The State of our World-
A Fragile, Interconnected Mobile Comprised of Many Moving Parts
Vincent Le Roy
Cultures, communities, countries, and continents are now mobile…inextricably tied to each other in one elegant, yet fragile ecosystem–set in motion by the winds of social, economic, political change. The nature of humanity’s shared existence is now quite capricious. Geopolitical alliances are shifting dramatically, while trade wind wars are ripping apart current relations and breathing life into new ones. Global shipping routes are changing, physical products are vaporizing into digital software, people are migrating, money is moving, and economic opportunity is relocating to different parts of the world.
Indeed, it’s important to ask if the nationalistic, isolationist, antagonistic political tacks and attacks by US leadership layered on top of our fragile global mobile are tactful and intelligent or destabilizing and destructive.
Mobile Shifter I
Tale of Two Wolves
Consider the trade war between the US and China- two superpowers; who by putting tariffs on imported goods from each others’ countries (e.g. US tariffs of 25% on $200 billion USD Chinese imports) and by black-listing companies from each others’ countries; (e.g. Trump restricting telecommunications giant, Huawei and President Xi Jinping further restricting US companies, like Google and Microsoft) are disrupting global supply chains, increasing consumer prices for foreign goods, and shifting the mobility of world trade. Did anyone consider that as the US increased tariffs on Chinese steel; China might cut off soy imports from US farmers and pass along that multi-billion dollar market to Brazil? Strangely, stressed trade between the US and China mostly hurts companies (lower profit margins) and consumers (higher prices) in the US and China. Thus, the US’s aggressive foreign economic policy seems counter productive, literally. Meanwhile other global trade partners for China; like Korea, Japan, the EU, and Mexico (e.g. the 2019 UN Trade Report estimates $27B USD increased markets in Mexico) stand to gain those markets, which the US is now losing. I find it hard to believe that this strategy will make America great again. True, China doesn’t have a great track record of playing well and fair, either. (e.g. China undercutting the German solar market; shifting solar panel manufacturing from Europe to China overnight.)
Chile, Pixaby Solar Photo
But, we are America- the land of opportunity, the home of freedom and democracy for all. And large part of what makes America, beautiful is our cultural diversity and access to foods (also, year-round fresh produce), products, experiences from different parts of the world that enrich our lives. We forget that it was only in this century after WWII that the fleets of ships had finished their military tours and sat waiting for their next assignment; when international shipping gave us access to a world of cuisine and customer goods in our local shopping malls. And only with the brilliance of barcodes to uniquely identify products and crates, were we able to track goods from port to port, reducing the uncertainty of consumer demand for certain goods and allowing international markets to capitalize on new innovations, build new business, enrich culture, and blossom literally world-class economies like ours (Robert Tercek, Digital Identity). It would be a misstep to shut down the ports of global trade with China. Seeking fairer, more equitable trade agreements is a good future course of action; but with grace and a sense of common good; not contention and a will to conquer.
Barcelona, Pixaby Photo
Conversely, trade tensions could even isolate us from the rest of the world as the center of gravity for geopolitical power shifts East along trade winds toward China. Russia, as well, now seems to have sided with China in the US-China tech wars; making headlines that Huawei will develop Russia’s first 5G- Network (Fareed Global GPS Briefing, June 6, 2019). Further, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 and Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) is on track to build trade routes connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient Silk Road land and sea routes. While we are building physical, psychological, and virtual walls with our southern neighbors in Mexico and significant trading partners, China is literally building roads and bridges to build economic relationships with theirs neighbors in every cardinal direction. As per China’s character; this is no small-scale, whimsical, or short-term venture. BRI is historic, and legacy focused. China intends to lend $1-4 trillion USD along with other development partners (e.g. IMF, World Bank, Standard Charter) for construction of roads, electricity, rail, and ports in now 152 countries to create a new East-West global trade network.
At this point the Asian trade winds are so strong, I can’t imagine that the US can stop China’s economic rise. And, framing China as an economic threat to the US, attempting to bully them, while undermining our long-standing relationships with other countries in the world- only seems to further isolate the US from the rest of the world, reduce our global influence and respect, jeopardize US citizens and companies traveling and working abroad, impoverish our culture, and disrupt the international liberal order which has maintained world peace this past century. The US and China super power positions in the global mobile are clearly shifting and causing the rest of the mobile to destabilize and to move, as well. Thus, our global mobile may look very different in the next few years…and there are other geopolitical forces at work. Let’s take a look at another significant mobile shifter.
