ESSAY: A Scenario of Planet Earth’s Survival

What does the future hold for our planet? It is easy to prophesy doom: a nuclear war, irreversible climate change, hordes of dispossessed people converging on well-to-do cities, a contagion with no cure. I’m going to buck the tide with a scenario of planetary survival, on the assumption we can avoid mass destruction in the next 50-100 years.

My scenario is founded on the willingness of governments to surrender substantial elements of their sovereignty. At some point of global crisis, a consensus will emerge among national leaders that the planet is on a suicide mission so long as every country responds in its own way to military, environmental, and economic threats. The only way forward suddenly becomes clear to all: surrender national control on these fundamental security issues to an international authority they will have to construct together.

In this scenario, nation-states would still have important regulatory tasks within their own borders — policing, budgeting, taxes, industry, health care. But now those tasks will have to be undertaken in the context of a global decision making authority that sets direction on military affairs and the various elements of globalization. The upshot of this framework is (or should be) that national leaders are severely constrained from war making and motivated to develop peacetime economies and more just societies. After all, they will have been relieved of budget planning that emphasizes military spending and international competition.

As we begin the new year and survey the quality of national leaderships, this survival scenario seems absurdly distant. Leaders of every major country are profoundly ill-equipped to imagine a new world order in which the wellbeing of the global community prevails over national and self interests. For them, preparing for war is more sensible than preparing for peace. Injustice and inequality are inevitable while freedom is relative. They view their job as making their countries “great again”; the notion of a global community is pure idealism.

Such narrow-mindedness — madness, really — helps account for why the current global situation is unsustainable and intolerable. To be sure, in every country there are activists at work on energy conservation, human rights, social justice, immigration reform, and so many other causes in the human interest. But governments make the rules, and at any moment they may crush those who work for humane change. What might replace them? A world federalist system? A United Nations with legislative authority? A group of international wise women and men? I cannot say, but I feel certain that finding an entirely new structure of global governance is the key to sustaining our fragile planet.

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Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, and blogs at https://mgurtov.wordpress.com/