The (tenuous) case for hope

by Robert Kaufmann | Mar 5, 2024 | Thought Pieces

The (tenuous) case for hope – Originally published in the MIHA Bulletin

People have been predicting the end of the world since the world first appeared. It is the same today, where international events and news streams are filled with predictions about the end of time. A recent think-piece titled Welcome to the Great Unraveling: Navigating the Polycrisis of Environmental and Social Breakdown from the Post Carbon Institute in June 2023, affirmed the grim worldview held by many policymakers and humanitarian practitioners. It described a world characterized by ‘polycrisis’, where many global risks exist at once, with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part. This will lead, the piece says, to a time when global social, environmental, and economic systems fray more and more quickly. The piece suggests we are headed for decades of decline and turmoil, where the global population and economy are likely to shrink. Why then am I optimistic about the fate of the world? Because projections are not predictions, and predictions are nearly impossible to make. These forecasts fail to recognize the intellectual ferment and social movements that have been building for decades, demanding fundamental changes in human systems. The embers of a dramatic transformation in the way humanity defines its relationship to the world have been lit, giving hope to the idea that we may yet save the planet and ourselves. Good leadership that nurtures and builds on these ideas has the potential to reset the socio-economic and socio-political world order for the good.

An unidentified plant sprouts at a farm in Garissa as a symbol of hope.

While humanity is capable of destruction, neglect, and rapaciousness, it is equally capable of empathy, generosity and transformative thinking that can change our prospects for development. After all, we have evidence of grand thinking throughout human history, such as the development of agriculture 12,000 years ago which transformed social structures and allowed time for people to do more than scavenge for food. In the early 20th century, we developed and even mainstreamed vaccines and antibiotics that saved millions of lives from infection and disease. We created novel social-political systems like representative democracy and alliances like the European Union which expanded rights to minority populations and reduced violence among competing peoples. And more recently, innovations around computing and artificial intelligence, have improved communication and accelerated learning. Another monumental development in humanity, this one around the relationship between humanity and the planet, has made fragile but certain progress in the last few decades.

Cook Islands, Mangaia island, May 2013. Traditional fishing boats used by the fishermen on Mangaia. Because of climate change, they have to go further into the sea to fish, which becomes very risky with these boats.

A transformation in the way humanity perceives and interacts with the world around it is not going to be easy, and the change we need is far from certain. After all, we are working from some bleak and widely accepted assumptions. We accept that the global average daily temperature will soon pass 1.5c greater than the pre-industrial age. The consensus opinion is this will lead to an increase in the severity and frequency of climate-induced disasters. Despite growing calls to transform the capitalist system into something more holistic, incentives are still primarily designed to drive shareholder value and mass consumption. As a result, there is an expectation that inequality and the growing income gap will accelerate across the globe in the short term. As the world becomes increasingly connected through communication and travel, uncertainty and fear are fueling a backlash that is deepening intolerance in many places. The failure of world leaders, governments, and global organizations tasked with protecting the most vulnerable, will further erode trust in key institutions. There is little argument that this toxic mix of negative trends will lead to ever-greater mass migration, putting further stress on increasingly nationalistic communities and systems. We know, with a high degree of certainty, the most vulnerable populations – children, minorities, the elderly, and women – will face the greatest risk in this likely future.

Vanuatu 2016 12 months after Tropical Cyclone Pam swept through Vanuatu, The Red Cross continues to assist affected communities. In the remote island community of Buninga, Red recently worked with a team of community volunteers to repair the school roof in time for the start of the school year.

The solutions we espouse have become so common they feel trite, lacking imagination and far too generic. Localization – relying on indigenous voices, ideas, and systems to build a better future in places where the challenge is most acute. Mitigation and adaptation to climate change – placing equal value on more sustainable policies and practices, along with investment to better anticipate and reduce the impact of climate-related events. Climate financing – ensuring capital for, and access to, money to fund action around mitigation and adaptation. Trust building – enhancing and professionalizing oversight through greater representation in governance and more checks and balances to ensure integrity and accountability of those in leadership. It’s true, these concepts and ideals are important, even essential. However, they are insufficient, failing to reflect the urgency and scale of the change we need. These ideas are reductive, failing to build on the nascent, more holistic relationship humanity is beginning to recognize and build with the world around it.