Mobile Shifter II
Nature’s Reflection 2018
Consider the UK’s hard Brexit stance to disentangle itself from the European Union. Is it so clear for Brexiteers that the UK will gain real independence, and at what cost for what real pain? Separating itself from the European Union- the largest economy in the world with a GDP of 25,000 euro for every 508 million EU consumers doesn’t sound to be such a smart chess play when the United Kingdom’s population (at 64 million) and market size (thus financial negotiating power) pails in comparison. Perhaps the vote for a British exit of the EU was subject to cyber attack and manipulation like the last US Presidential election, but it’s still curious that hardline, adamant Brexit supporters passionately persist. Bernard-Herni Levy, French (author/ philosopher) called a hard Brexit move, now emboldened by Boris Johnson– the likely successor to Teresa May, suicidal for the UK. French President Emmanuel Macron in his recent speech at the World Economic Forum on Renewing Europe, further iterated that Brexit symbolizes the crisis of Europe, as the UK’s popular movement and isolationist policies will likely lose them access to European markets. I remember being in London during the official Brexit- British exit and wandering through the people’s march; where among the culturally-diverse crowd, I saw a young woman holding a sign, “If you’re going to Brexit, then we are going to take our Italian pizza with us.” I remember thinking: “How would the UK ever return to a life without pizza or falafels or sushi or chicken mole?”
The truth is our countries and communities today are more culturally diverse, interracial, and interconnected than ever before. Our urban centers are infused with diverse ethnicities and now exist as cosmopolitan hubs of innovation. International alliances, like NATO (celebrating its 70th anniversary, April 2019) have kept our world as a whole at peace for nearly a century. International agreements, like the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, remind us that the wellbeing of all humanity depends on the integrity and health of our natural world; that we are global citizens faced with the same universal concern about the environmental stability of our shared planet and the quality of life for all of humanity- now 7.7 billion people strong.
Nature’s Reflection; One Planet 2018
According to President Macron, it seems the only sustainable, peaceful, and progressive way forward for the continent of Europe is for the “EU community to politically and culturally reinvent itself and hope that the UK finds its right place in a renewed Europe.” President Macron, Renewing Europe Thus, the French President- considered now the bastion of liberal democracy in Western Europe, presented a new plan for the future of the EU: to Defend Freedom by creating a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies in the wake of the rise of tyrants, cyber attacks, and malicious political manipulation; to Protect the Continent by rethinking Schengen, increasing NATO, banishing hate and violence on the internet, and banning businesses that disregard environmental standards; and to Recover the Spirit of Progress by creating a social shield that protects workers, by doubling down on carbon and clearing the EU’s climate debt, by financing nature protection and food security (e.g. honeybee protection programs through entities like the European Climate Bank). Clearly, President Macron and other EU leaders aim to well-position Europe on the new global mobile.
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth in the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace held for Mr. Trumplast week also reinforced the importance of protecting healthy friendships with neighbors and building international institutions “to ensure the horrors of conflict would never be repeated and that nations would work together to safeguard a hard won peace.” Queen Elizabeth. On the anniversary of D Day last week, I thought of Peter Jackson’s extraordinary, immersive, 3D 2018 World War I documentary for the British Museum, “They Shall Not Grow Old”, which told the story of war through the experience of being a British soldier. Even as the film came to life, I can’t even imagine what it must really feel like to be on the front lines of war. And, I am keenly aware that healthy political and economic relationships (which increasingly eroded, became less equitably, and are now tenuous) are what have kept the peace for so long. It seemed in Paris at the Climate Agreement (COP 21); as leadership from every country came together with a plan to decarbonize our world that we as a global community had found common ground, purpose, and commitment on climate change—aware that the future health of our shared biosphere depended on it. This was a bright moment for humanity and indeed many countries, including the EU are still star shooting for Europe’s carbon neutrality by 2050, even if few eastern countries (e.g. Poland, Hungry) drag their carbon footprint. That said, when Prince Charles took the opportunity to talk to Trump about climate change at the State Banquet, it’s still unclear whether Trump understands the universal planetary gravitas and irreversible impact of climate change on the entire world including the US, even if the air pollution in many US states is currently not as bad as in China or India. However, Trump did agree with Prince Charles that we “need to leave a world that is good for future generations.” I suppose that’s a start; but curious will be our common climate action end…re-imagined global mobile. And as we turn farther to the Middle East (MENA); we’ll also see that other forces of planetary change are at play to determine the mobile’s sway.
