The 21st century is in its infancy and it is already apparent that it will be a ‘crossroad century” for humanity and the planet. I tried to envision the future and all I see is a huge question mark. Will this century witness the growth of humanity into adulthood and responsibility? Or will it just grow old and bitterly disappointed by the continuous inability of its most powerful specie to face at the negative consequences of its own actions?
The balance is today definitely tilted towards the second scenario, but it is far from given that it should be so, simply because human beings are creatures of contradiction, capable of the worst and the best at the same time. And this is precisely what muddles crystal balls, tea-leaves, or any other ancient mechanism to read the future – after all much of the future is being invented now, in a planetary/societal context in state of flux, technological advances, huge contrasts, conflicts and, above all, a context demanding change for a better world at the dawn of the information society.
Fortunately, wide agreement seems to be emerging around the realisation that humanity and the planet cannot continue in the same path of today. At least it is difficult to find people who would suggest that the current levels of poverty, disease, pollution, terrorism, global warming, digital divide, etc. are acceptable. It suffices to skim the sequel of speeches and declarations coming out from the Johannesburg’s World Summit on Sustainable Development. "Poverty and environmental degradation, if unchecked, spell catastrophe for our world, that is clear,” warns Tony Blair. And Kofi Annan: “A path to prosperity that ravages the environment and leaves a majority of humankind behind in squalor will soon prove to be a dead-end road for everyone."
Of course, it is often easier to achieve consensus around the need to stop something that has become visibly threatening than to agree on goals, strategies, paths and responsibilities to build something new, especially as conflict of interests and power play mediates processes of human development. Yet this is precisely what we are called upon to do in order to build the new human society for the 21st century – a new society that exploits the opportunities generated by the new technology for the benefit of all peoples and the planet.
“We know the problems. We know the solutions. Let us together find the political will to deliver them", concluded Tony Blair in an implicit acknowledgement that this will has been lacking so far, and that we need to find it together. I agree with this sentiment, especially if “together” means all Earth’s peoples, organisations, countries, and regions, including, first, the rich and powerful who exert greater influence and therefore share the greatest responsibility. But a great responsibility also falls on individuals and civil-society organisations who with the combined force of their concerns and efforts as citizens, consumers and simply Earth’s inhabitants, can multiply their influence on government and business at all levels. In this scope, “together” is simultaneously “top-down” and “bottom-up” processes, simultaneously conflict and agreement, competition and collaboration, protest and celebration, change and conservation, learning and forgetting and, above all, building together the new knowledge society in which sharing the fruits of knowledge, technology, Earth and space, becomes the foundation of justice and peace.