There is an old saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it can be felt as a gust of wind around the globe. The point is to say everything on our earth is related. We impact each other and our environment and the opposite is also true. Too often, we lose sight of this context, and we miss the bigger problems while solving some smaller problem.
Just to get the thought process going, here are a few interrelated issues that provide some greater context for our problems.
One of the greatest issues facing the planet is global poverty, including the United States. Poverty impacts many issues through lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of socio-economic mobility, greater crime, fewer role models, lack of investment in the local economy and, because of all this, lack of hope. If economic opportunities are minimal, crime can take its place. Note, poverty is an equal opportunity offender affecting urban areas, rural areas and now it is finding its way into the suburbs.
Another of our greatest issues relates to our resources for air, water and food. These are all exacerbated by climate change, which makes fresh water more dear, harms our coasts with encroaching seas made worse when hurricanes hit ashore, intensifies our drought areas, makes more frequent our forest fires, and impacts our fisheries and crops. Right now, with about 7 Billion people, if we consumed on average like a North American, there would not be enough resources. That should be telling and it will only get worse. When I think of renewable energy, I see it as a way not only to save our planet due to climate change, but as a way to preserve our fresh water which is used to create energy with fossil fuel or nuclear power, not to mention the huge amount of water needed to frack for natural gas.
It is not a surprise that Pope Francis has raised these two issues as his major concerns in his recent encyclical. He will be talking more about these when he comes to the US. Our leaders need to listen to what he has to say as his message is dead-on accurate. And, he relates the two issues, as people in poverty are more impacted by environmental issues and climate change. It should be noted a poor fishing village in Bangladesh went away with rising sea levels. Tens of thousands of fishermen and their families had to move to already crowded cities to find work they did not how to do.
But, I don’t want to stop there as there are two more issues that impact both of the above issues. First, global corruption is widespread and hits home in the US. It is not as apparent, but think of the amount of money to get elected in our country. These funders are buying influence. So, once the votes are cast, the average voter pales in comparison to the funders and their lobbyists. It has always been this way, but it is now heightened with the obscene amounts of money to get elected. Yet, it is worse in other places. Global poverty exists because leaders keep the money in their pockets, even money donated to help those in need.
Second, the maltreatment of women affects us all. The Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky is true. If a religion or cultural mores treat women as a possession denying opportunity, they are doing themselves a huge disservice. They are competing in a world with only half its resources. Women tend to be more collaborative than men, as men have a greater tendency to compete on more issues. I call this a zero sum game – I must win and you must lose. If you remember the movie with Russell Crowe called “A Beautiful Mind,” about the schizophrenic, but brilliant economist John Nash, he won the Nobel Prize for a theory called the Nash Equilibrium which is still used today. In essence, if we pursue goals where we all succeed to a degree, the whole group would be more successful than if we each tried to maximize our own profit. Treating women like chattel flies directly against Nash’s economic theory.
So, these are the biggest issues facing our planet in my view. They do relate to each other. Yet, we need to start addressing these issues on a concerted basis or we will not be living very nicely in the future. I would start with treating women better, as their ideas and commerce will help us fight the other fights. Yet, we need to start fighting those issues as well.