Holistic Thinking for Global Threats
Although there is a general consensus about the biggest threats facing humanity and the planet, the complex links between individual risk categories have so far received too little attention. Any realistic strategy to move toward a more sustainable future cannot treat these risks in isolation.
MONTREAL – In addition to costing human lives, this year’s unprecedentedly severe wildfire season in Australia has destroyed an estimated 2,500 homes, killed hundreds of millions of animals, battered the economy, and placed severe pressure on the government. Coming on the heels of the country’s hottest and driest years on record, the fires highlight the depth and complexity of the global challenges we face. Likewise, the COVID-19 outbreak, which started when a new coronavirus leapt from an animal to a human in China, now threatens to disrupt economic and social life around the world.
For much of the twentieth century, we liked to think that every problem had a simple technological solution. Vaccines and antibiotics would keep us healthy, the Green Revolution would feed us, and economic growth would pay for our schools and hospitals. But today’s wildfires and epidemics demonstrate that the risks facing humanity are not so simple, and will not be managed by easy one-track solutions.
Consider the current global landscape. One million species are now at risk of extinction, the disastrous effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent to all, mass movements of people are becoming more common, and the world’s democracies are in the grips of partisan polarization and skepticism toward science and expertise.