We need a global contingency plan
By Peter Schlosser
Our world is on a trajectory toward a planetary emergency. Governments and global organizations have set targets for action, including detailed time horizons for change, which is a positive reaction to a critical situation; however, humankind has placed our planet onto a course that will miss many of these targets and will fail to preserve planetary health. The efforts have failed to meet the urgency of the moment.
To explore the necessary actions for transformative change now, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the Earth League convened the inaugural Global Futures Conference (GF22) during NYC Climate Week between Sept. 20 and 22. The conference explored the 10 critical areas for a global contingency plan that leads to a safe and just future in which life can thrive on a healthy planet.
We reference “future generations” so broadly that at times it becomes abstract. We forget that the crises we face today, which in all likelihood will compound tomorrow, affect those we hold most dear.
One of the most poignant moments at the event came during the opening session. Youth leader Xiye Bastida reminded the audience that everyone alive today will love someone alive in 2100. In discussions on global crises, we focus on humans as the problem, placing a heavy emphasis on the damages to Earth’s life-supporting systems caused by human activities. We note that the impact is so severe, that we humans have defined a new geological era, the Anthropocene. We reference “future generations” so broadly that at times it becomes abstract. We forget that the crises we face today, which in all likelihood will compound tomorrow, affect those we hold most dear.
This is a compelling reason to continue the efforts initiated at GF22. In principle, there are solutions for human-caused problems. The speakers and participants at GF22 bolster that hope. Attendees took a deep dive into evaluating threats and opportunities for pathways that enable humankind to solve problems created in the past and anticipate and avoid problems before they place more pressure onto our planet.
The conference was structured around the idea of what are the 10 “must-have” transformations and the accompanying “must-do” actions that will put humankind on a trajectory where all have the opportunity to thrive in symphony with all other forms of life. The preliminary outcomes of GF22 will be presented at the 2022 U.N. Climate Change Conference, better known as COP27, but the discussion and resulting ideas go far beyond climate change. The 10 transformations are a more comprehensive review of planetary and societal pressures, including critical issues such as well-being, digital access, food security and shared resilience to global shocks.
During the conference, speakers and attendees collaborated symbiotically, supporting and building upon each others’ ideas. Even in disagreement, back-and-forth exchanges advanced, rather than restricted, final outcomes. Those in attendance appeared to embrace the comprehensive approach to global futures. The congenial dialogue was made more extraordinary by the diverse backgrounds of the conference participants. More than 20% of the attendees were from nonprofits, non-governmental organizations and charities. Equally as important, nearly one-third of speakers and attendees represented the private sector, including multinational corporations, small businesses and investment firms. Government officials, non-academic researchers, media and communication representatives, and artists also joined. A unique feature of GF22 was that only about one-sixth of the attendees were academics, with an additional 9% representing students enrolled in higher education. There were attendees from every inhabited continent; however, forthcoming Global Futures Conferences will seek stronger geographic parity. It will be fundamental to success that diversity in age, income, personal and work experiences, spiritual foundations, and geographies and ecologies are represented in ongoing activities to carry out the actions set forth by conference goers.
The work on the 10 must-have transformations continues. The final report is due in early 2023. However, like behavior, we see this initiative as dynamic, as it must be able to adjust to shocks in planetary and societal systems. Through continuous collaboration, we will outline a holistic approach that incorporates and looks beyond the present solutionscape. But most of all, we see these transformations as forward looking — aiming to reach beyond the present horizon.
Peter Schlosser is the vice president and vice provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University. This article first appeared in the Global Futures: Now newsletter on Oct. 31, 2022. Sign up for the newsletter at globalfutures.asu.edu/gfl-newsletters.