Sumera is a volunteer attending training in Sukkar, Sindh province with the IFRC Relief ERU team. She is one of 25 volunteers learning how to distribute critical relief items to those impacted by the floods. Training includes learning about PGI, CEA, and maintaining the dignity of those people impacted throughout the distribution cycle.

So, what is the case for hope? It’s tenuous, but there is reason to believe a better future is coming. The same human qualities that made the great unraveling likely, may be leveraged to slow its pace and mitigate its impact. For example, over the last few hundred years, humanity has cultivated an extraordinary shift in socio-economic structures, institutions, and beliefs accelerating and compounding humanity’s impact on the world around us. This implies that humanity can change the socio-economic structures, institutions and beliefs that define us again – this time for the better. Changes that threaten humanity have come at an unprecedented pace, suggesting a similar pace of change may be replicated for positive outcomes. Furthermore, developments in technology and predictive science, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data mining, allow us to anticipate with ever-rising degrees of likelihood, future behaviour and events, even natural disasters. This creates an unprecedented opportunity to allocate time and resources before and during crises that can help us prevent and mitigate consequences with far greater efficiency and impact. 

The solutions being parroted in countless forums are insufficient only when taken as discrete interventions, motivated by incentives that are otherwise disconnected. When taken together, they represent a far more significant sea change in our worldview.

Landry is a volunteer in Douala 5e who participated in distributing essential items to those displaced from Northwest and Southwest provinces. – He shares what brings him hope, a message of hope and love for displaced people and the reactions of those who received kits.

Institutionalizing and scaling a new socio-political-economic order goes beyond thinking about mobilizing capital, designing clever projects that fight climate change, or creating innovative partnerships. We need a new paradigm for humanity’s relationship with the world around it, one that is driven less by discrete objectives and self-interest. We need a more holistic, biocentric worldview where humanity is conscious of and intentional in, nurturing a single system that puts value on the whole as a primary indicator.

This system is beginning to emerge, albeit in fits and starts. For most of the past millennia, humanity has been driven by a frenzied anthropocentric worldview, from the self-interest of Niccolo Machiavelli to Milton Friedman’s unchecked capitalism to Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik to Ivan Boesky’s celebration of greed. However, there is evidence the tables are turning. Each one of these men was considered an icon and influencer, towering successes at different moments in time. Yet today, many of their ideas are derided, recognized as much for their immoral and incomplete worldview as the contributions they made to society. A lot of these ideas have been qualified or even replaced by more nuanced, holistic, and feminist perspectives. Great and contemporary thinkers like Martha Nussbaum, Tristian Harris, Steven Pinker, and Michael Porter have spurred us toward a more tolerant, ethical, and inclusive world. They compel us to consider the impact of development and technology on individual well-being, society and the environment and recognize the extraordinary progress humanity has made.

The origins of impact investing date back to the dawn of religion, if not before, and there are meaningful cases of socially responsible investing over many centuries. Even so, the last few decades have seen new standards, accountability mechanisms and even, arguably, a new philosophy of economics working their way into the mainstream. Beginning in the 1950’s there were efforts to avoid “sin” stocks or companies that dealt with alcohol and gambling. There have been successful social movements that forced the divestment of businesses associated with harmful social systems like apartheid and child labour. More recently, businesses started measuring triple-bottom-line (social, environmental and profit) or reporting on ESG (environmental, social and governance) metrics. Today, there are calls for a more compassionate capitalism and businesses to be a force for good. Progress is hardly comprehensive, but it is undeniable. The Global Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 noted that sustainable development requires broad, diverse coalitions from all sectors to look beyond their narrow, short-term interest for new solutions at a grand scale. It’s happening, to varying degrees. The Global Impact Investing Network estimates the value of impact investing now exceeds $1.1 trillion and is likely to grow. And we are not satisfied. Charly Kleissner, a serial entrepreneur, currently serving on the board of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, is calling for the next iteration of wealth creation, called “deep impact” investing or “regenerative finance”, where investments are net-positive for people and the planet. While most shareholders are still focused on simple profit, it is getting harder and harder to defend the practice of pursuing narrow gains informed exclusively by self-interest.

