Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said: “Every wall is a door.” But the whirling dilemma we face today is whether we are creating doors out of walls or walls out of doors? Are we creating a heaven on earth or destructing its beauty?
The general tendency of the universe is to go from order to lack of order. The origin of the universe is supposed to be from The Big Bang Explosion which resulted to the formation of different galaxies, stars, solar systems, planets including our Earth. Life on earth is believed to evolve from a single celled amoeba to amphibians, reptiles, to us ‘Homo Sapiens’ who are now shaping the world. We discovered fire and wheel, started cultivation, then invented machines and promoted industrialisation. From then we have changed our lives and surroundings with technologies like: printing press, computer, internet, mobile phones, big data, artificial intelligence, etc. The progress in technology has opened to us that the human brain can make that which was believed to be impossible yesterday, a big reality of today and a hope of a brighter future.
With the progress of man we also see the growing complexities of the challenges faced by him. In fact, we can also say that the challenges helped man to progress. Right from the discovery of fire to the present startup culture, all has one thing in common: man’s never say never attitude and the will to fight with every obstacle in order to make life easier. So, even though the problems of the 21st century sound insurmountable, they are in reality enablers to our future evolution and it depends on us to take it as a door or a wall.
The challenges of 21st century are the same as earlier, it is just that their nature is changing. The major challenges of today include poverty, income inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, political instability, social degradation, energy efficiency and sustainability, regional, social, gender anxiety, inclusive growth, terrorism, weaponisation, refugee crisis, and the list will go on and on……but one thing is clear, we are the victims of our own actions, we have used many shortcuts for economic growth, political dominance and other shellfish greed. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic our weaknesses have come before us, it is the right time to reflect on what we have achieved so far and to do a cost-benefit analysis of the same. Are we procrastinating the solutions to these challenges in the name of economic growth? Are we completely giving away the responsibility of these challenges to the world leaders in politics, economics and science?
These 21st century challenges cannot be solved by such 20th century attitude of neglect and apathy. These can only be solved by innovation, imagination and integrity not merely of our leaders but also of every single individual on this earth. Let us analyse few of the challenges and their solutions of the day.
Gone are the days when we used to write letters for communication, today we can connect with any part of the world through internet. Due to digital revolution the world is coming closer every passing day and becoming a single global village. Globalisation and transportation have transformed our lives, but now we are building the walls of aggressive nationalism and protectionism which is reflected through trade wars, increasing tariffs, cyber threats, social diplomacy, etc.
Due to development in agriculture, healthcare facilities and scientific inventions our standard of living has increased significantly. This has led to the challenges of increasing population, pollution, unsustainable use of resources to satisfy the increasing demand for our needs. The overpopulated cities remind us of the ants living in their colonies. This has resulted to a lot of problems like improper urban planning, lack of sanitation facilities, drinking water, food, shelter, energy scarcity, etc. this has resulted to the increasing divide between rural-urban, north-south, developed-developing including other economic, social and political inequalities. Our founding fathers wanted us to take the basic facilities to the last door. Are we on the path shown by them? Are we working enough to see that no one is left behind?
Even a single child going hungry is a shame on the entire humanity, but today, according to the WHO 850 million people go hungry everyday which adds to nearly one-tenth of the total world population.
Hunger, poverty, climate change, population, pollution, floods, droughts, heatwaves, food security are all related to each other. All this can be solved by increasing awareness, education, by increasing research and use of better environment friendly alternatives. We need to cooperate with one another for the betterment of all, but instead of doing this when the world is coming closer, the people are going away because of shellfish interests.
All this has led to wars, growing military arms and ammunitions resulting to instability. The recent incidents like terrorist attacks, growing extremism in the world, protectionism, deglobalisation, thereat to democracy like in case of Myanmar, North Korea, etc. These wars can be avoided due to pressure of international organisations, but what about the wars that are fought through computers and mobiles?
The increasing state funded cyber attacks, the wave of dis-information, fake news and the spread of false propagandas of ideologies is acting as a divide in not only individuals but also nations. The role of social media in US elections, Brexit, increase in terrorist radicalisation through false propaganda are few examples of our huge challenges.
We need to understand that if the misusers of technology are getting smart, the protectors of security need to get smarter. For this technological education needs to be promoted. The growth of internet has brought a challenge of digital divide. Of this children, elderly and women are affected the most. The gaps in education and information need to be solved by inclusive policies and schemes. The patriarchal mindset which is supposed to be an age old concept shows its roots even today. Women face many challenges like gender discrimination, unequal wages, period poverty, access to education, early marriages, etc. We have come a long way in improving the condition of women, we need to go much farther. We need to involve them in innovation, economy, sports and understand that women’s issues are important for the development of the world.
The space explorations are a new chapter in the man’s curiosity to explore the universe, But are we ready for the challenges of space debris and its harm to earth. We are replacing man with machines, this is leading to job loss and poverty. It is certain that machine is the future of the world, but we need to take man and machine together, to solve problems like decision making using data analytics and through digital literacy.
Data is the new gold, we need to promote data security, privacy and reduce the trade monopolies to the big technological giants by increasing taxes. This money can be utilised to support the poor with Universal Basic Income. Similarly, Carbon Tax is a good solution to the growing concerns to carbon emissions. Developed countries like USA should learn that global warming and climate change will be a threat to all and will affect both developed and developing nations equally. Instead of fighting for arms and economic supremacy, we all must focus on building sustainable innovations and make sure we bring them to practice. Such problems like global warming, climate change, terrorism, economic instability can only be solved by cooperation. India sets a good example of this by its International Solar Alliance, Climate resilience disaster infrastructure project.
The role of media in stopping terrorism, communalism, protectionism, fake news is very important. It has the power to educate masses. The participation of youth in every aspect is important and the government faces a challenge of creating new jobs. We need to overcome this as urgently and effectively as possible in order to reap the benefits of our demographic dividend. This can be done by tackling the present challenges and predicting the future problems.
This chain of problems can only be stopped only if we plan and execute policies, reduce the shortcomings. For this active participation of every citizen is important. After-all we all global citizens and we need to work for our brothers and sisters in every part of the world. We need to be mindful of the fundamental human values of community, welfare, sympathy, etc. In this nature will guide us. So let the challenges defined by us as opposed to the challenges defining us. Let’s accept the challenge of passing a more beautiful, greener, healthier planet to the next generation.