The natural disasters, climate change and widespread social and economic crises that are taking place in the world today show that the human race needs to become smarter.
The urban revolution that succeeded the Neolithic agricultural revolution has allowed us to build new city-based civilisations that are conducive to innovation and information-gathering in all aspects of life and beyond. While amazing civilisations have come and gone over the last 10,000 years it is only since the 20th century that we have seen a real explosion in the urbanisation process, leading to a doubling of the global population. And all of that growth has gone into cities, accompanied by relentless rural migration.
Yet from a policies and strategies perspective our thinking has been linear – more of the same, rather than an investigation into fundamentally different ways to organise our societies and economies. Civilisations that have gone before us have failed because they clung to the past and showed no intelligent forward thinking that would enable them to break through traditional patterns and transform their societies.
Our current cities – with population numbers that have never before been envisaged – are not coping with this. Even an indirect event such as the nuclear crisis in Japan has a devastating economic effect on relatively distant Tokyo, and even beyond.
Until recently such events were mainly measured in human cost, but the present crisis events show that they have an equally devastating effect on economies, and could trigger a severe setback.
The lack of one single dollar element produced in a disaster-affected region can cause severe economic damage to its total global sector – in which it may perhaps be only the tiniest link. Have those industry sectors never thought of industry-wide disaster recovery systems? It clearly shows how vulnerable we are if we cling to our silo-thinking approach – a methodology which, while it may create valuable isolated expertise and efficiencies, could result in economic damage outweighing those benefits.
Change needs to take place before disaster strikes
As we have discussed on previous occasions (for instance, following the disastrous bushfires in Australia in early 2010) once disaster strikes it is too late to start looking for smarter ways to get us out of the situation. At that point every effort has to go into addressing the emergency and we automatically fall back on the plans and procedures that we are familiar with and that will allow us to take immediate action.
However, as a consequence of this no structural changes are made which would help us address the underlying problems. By the time the inevitable government inquiries is initiated everybody is busy again with their own lives, and when yet another report appears indicating that structural changes are required it is filed to gather dust.
And when the next disaster strikes another inquiry is set up.
Governments are not showing leadership
A typical political response to the need for structural change is to vocally and violently oppose and discredit any proposed changes so that serious debate is impossible. Countries like the USA and Australia are examples of this type of political dysfunction. The UK also often falls into this category; but surprisingly the current coalition government is getting some traction.
Many of the European countries are in a permanent state of indecision. Most of the time they are unable to reach a consensus and, while the EU does come up with plans that actually are of a transformative nature, the implementation is then left to the individual member states; and that is where they often come to a grinding halt. Of course, the current unstable political situation in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and even Sweden does not assist in important decision-making.
The fact that many countries have a hung parliament, or have political structures that bear a resemblance to one, is also indicative of the mood of the people. Many are disappointed and disillusioned by the political system and by the inability of their leaders to take a more serious stand on these issues in the national interest, rather than always seeking their own political advantage.
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