Earlier this year, a university my son had applied to sent him a supplementary application form asking him to name the planet’s two most pressing issues. It didn’t appear to be a challenging question, because the answers seemed obvious. But his answer surprised me, giving me a sudden insight into how the world looks to our youngest generations.
For the obvious answers must surely include climate change. Indeed, so many of our other problems are connected to that one baleful reality of failed environmental stewardship that a lot of second issues could effectively be climate change too, across water shortages, food shortages, and myriad other climate change impacts.
Yet, answering the question in early March, hard on the heels of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid the flow of Russian threats of nuclear strikes against the West, nuclear proliferation could have made a strong candidate for the second most important global nightmare — as we now give planet-space to warheads that can destroy an entire nation in a single strike.
But my son’s answer was one that encompassed everything that currently threatens our existence. The biggest problem, he wrote, is humanity, and human development. He didn’t mean that whole array we have come to know as development issues, such as sanitation, water supplies, shelter, health or education.
He went on to explain that human beings now had the capacity to destroy themselves, yet had not developed the wisdom or systems to manage their own wellbeing.
Once observed, it has thrown a wholly different light, for me, on this strangest of years, 2022. We have watched the United Nations flailing in the face of those nuclear threats and the wonton overriding of international law.
There’s talk of war crimes, but all our global body of governance can do, really, is plead with Russia to let some food out of the war-torn European breadbasket, so half the world doesn’t starve. It’s a place that holds echoes of the limping and inadequate League of Nations, back in the 1930s, with its mission of maintaining world peace.
It expelled Russia for its breach of the covenants of world peace in invading Poland and then Finland, but ended up destroying itself as a global body.
And so we have watched as its successor, the United Nations, paraded as different in its ability to send in peace-keeping forces, has been likewise rendered helpless in the face of similar circumstances. If it sent in peacekeepers, it would step straight into World War III.
So all recourse and remedy are gone. Yet, while my son mentioned the limitations of inter-governmental global governance, this was a consequence, not the problem.
His bigger point is that, even now, with world communications, our long spell of peace, our years of talking ‘global village’, we, as a race, have a mindset missing the piece where ‘social good’ should be.
We just can’t seem to get it that ‘social bad’ is bad for everyone and put society’s wellbeing back into our mix as a driving consideration in our own choices, behaviours, legislation, and organisations.
That is, not as a matter of sidelined corporate social responsibility, or foundations, but as an embedded commitment to personal and organisational altruism and social responsibility. It just isn’t there.
Which does mean our youngest generation has every right to complain at the world we have brought them into and the future we are giving them, now sitting in a range from annihilation to annihilation.
Of course, we see big global conferences, and rounds of governmental commitments, but look at our own election. We are steaming into a colossal food crisis.
Every analyst says East Africa will be one of the regions that will be hardest hit, and we don’t hear even a whisper from any politician about planting extra food now or mobilising us: and would they gain our votes if we did?
Because, really, aren’t we only just interested in our own tribe getting its fair share, and representation.And that isn’t some unique Kenyan blind spot. Humanity has just never made it to a higher plane of managing itself and society well. And there lies disaster.