Depending on who you ask, the greatest issue in our times can vary widely. Ask conservatives and they believe that abortion, gay marriage or the supposedly encroaching welfare state are the most pressing. Ask a liberal economist or a labor activist and they will tell you how the middle class is being squeezed by TNCs (transnational corporations) and their CEOs with all the economic growth and it’s consequent wealth going into the pockets of the already wealthy. Ask a layman what the most important issues of the day are, and they respond it is jobs and the environment. What it really boils down to is where you stand in relation to others; it is rare for most to see the forest through the trees.
Yes, having a job would seem pretty important to me to if I was jobless and had to worry where the food on the table was going to come from. If I was in the top economic bracket, I would worry my “hard-earned” money would be taken away from me by those with less. For of course, as the belief goes, you are paid what you are worth and that anyone can be rich too if they just worked at it. Nevermind external circumstances such as the state of the economy or what income bracket you were born into. If you are an overly privileged person, social mores and freedoms become more important, as you have nothing else to gripe about in your life. In short, people are pretty biased about what constitutes an important issue.
For me –if I was to look outside my immediate circumstances– it would be climate change. It is the most threatening issue to the fabric of our society (and I mean that in the cosmopolitan, i.e. global, sense), it affects everything. The long and short of it, is that we cannot keep going along this track that we have been on. The global population is going to keep growing, but not only that but we have many newly industrialized and emerging super powers on the international stage. These bodies will in time demand more and more for themselves in order to satisfy their populations wants and needs.
On the positive side of things, I believe there is more than enough to supply everyone’s needs. However we do not have enough to supply everyone’s wants. We are social creatures, meaning we tend to measure ourselves in terms of the other. Social-status comes into play, and we all want to be seen as more than we are and unfortunely the shortest route to achieving that is by having the latest toys, or wearing the latest fashions. This is unsustainable on a world with finite oil resources. It also creates conflict, as those who have will always withhold from those without. The further apart these two poles are, the more antagonistic they will be. While it is not universally true, some of the wealthiest will always look down on the those who are the poorest, perhaps I would guess because they see them as some kind of threat, or at worst –a drain.
What I worry about in the coming decades is how the quality of life for us all will be changed. If we don’t transition to a less greenhouse-gas intensive economy, it could have some serious repurcusions as it disrupts our agricultural and transportation industries. Starving to death would be just one obvious consequence if things get out of hand. They also say we are going through an extinction level event that has been dubbed the Sixth Extinction, and I worry that at some point a cornerstone species will die off and the ecosystem will collapse. The ensuing anarchy between people, communities, and nations would be potentially apocalyptic. We will either band together and finally overcome our egocentric and anthropocentric nature, or we will re-enact a Mad Max style world. Perhaps we will “revert” to a more agrarian society, but just how peaceful will the transition be?
The issue of climate change is not just the greatest pressing environmental issue, but also the greatest pressing moral issue of our times. People are suffering now in places near and far, droughts, record heat-waves, flooding and people fleeing across borders to –what they hope are– greener pastures. Climate change instigated migrations are going to force discussion on not just immigration but on how to mitigate further changes to our climate, they will have to, we can’t build up a wall to keep them all out for that is simply an absurd proposition. The issue is moral because it affects people’s lives, and we will all be responsibile in both small and large ways.
This hasn’t even touched upon the issue on whether we have the right to transform our planet in order to serve our –unsustainable– whims. Anthropocentrism is believing that our species has a larger inherent worth than anything else on our planet. So man-made species extinction is ok, those species don’t serve our needs unless they are on our plates or in our zoos. At least that seems to be the mantra, spoken but not said. How sick is that? Perhaps we get the world we deserve, and I shouldn’t fret over it for we will reap what we sow. However I would like to believe we are better than that, that we are capable of terrible but also wonderful things, that is the paradox of being human.
If I was to hazard a guess, I think we are in for a messy time. Change is coming whether we want it to or not, hopefully we can weather the storm.