On the evening of July 4th, I was sitting with my wife on our terrace – watching the beautiful firework display over New York City and New Jersey. As it happened, the New York Times that day came with a full page rendition of the Declaration of Independence. As a good citizen, I reread it. The preamble starts as follows:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Watching fireworks in a comfortable setting gives you time to think. My interpretation of what Thomas Jefferson was trying to say (without delving into the rich literature that discusses the issue) is that if a group of people is taking a drastic action, they had better explain themselves – out of a, “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” My thinking also led me to another upcoming event – July 14: Bastille Day – a French national holiday that commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution, which started with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I just came home from a combined vacation-conference trip, on which I spent about two weeks in France – half the time in the South of France and half the time in Paris. Almost everywhere that we went, preparations for the coming celebration of Bastille Day were evident. Following a long-established vacation routine, I took a book to read on my travels. This time, the book was Thomas Piketty’s, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” on global wealth distribution. Not being an economist, I decided that the book was a requirement in order to help me understand the dynamics of the political process required for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. I haven’t yet finished its almost 600 pages, but I am close. Once I do so, I will try to share my views as to how his findings connect to my environmental concerns and the long term stability of the planet.
The historic connection between July 4, 1776 and July 14, 1789 has been discussed extensively. To my knowledge, however, the part that has yet to be covered is the connection between the two revolutionary events of the end of the 18th Century, which created the two countries as we now know them, and the similarly revolutionary global transformation that is needed to mitigate future catastrophe and global environmental deterioration. The global transformation requires total energy transition to sustainable sources, recycling of finite national resources, the reintroduction of fresh water use into the water cycle, curbing untapped exponential growth, establishing effective global governance and, probably most importantly, caring about each other. Collectively, we as a world don’t have a Bastille to storm; such a transformation is not an immediate revolution and can take a generation or two to achieve. I have outlined most of the needed changes in previous blogs, and they can be found in many other forums. What I am trying to do here is to combine the reasoning for the needed changes with anecdotal accounting of the progress that is being made and the setbacks that we encounter.
The idle time watching the fireworks convinced me that, following the Jeffersonian dictum, I need to follow the business world’s modus operandi and try to keep score of the progress in regular quarterly intervals.
The intervals that I propose are separated by the following events:
- The commemorations of the American and French Revolutions (first two weeks of July)
- The Jewish religion’s holy day, Yom Kippur – a day in which Jews are advised to take accounts of their doings and undoings (beginning of October)
- New Year’s Day (January 1st)
- Earth Day (April 22nd)
However, following the state of global transformation is not nearly as easy as following the finances of individual companies. Reliable data sets such as those from the World Bank or the UN get their information from member states with very different statistical histories. The process usually has a lag time of one or two years and not all the information that we are looking for (effective global governance, for example) is quantifiable.
Presently there are attempts to rank individual countries on a similar set of criteria. I used to devote a full semester of class time to teaching such ranking skills and the methodologies of acquiring the needed information. The Columbia-Yale ranking is done on a yearly basis. My quest to try to summarize global progress on a quarterly basis might be a fool’s errand, but I hope to share my first attempt with you in three months’ time.