On the day following President Obama’s inspiring State of the Union address, I think it appropriate to wonder, if a world leader were to make a State of the World address, what would it be? What would be the calls to action? What accomplishments would it tout? What dire warnings would it contain?
If I was that world leader, my address would include the following:
Accomplishments? There are very few. Charities and non-governmental organizations have nibbled at the edges of some problems, such as access to clean water, housing and food. But most of these are mere symptoms of larger issues. For example, many nations have contributed to refugee camps while ignoring, or even exacerbating the conflicts that created the refugees in the first place. We have killed terrorists while creating others as a result of those very same killings, all the while ignoring the causes that led to much of that terrorism in the first place. And though we have discussed environmental problems, we have solved few. Sometimes, these two larger issues overlap. For example, at the current rate of killings (an elephant is killed every 15 minutes), African elephants could disappear from the wild in just 11 years. The reason for the slaughter? Ivory is expensive and highly sought after for jewelry, so terrorists are killing the elephants to claim the ivory in order to fund their terrorist activities.
According to a new scientific study, the world’s oceans are on the precipice of mass extinctions. The oceans are being overfished and horribly polluted. Coral reefs are being destroyed by cruise ships and, most especially, container ships in order for large corporations to increase manufacturing profits by exploiting low labor costs in underdeveloped countries. There are large “islands” of trash and plastics floating in our oceans. BP and other oil companies have polluted our waters with oil spills consisting of millions of barrels of crude oil. Fracking is pumping benzenes and other toxic chemicals into our aquifers and polluting our drinking water, even causing earthquakes. Chemical companies and large corporate farms are responsible for toxic runoff from farmlands that have created “dead zones” in our oceans at the mouths of rivers. Those same chemical companies have contributed to the near catastrophic collapse of bee colonies needed to pollinate our food plants. As a result of the tsunami at Fukishima, radioactive water is pouring into the ocean unabated. And the effects of that mess are, as yet, unknown.
Back on land, white rhinos are now extinct in the wild and virtually non-existent in zoos. Black rhinos are greatly endangered. Amur Tigers are virtually extinct and all large cats are endangered. Pandas, which have long been on the edge of extinction, are now even more threatened by climate change. Mountain and Lowland Gorillas are endangered, in addition to Orangutans – both as the result of wars and habitat loss. Rain forests are being denuded in order to exploit them for exotic hardwoods and palm oil. Some forests are being cleared under the mistaken belief that the land can be used for agriculture.
Polar ice sheets and glaciers are melting at phenomenal rates inevitably leading to rising seas that will displace millions and millions of people. And the cost of relocating many of the world’s largest cities will run into the hundreds of billions, likely trillions, of dollars. The loss of ice pack in the Arctic is also threatening the existence of Polar Bears and other species. Of course, it has been well-established that ice melt is the result of our love affair with fossil fuels, but only a few nations are taking the problem seriously. As a result, 2014 was the warmest year on record. Global warming is leading to larger, more violent and more numerous storms. To make matters worse, the Koch-bought US Congress is intent on passing laws that will defund the Environmental Protection Agency, cut environmental regulations for large corporations and maintain tax breaks for the world’s largest polluters, all the while denying their impact on climate change.
Economic inequality and religious extremism have led to an explosion of wars and terrorism worldwide, resulting in the deaths of millions and the displacement of millions more. The immigration of those fleeing violence and economic oppression has led to the rise of hate, racism and right wing extremism in the refugees’ host nations. Meanwhile, economic inequality continues to get worse. It is estimated that, by 2016, 1 percent of the world’s population will own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth! Yet conservative politicians in the US, Europe and elsewhere continue to vote to cut taxes for large corporations and the wealthy. The beneficiaries then contribute to political campaigns to help elect those who will do their bidding, and the cycle repeats. (Actually, it’s less of a cycle than a death spiral.)
Such is the sad state of the world today. And, thanks to conservative politics, things are only getting worse.