Rolf Kreibich – Democracy and Sustainable Development

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For Kreibich the future of Europe depends on the development of democracy and sustainability on the continent. A bold vision and its realisation are necessary to enable Europe to thrive with a secure perspective.

Rolf Kreibich is a Sociologist, Physicist and Futurologist, as well as the Director at SFZ: Sekretariat für Zukunftsforschung in Berlin

Translated from German by BRAVE NEW EUROPE


We don’t do what we know has to be done

The preservation and maintenance of democracy and the shaping of our future on the basis of sustainable development are the most urgent tasks facing the world community today. More than in all past epochs, globalisation and the rapidly increasing complexity of our existence compel us to take a global, networked and long-term view with all plans and actions. The United Nations has set out the goals and tasks for preserving the future viability of mankind, above all with Agenda 21, the Millennium Declaration, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the 17 SDGs and their recommendations for implementation, we have a programme of action that must now be rigorously implemented if we are to survive on our planet. This programme is not a utopia, but a real vision that we should all embrace, especially the political and economic elites. Only by making this a reality can we achieve a sustainable future. Germany’s former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once declared with regard to politicians that when they had “visions”, they should go to the doctor.  To the contrary, real visions are strong sources of strength for future action. Willy Brandt proclaimed in 1961:”The sky over the Ruhr has to be blue again” At that time the air was so polluted that one could not see if the sun was shining over Germany’s largest industrial area. Brandt was mocked and defamed as a dreamer. He endured it. Today, the sky above the Ruhr region is bluer than in Berlin, Munich or Stuttgart. The forests there are healthier than in the Black Forest and the Alps. People can again bathe in the once heavily contaminated Ruhr river.

How was that possible? Albert Einstein repeatedly warned against trying to solve the challenges of the present and the future with thinking, opinions and methods of the past. Visions should be created in order to identify new goals and ways of overcoming problems.

This also applies to the massive challenges that will dominate our lives in the 21st century:

Scientific and technological innovations; keywords: Revolution 4.0, Pervasive Computing, Individual Medicine, Robotics, Genetics

Pollution of the environment and biosphere, depletion of natural resources; keywords: contamination of soils, water and air; climate change, destruction of biodiversity, depletion of fossil fuels, metals and rare earths

Population development and demographic change; keywords: food, clean drinking water, housing, education for all, healthcare for the poor and the elderly

Change of the industrial society to a service and scientific society (tertiarisation and quarterisation of economic structures); keywords: human-machine symbiosis, global financial speculation, electronic weapons, worldwide communication networking, roboticisation, Artificial Intelligence

Social, ecological, and economic disparities between the First and Third World; keywords: hunger, poverty, educational qualification and work disparities, migration flows, extremism, terrorism, conflicts, wars

Increasing mobility and increasing the flow of people and goods worldwide; keywords: individualisation, auto mobility, environmental pollution (emissions, soot, dust, noise, land use, accidents), resource destruction

Reduction of the quality of life according to UN and World Bank indices (also in the nations of the First World).

With the insights gained from Future Studies and an active political life, in principle I see solutions to these major challenges against the background that we were lucky to have survived the Second World War. Our, the following, generation recognised where the roots of that catastrophe lay. First we realised that the predatory and inhuman system of fascism had plunged the world and us into this disaster. Later we understood that the roots of the catastrophe lay even deeper and went back a long way in history. The spirit of discord and hostility between peoples was established long before, during and after the First World War. This was all incomprehensible for us, because humanism and the Enlightenment had existed since the early 19th century. How was it possible in the 20th century that once again such enmity between the supposedly civilised nations arose, giving  rise to the worst and most cruel period in the history of Europe and much of the world?

There was only one conclusion to be drawn: This should never repeat itself. All hostilities must be stopped in their earliest phase. We must do everything in our power to ensure that dictatorships such as National Socialism and Stalinism can never again gain a foothold in Europe or anywhere else in the world. We have to be sure that a majority is never again mislead in this infamous manner.

Following the Second World War, supported by the Allied Powers, democratic awareness on our continent grew – also in Germany – that later resulted in a democratic Europe. Following the revolution in Eastern Europe and the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union imploded, so that the majority of Eastern European nations were able to adopt democratic constitutions. In this period of fundamental democratisation, we imagined that we would be the world’s leaders guaranteeing a future of freedom, security and prosperity.

Yet once again our democracy is threatened in the face of the strengthening and increasingly dominant neo-capitalist over-exploitation of the economy and the anti-democratic domination of politics by powerful economic interests, lobbying, financial institutions and corruption. Additionally, various countries in Europe are once again threatened by nationalism, right-wing radicalism, populism and the propensity to violence. The fundament of European human rights and dignity – freedom, the rule of law, and parliamentary democracy – are being threatened.

Therefore, there must be no doubt that after 70 years of peace, we shall defend these values of humanism and enlightenment with all our might. These are values such as freedom of science and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, freedom of association and the right to strike, an independent press, the free exercise of art and culture, equality between women and men, recognition of same-sex relationships, and many social safeguards, which we have only been able to achieve to a large extent through democracy.

