club of Rome Executive Committee to engage Think Tank Thirty (tt30)- a group of young professionals from all over the world- to address the challenges, divides and the future of humanity.
Substantial effort to synchronize and coordinate all these initiatives with the aim of providing a more holistic overview has yet to be done. Regions such as West Asia, South Asia and East Asia could then find common ground and address their respective concerns and challenges collectively. What would the driving force behind such trans-regional effort be? No doubt, universal consciousness; and which law would govern it? No doubt, a law of peace.
But all this tireless and valuable work will be worthless if a paradigm shift does not take place. This can be achieved if we think globally and act locally to take a stance toward a regressive way of life where man becomes more of a producer than a consumer, where he makes small personal sacrifices in the short term, in return for more substantial global rewards in the long term.
Sometimes one has to be cruel to be kind, and by being a little cruel to ourselves now we are being kind to future generations who will inherit the earth. Substantial reconfiguration of our lifestyles and redistribution of global wealth will ensure our survival. International donors can do more by consuming less and giving more to poorer countries, under strict scrutiny to ensure that the funds end up in the right pocket- that of the needy people. Poor countries, on the other hand, can have more by doing more in terms of raising public awareness, education, healthcare, enabling citizens, empowering women and most of all by combating corruption and ending armed conflict.
"Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education…no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both." -- Abraham Flexner.
It is indeed surprising that at the pinnacle of human scientific achievement, there exists a spiritual void, which like a black hole sucks everything into oblivion. The human spirit can be revived as a global spirit if there is selfless hope for freedom, equality and justice.