If 2022 was witness to a worsening of the most high-risk problems facing our planet, can 2023 bring a true message of hope? The dawn of a new year is a time for hope, but to give more meaning to this hope, some important decisions should be announced by world leadership regarding peace and co-operation for a protective world.
Clearly there is long overdue need for much more ambitious agenda for a future without wars, for eliminating weapons of mass destruction, for drastically reducing the arms race and instead concentrating resources on checking climate change and meeting other sustainable development goals. The need for such change is so strong and obvious that no one can find any rational explanation as to why the world has been so often seen to be not only violating such priorities but at times (most obviously in 2022) even moving in an opposite direction.
Let us therefore try to spell out some of the most pressing changes our troubled world needs urgently. Clearly the most dangerous, destructive wars and civil strife should end—certainly the Ukraine war but in addition also others in parts of Africa badly affected by hunger and famine, Yemen, Myanmar and elsewhere. The badly disrupted but extremely crucial task of most important disarmament treaties must be renewed, with the ultimate aim being uncompromisingly to end all weapons of mass destruction. The weapons industry must be scaled down and controlled and its ability to influence policy making must end. The framework of efforts to check climate change must be improved significantly to make them much more effective, along with simultaneously stepping up significant efforts to tackle about a dozen other life-threatening environmental problems. Food and farming must be saved from the corporate giants trying to gain huge control, GM crops should be banned. A range of dangerous new technologies and chemicals/products should be regulated and monitored much more carefully. Inequalities and discrimination at all levels should be drastically reduced, while decisions on most crucial issues relating to indebtedness, trade, patents and climate change should prioritize the concerns of people of poorer and vulnerable countries, including island nations. There should be increasingly more emphasis on meeting the basic needs of all people within a more limited carbon and environmental space, more compassion-based approach to other forms of life and broad-based steps for strengthening decentralization, communities and informed democracy. Medical care should be strictly evidence based and protected from the very harmful influence of those seeking super-profits and control.
As against the obvious and evidence-based urgency of this agenda, what has been happening in recent years has been– increasing threat of most dangerous forms of wars, dismantling of treaties relating to most dangerous weapons, further rapid spread of very high risk technologies and products, worsening of most serious environmental problems, almost unprecedented increase in economic inequalities at various levels, unprecedented extinction and erosion of many life-forms, very dangerous increase of control of food and farming system by huge corporations with their high-risk GM/HT technologies. Billionaires and multinational companies are increasingly influencing crucial decisions on vaccines, medicines and health policy, even emerging as leading funders and stakeholders in not just health programs of various nations but even the WHO.
This indicates that while the most serious problems add up to nothing less than a full-blown survival crisis on our badly endangered planet, the response of recent years has been, in effect, to go on increasing some of the worst threats ( despite much talk to the contrary). After all, what can be more insane than living year after year with such stocks of the most dangerous weapons the actual use of only about 10% of which can destroy life on earth, more or less, through direct or indirect impacts? What is worse, in recent years the treaties to reduce these risks have been dismantled or allowed to expire, and in addition there is increasing drift towards such new risks as robot weapons and possibility of space warfare.
It is keeping in view these factors that we need to expose not just inadequate or unreasonable response to biggest threats but even insane response. So the question is not just whether our deeply troubled world will move from war to peace, from weapons to housing for all, from high risks to sound reasoning, but whether it will move from insanity to sanity!
We must face the serious situation that the entire paradigm within which the world is functioning is full of very high risks. However people are asked to conform to this and to seek their careers or ‘success’ within this paradigm, so that in effect many well-intentioned people are forced into a position of contributing to accentuation of these risks and threats. To draw away attention from the absurdity and injustice of all this, a culture of mass amusements mixed with propaganda, aggressive advertisement and consumerism, instant gratification and endless pursuit of sensual pleasure has been created.
The pressures to create a consensus around this unreal world, emanating from powerful elites who seek to control such a world, disrupts society because people are being asked to conform to false values and live by them. This is the real reason behind the acute mental health crisis which has attracted much concern in the richest and most dominant countries. One of its saddest manifestations is seen in children who in their innocence and being ‘closer to nature’ suffer the most from false values.
In September 2011 the then largest study on mental health in Europe found that “Europeans are plagued by mental and neurological illness, with almost 165 million people or 38% of population suffering each year from a brain disorder such as depression, anxiety, insomnia or dementia” (Reuters report– Nearly 40% of Europeans suffer mental illness).In the USA 1 in 4 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders. In 2019, a typical year, according to official data, 12 million Americans thought about suicide and 1.4 million attempted suicide.
According to a statement released by three leading child health organizations in 2021, a child mental health emergency exists in the USA. Further “rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading leading cause of deaths for youth age 10-24.” According to official data quoted by the USA Surgeon General in an advisory on mental health, 37% of high school students (and 50% of girl students) reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an increase of 40% during 2009-2019. One out of six students made a suicide plan in 2019, again a 44% rise within a decade. According to UNICEF annual report on children for 2021, in the 10-19 year age-group 9 million teenagers in Europe are affected by mental health disorders. Only 41% of boys and 33% of girls said they were mentally healthy.
Thus it is clear that at present the world agenda is very badly alienated from real needs due to the undue pressures and dominance of manipulative elites who want not real reform but increased control. Secondly, the attempt to create an artificial consensus on the falsehoods imposed by elites has created widespread confusion and disruption among people, particularly children and youth, leading to enormous social distress, uncertainty and alienation.
This entire structure based on false values should be challenged by a vast, continuing educational and mobilization effort, the ultimate aim being to create a safer and more fulfilling world for people and particularly for children, to be achieved by walking without any uncertainty or confusion on the path of justice, equality, cooperation, peace, environment protection and compassion for all forms of life.
The most essential task of protecting the life-nurturing conditions of planet within a framework of justice, peace and democracy must be linked to the great creative potential of people, particularly the younger generation. This is the greatest challenge ahead of us, and it is in this direction that important initiatives should be taken in the year 2023. One such important initiative can be for the UN to declare the next decade 2023-33 as the Decade for Saving Earth Now. This writer has mobilized a signature effort for this and an appeal to this effect carrying the signatures of many eminent persons has been already sent to the UN Secretary General and other agencies.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and Man over Machine—A Path to Peace.