Thomas H. Thompson is an emeritus professor of philosophy at UNI.
Tip O’Neill is known for his declaration: "All politics is local." Well, some politics is local. But some politics is national. And, nowadays, some politics is global. Tip is right in that most of us are focused on our neighborhoods, on our taxes, the crime rate and our job security, for example.
However there are national issues that transcend localism. The debt ceiling and a declaration of war are hardly "local." We deal with these issues remotely by electing senators and representatives, hoping that they pay attention to local issues as well as national problems. That hope is being strangled these days. The approval rating of Congress is in single digits. Think of the corruption of Senate majority rule by misuse of the filibuster.
In the 21st century global problems have emerged that demand solutions. The world is being made smaller and more connected every day. That happens with the Internet and Google and by the industrialization of formerly merely consuming nations — like China and India.
Here are some examples of global problems that are ripe for solution but which are moving forward without much realization of their threat to the human race in the near future:
Our Aging World
. According to the United Nations, the elderly folk of the world are increasing at the fastest rate ever. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be about two billion people age 60 or over. Those retirees will need support for their sustenance and their health care needs from the younger population. But the theory of the demographic transition points to a severe problem in the future. The world is moving from a condition of high mortality and high fertility to one of low mortality and low fertility. If the theory holds, there will be more and more older people and fewer younger. Who will support the needs of all these old men and women?
. In the year 1 there were some 200 million people. Now there are about 7 billion. In 2083, there will be 10 billion. What is the optimum carrying capacity of the Earth? Is there a way to put a stop to unlimited population growth?
. India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel have nukes and are not parties to nonproliferation agreements. Nuclear attack and nuclear accident threaten the world, as the recent Japan meltdown illustrates. We’re all endangered.
. Those icy glaciers are melting. The result will be rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities. Hurricanes like those that devastated New York and New Jersey will be repeated. Droughts like those that took place in the Midwest will reoccur. Growing seasons will be modified.
The examples above are global political problems (hardly local or national), but there are no robust global goverance activities working to deal with them. The United Nations provides some hope, but its power and reach are limited. National interests in the UN tend to overpower global concerns.
I believe we need a government that deals with global problems and yet no such government is in sight. If it was in sight, I, and I suspect most other Americans, would resist its implementation on patriotic grounds. Politics, local and national, focuses on the short range, often simply until the next election.
Global problems will envelop us without solutions. The world will endure but the world will be a dangerous and nasty place.
I must face the possibility that I am being too pessimistic in my outlook. Maybe politicians will step up to the plate, deal with global problems, and put naysayers like me out of business. Maybe. Not likely. But I hope I’m wrong and it turns out that all politics is not merely local or national, but some are global.