“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”. True Sustainability does not rely on “the sky is falling”, rather it is based on information and data to give the existentialists a choice. What does that mean? Each person, as a free and responsible agent, determines their own development through choices and decisions. What are we talking about? Understanding every decision we make can and often does impact our future. Isolated choices for our needs often are not the best choices if we don’t consider its impact our planetary resources.
Mankind has avoided extinction, created by natural disasters, for over 2 million years. His fragile existence was almost eliminated during the last ice age, 50,000 years ago. However, more recently, the 20th century almost created an extinction scenario that would have permanently changed the complexion of our planet and perhaps ended mankind.
The 21st century will reveal whether our wisdom, understanding and leadership will preserve the existence of all life forms on this planet. Now, we are a population of 7 billion people. Demands for that population will continue to strain air, food, water and other resources in our lives. We are living on a planet that has almost reached full capacity. By 2050, our planet will have a population of about10 billion people. Without recognizing planetary constraints, we may witness tragic declines or possible extinction of mankind within the next 100 years. The “tipping point” is indeed grave and it facing us today. What will our choices be?
20th Century Tragedy Avoided
In the 20th century we experienced three major events that were considered global in nature and involve the majority of the countries on this planet. The first two events were called “world wars” and for logical reasons. These were global conflicts, pitting powerful alliances against each other. Both of these conflicts were significant and costly in terms of economic, environmental, and social aspects.
After the end of World War II, the world was divided between Russia (and its “allies”) and the rest of the World. This third event, known as the Cold War, segmented along ideological lines and would exist for almost a half century. It was the confrontation of capitalism versus communism, West versus East, United States versus the Soviet Union (and Red China), and tested the mettle of diplomacy, military power, global intelligence, geopolitics, technology and the “wisdom” to know the difference.
The world almost ended with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not since the Cold War, has humanity been faced with the possibility of human extinction. In the 1960s, aggressive Soviet diplomacy with the United States created an environment suitable for military conflict. That event almost created a global catastrophe, a threshold for nuclear disaster, that would have completely changed the world as we know it today.
This was a circumstance of competition for domination (totalitarianism versus democracy), players were clearly defined, consequences to actions were also understood, and leadership of the two major countries dominated the governance of any geopolitical conflict. In the worst-case scenario, hundreds of millions of people would die in the first missile volley; air, food and water would be contaminated for most of the survivors; much of existing civil infrastructures would be destroyed, martial law would probably be implemented in all countries to corral civil panic, and surviving governments and businesses would face a bleak future.
But why did they need to act then?
Frankly, survivability of such a radical exchange of weapons was truly unknown although atomic bomb testing provided data to make “best guess estimates” and create military scenarios. MAD strategies were just that: “mutually assured destruction”. In that type of war, there are no winners, but measured degrees which side was damaged less. Decades later, both sides admitted that a nuclear exchange was almost inevitable as a conclusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Political leadership from both camps recognized the fragility and sensitivity that could be created from a global conflict. Major players clearly understood the consequences of their actions, possible scenarios, and the need to manage potential threats or conflicts.
Modern societies exist today because of prudent decisions fifty years ago. Leadership acted effectively to preserve our planet. Missiles were moved, forces were de-escalated, diplomatic understandings were made and actions were made to ensure better communication between capitals. To summarize, this man-made situation was based on many key variables:
- Scope: total Global impact (threat to entire biosphere)
- Business: Involvement was limited or nonexistent
- Government: Driven primarily by Soviet and American policies
- Stakeholders: Consensus and allegiance solidified the Soviet and American camps
- Mitigation: Diplomacy, treaties, government trade and economic policies
- Result: Cooler heads prevailed and avoided a military conflict. Processes were adopted, understandings created, and similar events were mitigated or avoided in direct talks.
- John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis (adriaen22.wordpress.com)
- How did we forget about mutually assured destruction? (bbc.co.uk) him him