“Ever, since WWII, has Europe been as essential. Yet never has Europe been so much in danger.” Emmanuel Macron; President of the French Republic
Mobile Shifter III
Consider the re-balancing of power in the Far and Middle East–relations broken and reinforced, elections won and lost, people uprooted and re-settled.
Consider the 1800 turn around in US relations with countries on the Arab Peninsula. Following decades of diplomatic US foreign policy efforts to reduce the proliferation of missiles, nuclear arms, and weapons of mass destruction; the Trump administration has successfully stirred and agitated waters of discontent on the Straits of Hormuz. Trump’s choice to violate the US-Iran agreement on May 8, 2019 has put the European community in a difficult position in regards to economic sanctions, and put the world on red alert in anticipation of war the Middle East.
What happened? It seemed we were on a good path toward greater economic development and stability in the Middle East only a few years ago. The UAE and surrounding countries had become centers of innovation in the region, making significant commitments to fund projects across the African continent. The US was friendly with Saudi Arabia. Visionary, smart, sustainable development projects, like NEOM, were on the rise. After years of building trust, Iran-US relations were off to a fresh start with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) aimed to reduce the threat of nuclear arms build up and increase the economic development of Iran. In 2016 the IAEA certified that Iran had taken steps to restrict its nuclear program and increased monitoring efforts, and Iran felt the relief of US, EU, and UN sanctions. There was peace and hope for greater prosperity in Iran. Now Persian nerves are flared and Saudi Arabia has escalated its ballistic missiles program with help from China.
Why aren’t we making friends in the world? Why aren’t we doubling down together in the trenches to decarbonize our economy, divest from oil and gas, and decouple our energy demand from foreign oil reserves in the Middle East? Then, we will not only live in a cleaner environment and breathe fresher air, but we will also be able to shift our trade talks and technology exchange (e.g. aquaculture and algae biofuels) on an even more pressing issue across the Arabian Peninsula… supplying the region with fresh water, clean energy, and food. (And, I do believe the new energy transition is happening, globally. Shell , BP and others are lobbying governments for a carbon tax and investing more heavily in electrifying the world with renewable energy. However we are now in a race with climate and speed, scale is also essential.)
Consider the landslide re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India last week, the largest democracy in the world. Modi, his Hindu nationalist BJP party, and their allies also won 345 seats out of 545 seats in the Parliament’s lower house earlier this month. Why? It’s the economy, stupid. Although hardline on Pakistani neighbors during his political re-election campaign; PM Modi’s Aadhaar vision (albeit compromised) values every Indian citizen with a unique identification number. The digital identity enables the government to collect biometric health and financial information, to collect taxes and to drive innovation in health care. The system also enables different social organizations to deliver community services, education, and mobile banking opportunities to the entire Indian community. Despite his muscular nationalism stance, PM Modi is a coalition builder, strong personality, and world statesman; whose regime is responsible for India’s growing economy, strong technology advance, and clean energy transition with streamlined development focus. Under PM Modi’s leadership these past years; India has become a country to watch, in technology, in clean energy– leading the Solar Alliance and smart mobility- investing in one of the world’s fastest bullet trains across the country.
Nature’s Reflection, Morocco 2016
Unfortunately, re-creating the infrastructure of a developing country is a tricky thing. Development is a massively energy intensive (air polluting) process. Thus, one needs to be diligent and always at the forefront of knowledge and innovations on how to develop in the most energy and resource efficient way. India and China do not need to use the same energy intensive, air-water-environment polluting technologies and development practices as we used in the 1950s-1970’s to build American-Western industrial cities. The New Climate Economy, the Road to Exponential Climate Action, and Drawdown are great framing resources for the most energy-resource efficient, zero waste, clean, green means to develop urban infrastructure; but strategic execution and daily development decisions are what matter most. That is where global dialogue on best business and latest technology in places like the World Economic Forum’s Global Future’s Council on Advanced Energy Technologies are also so important.
