The World is More Dangerous Than Ever

Is the world more dangerous now than it’s ever been?

A Different Lens, Episode 26: While it is easy to dwell on the darker elements of contemporary global politics, we should all remember that positive change is also afoot, writes KATRINA LEE-KOO.

Is the world more dangerous now than it’s ever been? As we scroll through our news feeds, it’s very easy to think these times are especially perilous, more so than any other period in history.

However, before we despair, it’s important we think about — and look for — the nuances, the reasons for hope, and the pathways for change.

Through global communications and global connections, there’s now more opportunity than ever for people to unite, to cooperate, to identify and share commonalities, and to learn about and care for one another.

While we’ve recently seen new conflicts and challenges, we’ve also seen the rise of global social justice movements, social awareness, and a sense of global responsibility.

Therefore, while we shouldn’t deny the challenges, there’s a balance to be struck. As a global community, we should have the curiosity, assertiveness and commitment to drive pathways for hope, and find ways in which we can support that hope to grow.

The case for fear

There’s undeniable fragility in the global community – we’re facing numerous intersecting challenges.

There have been more than six million recorded deaths from COVID-19, though the World Health Organisation places that total at closer to 15 million. Still, more than 30 countries have vaccination rates at less than 10%.

Global temperatures are 1.2% above pre-industrial levels. According to 2022 UNHCR reports, 84 million people have been displaced from their homeland because of conflict, climate, or humanitarian crisis.

Similarly, the UN estimates that 274 million people will need humanitarian aid this year, more than four times what it was a decade ago.

A new conflict has emerged in the Ukraine, while protracted conflicts continue in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and the Horn of Africa, with attendant humanitarian crises. And simmering away are new bouts of toxic nationalism, fake news, cyber terrorism, nuclear weapons, and inter-communal violence.

At the global level, it’s not difficult to argue that great power politics can often dominate at the expense of genuine cooperation for the common good.

There’s been something of a retreat of US global leadership this century. While some might describe it as a decline in US power, others see it as a reluctance on the part of the US to project its power into the world.

Either way, we’ve also seen an assertive resurgence of Russian and Chinese power, as well as the rise of other regional state actors. Far from collaborating to solve these crises, we can easily be led to think that states are the problems, not the solution.

The case for hope

Yet, if we look beyond great power machinations, we might find these challenges aren’t all-consuming. The challenges are real, but there are also avenues for hope. Where do we find them, and how do we embrace them? Let us outline three pathways:

Young people’s leadership

At the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, climate action leader Greta Thunberg called out world leaders, labelling decades of state inaction on climate change as 30 years of “blah, blah, blah”.

Thunberg is one of many youth activists to have captured the concerns, passions, innovation and ambitions of a generation to demand and work towards real change. She’s not alone. Young people aged between 16 and 24 comprise about 16% of the world’s population. Their leadership in peace and security, in response to crisis, in issues of justice, and the rights to education are making significant changes around the world.

For example, the Malala Fund, founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, is working globally to break down the barriers to girls’ education. Malala’s leadership hasn’t just inspired people to value and protect a girl’s right to education, but has become a global movement working in some of the most challenging contexts to ensure girls’ access to education.

This has tangible impacts in our society. When girls are educated, societies become more peaceful, more equal, and more robust.

Supporting young people’s leadership, empowering them to speak and be listened to, is a clear pathway for intergenerational hope.

Global movements for inclusion

In recent years, we’ve seen positive movements for inclusion for many social groups around the world. While there’s still too much marginalisation and discrimination, this has in places been matched by concerted efforts to recognise, understand and respond to historical injustices and contemporary patterns of structural, cultural and attitudinal discrimination.

Inclusion not only supports efforts to achieve peace, justice and security in communities. It also makes them stronger.

Research consistently shows that more inclusive processes lead to better decisions, whether it be in companies, governments or communities. This was on display last week when we saw commitments by the newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in his victory speech to work towards enshrining an indigenous voice to Parliament, which is one such example where we can identify movements and mandates for greater inclusion.

Supporting and participating in efforts to challenge the barriers and structures that enable exclusion is another pathway for shared hope.

Justice and human rights

Across the world, connected through global media, we’ve seen millions of people become active for justice and human rights. From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the #MeToo movement, to the School Strike 4 Climate, people are motivated to advocate for their rights and the rights of others.

In Australia, the 2021 March 4 Justice was one such demand, for respect for women and their rights to live and work in safety and equality. Arguably, the recent Australian election result is the manifestation of that movement. Grassroots momentum produced a predominantly female sea of so-called “teal” independents replacing the voice of predominantly male conservative ones.

Community-based campaigns for change can be global, can change hearts and minds, and can provide clear pathways for rights, justice and better representation.

In short, while it’s easy to dwell on the darker elements of contemporary global politics, we should all remember that positive change is also afoot. It may not always be at the top of our news feeds, but that simply means we must find it out, empower and support it.

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