Is there hope for our future?
"The good news is that the global financial crisis and climate change planning may be helping humanity to move from its often selfish, self-centered adolescence to a more globally responsible adulthood... Many perceive the current economic disaster as an opportunity to invest in the next generation of greener technologies, to rethink economic and development assumptions, and to put the world on course for a better future."
Scientific and technological progress continues to accelerate. IBM promises a computer at 20,000 trillion calculations per second by 2011, which is estimated to be the speed of the human brain. And nanomedicine may one day rebuild damaged cells atom by atom, using nanobots the size of blood cells. But technological progress carries its own risks. "Globalization and advanced technology allow fewer people to do more damage and in less time, so that possibly one day a single individual may be able to make and deploy a weapon of mass destruction."
The report also praises the web, which it singles out as "the most powerful force for globalization, democratization, economic growth, and education in history". Technological advances are cited as "giving birth to an interdependent humanity that can create and implement global strategies to improve the prospects for humanity".
The immediate problems are rising food and energy prices, shortages of water and increasing migrations "due to political, environmental and economic conditions", which could plunge half the world into social instability and violence. And organized crime is flourishing, with a global income estimated at $3 trillion – twice the military budgets of all countries in the world combined.
The effects of climate change are worsening – by 2025 there could be three billion people without adequate water as the population rises still further. And massive urbanization, increased encroachment on animal territory, and concentrated livestock production could trigger new pandemics.
Although government and business leaders are responding more seriously to the global environmental situation, it continues to get worse, according to the report. It calls on governments to work to 10-year plans to tackle growing threats to human survival, targeting particularly the US and China, which need to apply the sort of effort and resources that put men on the Moon.
"This is not only important for the environment; it is also a strategy to increase the likelihood of international peace. Without some agreement, it will be difficult to get the kind of global coherence needed to address climate change seriously."
While the world has the resources to address its challenges, coherence and direction have been lacking. Recent meetings of the US and China, as well as of Nato and Russia, and the birth of the G20 plus the continued work of the G8 promise to improve global strategic collaboration, but "it remains to be seen if this spirit of co-operation can continue and if decisions will be made on the scale necessary to really address the global challenges discussed in this report".
Although the scale of the effects of climate change are unprecedented, the causes are generally known, and the consequences can largely be forecast. The report says, "coordination for effective and adequate action is yet incipient, and environmental problems worsen faster than response or preventive policies are being adopted".