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What We Have and What We Want

Section 1: The world problem state

Our global problems may seem insurmountable, even inconceivable to some. Globally between 13 and 18 million people die each year due to starvation or starvation-related causes.[2] That is nearly as many people dying each day as Americans who died in the entire Vietnam War. More than 800 million people are malnourished in the world and routinely go without enough food to live in optimal health.[3] Despite monumental strides in medical science which have improved the longevity and quality of life for the average human, large segments of the world's population continue to suffer from preventable diseases and lack access to even basic health care. For example:

  • Some 20% of the world's children go without basic immunization, most of whom live in remote and often impoverished areas where infection is more likely to lead to death.
  • Over 9 million children die each year from preventable causes, most of them from dehydration, routine infections, or one of several major diseases for which vaccines are available.[4]
  • Some 500,000 women die in childbirth each year while over 3 million infants die from dehydrating diseases that could be eliminated through breast feeding or Oral Rehydration Therapy, a simple and cheap mixture of clean water, sugar and salts.
  • .Over 17 million people die each year from curable infectious and parasitic diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and tuberculosis.[5]
  • Over 500 million people are infected with tropical diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness, river blindness, and schistomiasis, all of which are now preventable.
  • Over 18 million people are infected with the AIDS virus.[6]
  • More than a billion people lack access to any health care.[7]
  • There are 1.75 billion people without adequate drinking water.[8]
  • A billion people are without adequate housing,[9] and 100 million are homeless.[10]
  • Nearly a billion people, mostly women, are illiterate, and about 130 million children at primary school age and 275 million at secondary level are not enrolled in school.[11]
  • There are over 53 million uprooted people or refugees in the world, 80% of which are women and children.[12]
  • There are over 110 million landmines scattered in 64 countries killing and maiming over 9,000 children, women and civilians of all ages each year, and over one million since 1975.[13]

The developing world is at least $618 billion in debt to the developed world[14] and the gap between the rich and poor grows alarmingly larger each year. The richest 20% of the world now have 85% of the world's income, while the poorest 20% share 1.4%.[15] And, most alarming in a world as dangerous and well armed as ours, there are currently over 79 armed conflicts going on around the world, 65 of which are in the developing world.[16] There have been over 123 million people killed in 149 wars since World War II.[17]

On top of these outrageous conditions are layered the alarming environmental problems confronting the world:

  • Around the planet, 26 billion tons of topsoil are being eroded per year from the world's farmland.[18] That's 3 million tons per hour.
  • Deserts advance at a rate of nearly 15 million acres per year.[19]
  • 10 million acres of rain forest are destroyed annually.[20]
  • Over 200 million tons of waste are added to the atmosphere each year.[21]
  • Over six billion tons of carbon from fossil fuel burning were added to the atmosphere last year.[22]
  • There is a 6 million square mile hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, and a 4.5 to 5% loss of ozone over the Northern Hemisphere.[23]
  • The planet has warmed at least 1° C in the last century, and given the annual carbon, CO2, CFC, and methane transmissions into the atmosphere, it will rise another 2.5° to 5.5° in the coming century.[24]
  • There are over 31,000 hazardous waste sites in the US alone,[25] while in Europe, Estonia, and Lithuania acid rain has damaged over 122.6 million acres of forest.[26]
  • There are over 130,000 tons of known nuclear waste in the world, some of which will remain poisonous to the planet for another 100,000 years.[27]

And, last but not least, keeping the pressure on humanity to produce as much as possible from the Earth -- driving the juggernaut described above -- is the world's population which is increasing by about 90 million people each year, or about the population of all of Mexico.[28]

All or part of the above is what most people who are concerned with the world are aware of in one way or another. We might not know the numbers, but we have heard something is wrong, and it is serious. It is what we read about in the newspapers or hear and see on TV. The pervasive bad news numbs people's concern, compassion or outrage. If you hear an obscenity often enough, it ceases to be an obscenity.

