By John Scales Avery*
21 April 2016
The lyrics of a popular song repeat a message of comforting (but irresponsible) fatalism: “Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que Sera Sera. What will be will be.”
I strongly believe that we must not allow ourselves the luxury of fatalism, especially today, when our future is darkened by the twin threats of catastrophic climate change and thermonuclear war.
We must accept our responsibility for both the near future and the distant future. We must do all that is within our power to make our world one in which our children and their descendants can survive. We must save the environment. We must save plants and animals from extinction.
What has happened to the global environment is a human creation. Its very name, the anthhropocene, indicates that we made it. What will happen in the future will also be our creation, the sum of the choices that we make.
War is a human creation. Just as we abolished slavery, we can also abolish the institution of war. It is our responsibility to do so.
The tribal tendencies of human nature are not inevitable. Racism is not inevitable. Nationalist Chauvanism is not inevitable.
The dark side of human nature can be overwritten by education and ethics.
It is our responsibility to create a global ethical system that matches our advanced technology. We must create an ethic of universal human solidarity.
Global anarchy is not inevitable. We can extend the methods used to avoid war within nations to the entire world. We can reform the United Nations and create a global federation capable of effectively achieving the goals that we desire.
Our economic system is a human creation. The laws of the market are not really laws: They are choices. If we choose we could maximize human happiness, rather than maximizing production and profits.
The population explosion is not inevitable. It is a result of human choices. The threat of an extremely severe worldwide famine resulting from climate change, exploding populations and end of the fossil fuel era is not inevitable. If such a famine comes, it will be the result of human choices.
The decay of democracy is not inevitable. Oligarchy is not inevitable. These evils are the result of neglect and political irresponsibility. As citizens, we must have the courage to restore democracy in countries where it has disappeared, and to create it in countries where it never existed.
We live in a special time, a time of crisis. Here are the responsibilities that history has given to our generation: We need system change, not climate change!
We need a new economic system, a new society, a new social contract, a new way of life.
We must achieve a steady-state economic system. We must restore democracy. We must decrease economic inequality.
We must break the power of corporate greed. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground.
We must stabilize and ultimately reduce global population. We must eliminate the institution of war. And finally, we must develop a mature ethical system to match our new technology.
No one is exempt from these responsibilities.
No one can achieve these goals alone; but together we can create the future that we choose.
*John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London.
He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century http://www.learndev.org/dl/Crisis21-Avery.pdf.