Finally, now consider the migration of people from different countries in the Middle East to Europe. First, I can not imagine that families with young children would willingly choose to pay pirates large sums of money, to risk their lives on treacherous journeys, in order to arrive in an unknown, foreign land without any resource or built-in cultural net to embrace them. According the UNHCR UN Refugee Agency, 68.5 million people (40 million internally and 25.4 million migrant refugees, 3.11 million asylum-seekers) are forcibly displaced in the world. The developing world is host to 85% (most) displaced people with Iran, Lebanon, Uganda, and Turkey being the top refugee-hosting countries.
Nature’s Reflection, California
Thus, even though Western Europe has experienced an influx of refugees (many climate refugees fleeing damaged, destroyed, or drought-ridden environments); Western countries have not born the burden of displaced refugees worldwide. Second, as the young, hearty, determined, and physically able refugees comprise a large number of those who survive the transition and relocate successfully; one would imagine that these people would be high value contributors to receiving countries when given the opportunity. Mohammed Hassan Mohamud comes from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. He is an example of a high value contributor to his refugee community; and for this was selected as a co-chair of the WEF 2019. According to Mohamud and others, like David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Community; ideally we embrace and empower every human being to realize his/her full, unique potential in our communities, countries, and world. When we do, we give life to the Albert Einsteins, Gloria Estefans, Marc Chagalls, and Freddie Mercuries of the world—and let our true humanity shine. We also ensure that no one gets left behind or broken off from our global mobile. Even as such a utopian paradigm—aided by the advancement of our Global Goals, would represent a more just, stable, healthy, sustainable world; we are sadly far away from such a balanced global mobile.
In fact, we are rather in the midst of a global humanitarian crisis now on multiple fronts, in multiple countries, and driven by multiple economic-ecological constraints.
· 870 million people in the world (1/8) do not have access to enough food, and nearly 2 billion people are malnourished. … even more tragic when many of these people are small shareholder farmers. (World Vision/FAO)
· By 2050, humanity may represent 10 billion people and we will need then to produce 60% more food than we do today. (UNDP)
· 884 million people live without access to safe water, while 2.3 billion people live without access to improved sanitation–1 in 9 people who don’t have safe drinking water and 1 in 3 people who lack access to a toilet. (Water.org)
· 91% of the world’s population breathes air that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers unhealthy. Air pollution kills 7 million people/year.
The Future of Our Global Mobile
Certainly, there are other significant drivers of national, geo-political change that shift the moving parts and re-balance our global mobile. I’m aware that this isn’t an exhaustive currents list. Indeed, there are many more drivers at play.
That said, my aim in sharing a few thoughts on some of what I perceive to be the major current geo-political events in the context of a global mobile was to reinforce the reality that we are one global society; living on one planet earth, exchanging value in one globalized economy. And, whether we like it or not; when one mobile element (e.g. community, country, culture) moves; the rest of the levers/elements are affected.
In my next article, Part II: Globalization 4.0; I’ll carry forward the global mobile analogy and share my thoughts on what I believe to be the most prescient, inter-connected, planetary-scale drivers of the destabilization of our global mobile as a whole. These thoughts on the integrated destabilization of our world-planet then serve to frame a final article, Part III: Globalization 4.0, on how we might aim to shape a New Deal with Nature, with Humanity, and with Technology. Here I will draw on the natural intelligence emerging worldwide in forums, discussions, and interviews I’ve been tracking the past few months. Thanks for reading. I hope my ramblings are thought provoking for you.
Why do I write and why do I care? I’m a global traveler who loves our planet, nature, and people. And, I perceive us ambling (some blindly) toward a very unstable world– politically, socially, economically, ecologically. I am concerned for the future, very concerned. And that said, I believe if we consciously, cautiously, and collectively advance our global community forward according to naturally intelligent principles that support all life on earth; then our future ahead may be better than expected.
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