Against this background, there should be no doubt that we need to redefine and reformulate our knowledge of evolution and restoration in view of the new major challenges and threats. According to Albert Einstein this means we need new answers and new methods to secure and further develop what we have achieved up to now. Democracy too must be further evolved.

There is no reason to simply continue the development of technology in a linear fashion without asking the important questions about its use and benefits. This is most evident in the development and application of nefarious weapons of mass destruction. Even the economic system based on the foundations of neo-capitalism cannot simply continue as it is. We must comprehend that the gigantic spiral of economic and social destruction of ecosystems leads to the self-destruction of humanity. Neo-capitalism’s greed and its obsession with power by an irresponsible elite in business and politics, as well as an international financial system that is completely out of control, and the income disparity worldwide, must not be blindly accepted as natural law. We know the protagonists of this ruinous path: banks, corporations, employers’ and employees’ associations, international organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF, and the politicians at a national and international level willing to follow their orders.

Against this background, the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the agenda for their implementation includes the following guidelines and course of action for all of us, as well as for those responsible nationally and supranationally for political and economic affairs, and the many actors in municipal government, as well as those in state and civil society organisations.

More social, economic and ecological justice within nations and between the First and Third Worlds

We cannot permit that within Europe there are still millions of individuals, young people, single women and men with children, families with several children living on the fringes or even outside of society. We must do all we can to ensure that the community’s wealth is much more specifically used to combat poverty and improve education, training, health care and beneficial work in both European countries and developing countries. For this purpose, business leaders, bankers and wealthy people, who have made billions of dollars in private wealth and who “earn” up to five hundred times as much as their skilled workers, must pay their just share to society. Wage barriers, massive increases in the taxes of the rich, an inheritance tax that deserves the title of just, should be high on the agenda for 2030. Corporate tax should be levied in that nation where a company has its work force, innovators and production.

The fight against youth unemployment in Europe and worldwide is also high on the sustainability agenda. Media headlines should not be ignored: “Europe’s youth unemployment is a time bomb”, “Youth unemployment leaves lifelong scars “, “Youth unemployment -Europe’s tragedy “. The UN is not squeamish about stating the case either: “Lost generation”, “Endangerment of democracy”.

On the other hand, we need young people working in the field of renewable energy and new decentralised energy and storage systems, to provide health services, care for sick and elderly people, the education of young children in day care centres and older children in youth centres. We need workers for new, environmentally friendly mobility systems and as trainers for productive and socially responsible media, for the training of teachers, educators and skilled workers in all public and private educational institutions and migrant integration centres. Qualified young people are also urgently needed in the numerous institutions and companies of the third sector between the state and the private sectors.

The European and international finance sector must be given a new, credible architecture to enable it to serve society as soon as possible. It is incomprehensible that only in the financial sector, which is probably the most important economic sector today, “no taxes are levied on its products”. Not even “unproductive capital” such as hedge funds or worldwide speculative financial “products” are taxed by the authorities.

Because the next major financial crisis with all its destructive power is inexorably nearing, a sustainable financial structure must be urgently established! This includes at least: an effective financial transaction tax on all speculative products, a tax on all other financial products, a general equity ratio of the banks of 30 percent in real terms. Strict control of the banks and bank managers with regard to the public interest, as well as the laws regulating their actions and bonus payment are also required. A bank rescue fund, which is financed by the banks themselves and has contains a minimum of 100 billion Euros, must also be set up immediately.

Europe must become model projects for sustainable development and consistently implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In the future, with our outstanding scientific, technical and educational potential, it should be possible for our continent to become a pioneer of sustainable development. To achieve this, however, we need an efficiency revolution, which means that we have to achieve the same or even higher benefits than before with far fewer resources (energy, raw materials, water, auxiliary materials, metals, rare earths, toxic products).

We also need a consistency revolution: in other words, we have to adapt to the ecological cycles and dynamic equilibria of nature when it comes to the extraction and use of resources. This can only be achieved if, in the long term, primarily renewable energy and renewable raw materials are used and a closed-loop economy is pursued in which all recyclable materials are returned to the same product cycle as far as possible. So we have to turn television sets back into TVs.

We need a sustainable subsidiarity revolution capable of securing the future. It has been empirically proven that a reduction in food, technical products and transport creates a higher quality of life. Why do we want to choke on too much and waste resources counterproductively if a reasonable level of consumption provides more fulfilment, happiness and health for people?

Today we live in a world that is rapidly becoming more complex and complicated. As a result, more and more people are becoming less and less aware of what is really important for our present and future lives.

This applies to every individual as well as to those responsible in politics, business, science, technology and society.

Nevertheless, in Europe we have the ethical, cultural, scientific, technological and human potential to conceive and realise the vision of an advanced democracy and a sustainable vision for the future.


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