The Roots of a Growing World Crisis

By Abe, Yoshio; Amin, Samir et al. | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview

The Roots of a Growing World Crisis

Abe, Yoshio, Amin, Samir, Anstee, Margaret J., Benyamed, Bechir, Chagula, Wilbert, Domenach, Jean-Marie, Donhoff, Marion, Kaddoura, Abdul-Razzak, Kastler, Alfred, Menon, M. G. K., Menuhin, Yehudi, Moraze, Charles, Peccei, Aurelio, Prebisch, Raul, Richta, Radovan, Ruiz-Jimenez, Joaquin, El Sayed, Abdul Aziz, Sobakin, Vadim, UNESCO Courier

The roots of a growing world crisis

WE are now undergoing a period of profound and rapid, though uneven, and not infrequently crisis-ridden, change. This change is largely connected with the ever-increasing power available to man through the development of science and technology.

Technology is ambivalent. On the one hand it has brought immense benefits to mankind. On the other, it has resulted in an incredible accumulation of destructive devices. Furthermore, the contradictions inherent in the transfer of technology from the industrial centres to the developing areas of the world have brought very serious maladjustments and disruptions. Inequalities have been accentuated and an extraordinary demographic growth is taking place.

One thing is beyond doubt: none of the urgent problems facing mankind today and tomorrow can be solved successfully if the conditions of peace are not ensured, if the relaxation of international tension is not transformed into an irreversible process and if the enormous resources today still tied up with armaments are not gradually released for human development.

Efforts for the consolidation of peace, which is to be understood as a just and democratic system of international relations based on the principles of peaceful coexistence and not simply as the absence of war, should be expanded in all spheres, from economics to science, from diplomacy to culture.

Annual expenditure on the arms race is probably around 200 to 250 billion dollars--a sum equal to the total national income of those countries in which the majority of mankind is living. At the same time 2,500 million men and women live a largely precarious existence at levels of nutrition below the acceptable minimum.

The present growth-rate of these populations is such that their number is expected to double in 25 years.

The currently accessible resources of the earth have their limits. Within the space of a few generations we are frittering away reserves of energy below the ground which nature has taken thousands of millions of years to accumulate. In the immediate future there is a danger that we shall destroy, without a thought for future generations, the plants and trees produced over the ages. In the last fifty years, nine-tenths of the forests of some tropical islands have disappeared.

Under the pressure of either justified or artificial imperatives designed to maintain economic growth, increase consumption or satisfy it without heeding the consequences, today's generations are plundering and polluting nature.

Thus the very fact that our resources (whether renewable or not) are limited would indicate that the "Western model' of development cannot be applied everywhere or at all times.

In some societies where they are firmly established, industrialization and technology deprive individuals and groups of the possibility of influencing their living conditions, and hence their own destiny.

Human rights and freedoms are threatened by multiple intrusions into private life. As a result of the spread of computer science and communication techniques, life is being conditioned on the basis of surveys whose aims in some cases are to a certain extent inquisitorial. Thus some of the industrialized countries must undertake a new kind of struggle to defend human rights, the very notion of which is an empty promise for the masses of the developing countries who are deprived of the most elementary means of satisfying their needs.

These considerations emphasize the close interdependence of the problems facing the modern world. We are not faced with distinct problems, each of which we may try to solve separately and in isolation. A global view must therefore be a prerequisite to any attempt to solve the different problems of today. The United Nations declaration on a New International Economic Order can be regarded as an event of world-wide significance. …

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