Two of the most important facts about the 21st century must be emphasized. Firstly, no other century in human history started with such serious, known, avoidable, man-made threats relating to basic life-nurturing conditions of our planet. By the year 2000 such immense, unprecedented threats related to many-sided environmental crisis as well as weapons of mass destruction were widely recognized. It was also well-known that the 21st century is the most important time in terms of the ability of human beings to still save the life-nurturing conditions; in this sense this is an unprecedented do-or-die century.
Secondly, the first 23 years of this century have nevertheless seen the worsening of these threats instead of urgent and effective actions being taken to check them. In fact in this context the 21st century has so far been remarkable for achieving the opposite of what was needed. The latest two years 2022 and 2023 characterized by the start of two wars that can have worldwide worsening implications have been the worst of all. The life-threatening crisis of the deeply troubled world is deepening further, going from bad to worse.
Hence it is very important to assert now in the last quarter of year 2023 that very urgent course corrections are required as early as possible to prevent the planet from sliding fast into irreversible decline towards life-threatening conditions. If such a call for course correction can be heeded even at this stage, we may still be able to end the year 2025 on a note that at least something significant for meeting the unprecedented challenges of the 21st century could be achieved in the first quarter of this century. Can the world achieve this in the next two years?
What is very visible for all to see is that wars during the 21st century have been enormously destructive wars. The USA’s War on Terror alone has caused nearly 4.5 million deaths directly and indirectly, according to Brown University’s costs of war data base, and this number would increase further if updated and more complete estimates are prepared for all the affected countries. In addition, of course, there have been many other conflicts, wars and civil wars in various parts of the world. The number of people displaced by all this violence is likely to be more than 100 million. Several countries, big and small, have been devastated like never before, mostly for no fault of theirs.
This is something for all to see. However there are several less visible aspects of this destruction which if fully known would shock the world no less than the destruction caused by these wars. These relate to the ways in which the various wars started and were provoked. These relate to acts of provocation and sabotage and proxy-wars, not just directed contested wars. These relate to shocking disregard on the part of the most powerful for sacrificing thousands or even millions of lives in the misguided quest for profits and dominance. These details reveal very destructive minds at work in very senior positions. As long as such destructive persons and forces remain in very powerful positions, the highly destructive wars are not going to decrease. No less shocking is the role of the military-industrial complex in instigating wars that are fuelled by the insatiable hunger for super profits accruing to a few.
While the big arms companies and the military contractors, particularly those based in the USA and its close allies, have the most sinister role in endangering the well-being of the world, some of the biggest corporates in the most important sectors like health, food, energy and communications too have highly pernicious agendas. Some of the biggest agribusiness companies aspire not to feed the world in better ways, but instead to gain control over world’s food and farming systems using patents and irreversibly dangerous technologies like those related to genetically modified crops. The biggest pharmaceutical companies are more interested in extracting high profits and extending control over the health sector than in improving health. Several fossil fuel and other highly polluting companies are more involved in finding excuses and pretexts for continuing their pollution, offering highly suspect compensatory arrangements, than in seriously reducing their pollution.
Instead of learning from the most obvious lesson of human history–namely that the many-sided urge for dominance has been the biggest single cause of distress and destruction– the most powerful corporates, agencies and leaders are imposing their agendas for dominance, sometimes unprecedented dominance, on a world that is already deeply troubled and threatened. In one of its worst manifestations, this agenda may see wars involving the most powerful countries having over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, thereby endangering world safety and survival more than ever before.
Hence while the most important challenge of the 21st century is to check the survival threats before it is too late, the first 23 years have been spent in worsening these threats. Clearly a very urgent course-correction is needed and there should be no further delay in this course correction.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.