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The second observation is that our collective decision-making institutions (governments) are either incapable or unwilling to address these issues in the manner in which they must be addressed.
During the 20th century representative democracy (that institution that embodied our collective decision-making enterprise) made some worthwhile and beneficial advances. Women were enfranchised, many indigenous people finally obtained the vote from their colonial oppressors, dictatorial and cruel regimes were replaced by democracies (e.g. South Africa, India, Chile). Two world wars were fought supposedly to protect democracy and freedom. By the end of the century the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to suggest that representative democracy had prevailed.
But, also by the end of the 20th century representative democracy was showing clear signs of not coping with societal pressures, and the changes in technology, population and consumption that had been made since WW II.
Some Complex Issues
Climate change was beginning to be understood, but not taken seriously by politicians and global institutions. Kyoto failed, Stockholm failed, and we continued to pump CO2 into the atmosphere.
Violence continued to be the method-of-choice when it came to resolving conflicts. Although it was reducing1, the world still spent around $12 trillion (that's 12 million, millions) or more on its militaries in the final decade of the century. At least two dozen wars were being fought as the century came to a close.
Social inequality grew at a staggering rate in the final decades of the 20th Century The world gini coefficient2 grew from 0.66 in 1980 to 0.71 in 2002 (one of the largest increases the world has ever seen).
Of all the animals that have become extinct in the last 500 years, 60% became so in the 20th Century. In other words, the rate of extinction is increasing at an alarming rate. Some scientists are so alarmed that they suggest that one-half of the world’s multi-cellular life forms will be extinct by 2100 because of “human-disruption of the biosphere.”
Opposition and Alternatives
Since the turn of the century there has arisen at least two major oppositional movements for social change. One of these called for greater equality and was epitomised by the Occupy movement – along with it’s attendant slogan of “we are the 1%.” The other is the opposition to those businesses that significantly fuel climate change (such as Big Oil and Big Coal). At the forefront of this opposition are movements such as 350.org, Greenpeace and others.
Concurrent with these oppositional movements has been the growth of alternative approaches – often local, low-impact and non-hierarchical, yet highly innovative and inter-connected.
Many within these movements understand clearly that if change is going to be made, then it will have to be made by them. It will not be made by politicians sitting and debating in parliaments, senates and congresses around the world. It will not be made by high-level diplomats and government advisers meeting in summits, forums and conferences around the world.
These movements are implementing and proving the exhortation from Margaret Mead3 to:
“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, its the only thing that ever has.”Part 2 will question the efficacy of continuing to work for politicians and political parties if what we desire is better ways of making collective decisions and making decisions that will seriously address the issues we face in the 21st century.
1. Although world spending on the military did fall during the 1990s, it has been climbing again since the beginning of the 21st Century, The US is the biggest spender, contributing around 40% to the world spending.
2. The gini coefficient is an internationally recognised statistical measure of income inequality. The coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, the closer it is to 1 the greater is the inequality.
3. Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978) was a highly respected cultural anthropologist who did much to make the insights of anthropology available to a wider audience.