The Gplus team mobilized to respond to a flood emergency in Banjul to provide assistance and relief to those affected by the natural disaster.

I have seen firsthand how more enlightened ideas can lead to new, sustainable futures. In my experience helping to found schools in the United States and Somaliland, innovative partnerships with the private and public sectors led to opportunities for children that would otherwise never have existed. These schools behaved in practice, like “for-benefit businesses”. Financial success was a prerequisite to attracting investment and stakeholder confidence, but these organizations would have lost their credentials to remain open if they had not fulfilled a social mission. Similarly, I connected a pan-African technology-driven healthcare company led by an enlightened CEO who put equal value on profit and social development, with the Zimbabwe Red Cross. The partnership saved and greatly expanded a pharmacy that was serving thousands of severely at-risk patients in Harare. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies now has financing mechanisms that use climate and weather data, along with predictive analytics, to release emergency response funds for local actors before disaster strikes.

How do we replicate and coalesce these scattered, budding movements into a more biocentric worldview? We have been here before, or a place just like it. History is replete with inflexion points that have transformed social, political, and economic systems, like the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. More recent phenomena such as the digital revolution, the bioengineer revolution and the fourth industrial revolution may affirm the past, reductive model of human development, or they can be directed toward something larger, more holistic. After all, a commercialized, commodified internet was not pre-ordained. It is the result of leadership. Leveraging nascent technologies and ideologies for a better world will require great leadership. Leaders who are courageous and authentically committed look beyond their narrow interests for gains that are shared by people and the planet. We can of course hold our leaders to account. We should continue to create models of accountability and to measure and report on progress. We must continue to think and speak out about the world we want. We should deploy our time, money, and energy in ways that make our expectations known unequivocally. This will give our leaders the confidence they need to sustain the most audacious revolution yet, one that results in a critical mass of people who share a biocentric worldview.

There is a lot that is bad in the world. Humanitarians are not doing enough in Sudan, Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, Haiti, Myanmar and more. The public sector must restore trust through good and honest work. The private sector must recast its definition of profit. Yet, something is happening. Humanity appears to be between two great epochs. The weaknesses and threats of a period of rapid expansion in wealth and knowledge have left much of society at risk; yet it has also led to the dawn of a new age, when a disparate set of ideas share recognition of the need for a new, holistic world order.

The volume and diversity of these initiatives give me hope. This work represents countless vectors pulling the rug out from under the current world order. What comes next, the apocalypse or an evolved biocentric worldview? It is hard to say, but as these ideas coalesce into a huge social movement, like those of previous centuries that reordered the world after other notable revolutions, change is coming. Most predictions suggest the apocalypse is coming but predicting the end of time is too easy. The current and historical data are more nuanced and complex than we often acknowledge. The truth is we cannot predict what socioeconomic structures, institutions, and beliefs will capture humanity’s imagination and become mainstream. We have the power, and I believe the burgeoning will, to create a better future. We can improve the communities and spaces in which we live. We’ve done it before, and I see evidence that we are on the road to doing it again.

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    The end of the world only the supreme power knows or it might happen if there will be some factors influencing it

  2. abidkhanbadri

    Yes I want to know about IFRC Red cross and Red cressent of the whole world

  3. jeancykamongo82

    Je suis fière de notre fédération internationale de la Croix-Rouge et du croissant rouge


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