This "bad news" is depressing, even debilitating, when presented as a fait accompli, or as the only thing happening in the world. If the bad news is an accurate image of the world and our future, we are doomed. Equally important, if the bad news is all we can see, we are just as doomed. As Russell Ackoff notes, "The inability to envision a positive future is, in itself, a threat to survival."[29] If we see the glass as only half empty, we are missing something very valuable in our assessment of the situation. Although the "bad news" should not and cannot be denied or minimized, it needs to be understood in a broader context that will allow us to see its true import. And, unless one believes we are a species not worth saving, the bad news needs to be acted upon. It needs to be seen, not in isolation, which makes it appear as if it is the only thing happening in the world, but as part of a complex matrix of "good news/bad news," occurring, with not infrequent regularity, right next to each other throughout the world.

The appalling conditions described in the world problem state do not represent our fate. They do not need to be tolerated because we think "there isn't anything we can do." The crucial missing factor in all the bad news is the good news: there are options to these problems -- and there are solutions. Not only is there much we can do now, but the solutions to our global problems are also so clearly achievable and affordable that knowledge of them in their totality can even be inspiring. Minimally, they are an effective antidote to the despair and resignation that hopelessness breeds.

One way of putting the problems of the world in context is to ask, "What should the world look like?" Trying to take action without the answer to this question is like the medical doctor trying to cure someone of liver disease without knowing what a healthy liver is and how it behaves. Because health is more than just the absence of disease and infirmity, we need to be visionaries to define the health of the world.

As mentioned in the introduction, there has been an effort to answer this question. Over the past 24 years, World Game Workshops conducted for corporate, government, university and high school groups have asked the following question to more than 200,000 people: "Given the present state of the world, what is your preferred state?" One of the early surprises of this effort was the unanimity of the preferred state vision that resulted. Whether the participants were government leaders from Malaysia or students from Maine, Motorola executives or Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce members, they all came up with something very similar.

The following was compiled from all the various groups by eliminating redundancies and using common terms. It encompasses all the groups' collective vision of where they want humanity to be in 20 years.

The above is in obvious contrast to the World Problem State Summary. We already know which is more desirable. But is the preferred state even possible? Are there strategies, policies, programs, artifacts, resources and capital available for building such a beautiful world? If so, how do we acheive them and what are the implications for humanity? The next section examines the various qualities of the preferred state and assesses if there are possibilities for reaching any of this noble vision.

Section 2: Introduction -- Field tested, cost effective, humane and sustainable solutions

The global food problem is a very complicated situation involving myriad interacting technological, economic, ecological, cultural, geographical and political systems. Every other problem confronting humanity is similarly multi-dimensional. Adding them all together and then presenting a set of strategies that purport to "solve" these massively complex problems is daunting, to say nothing of naive or foolhardy.

To present the strategies in a short report such as this, when innumerable books have been written on each of these topics, leaves the authors open to charges of superficiality, pollyannism or gross naiveté, bordering on negligence -- depending on how seriously you are intimidated by academic credentials, opinions, political leanings or negative world views.

Clearly, to deal with a problem as complex and large as the global food situation in just a few pages is difficult, at best -- if the intention is to provide a detailed, step-by-step process or listing of every component of a world-wide strategy. The intention here is different: to present the broad brush-stroke outlines of programs, policies and tactics that are in use or could be quickly brought on-line that could solve a systemic problem confronting humanity. They are not suggested as complete or detailed plans, but rather as giving overall direction, scope and strategy.[30]

The chart on the next page summarizes the core of the What the World Wants Project on one page. It puts all the individual strategies into a broad social and economic context that reflects both the existence and the affordability of the individual and combined strategies for solving the basic problems confronting humanity.

Next Section: Synergies of the Whole
What the World Wants Chart

Eliminate Starvation and Malnutrition: $19 billion Eliminate Starvation & Malnutrition: $19 billion Provide Health Care and AIDS Control: $21 billion Provide Health Care and AIDS Control: $21 billion Provide Shelter: $21 billion Provide Shelter: $21 billion Provide Clean, Safe Water: $10 billion Elliminate Illiteracy: $5 billion Provide Clean, Safe Energy--Energy Efficiency: $33 billion Provide Clean, Safe Energy--Energy Efficiency: $33 billion Provide Clean, Safe Energy--Energy Efficiency: $33 billion Provide Clean, Safe Energy--Renewable Energy: $17 billion Provide Clean, Safe Energy--Renewable Energy: $17 billion Provide Clean, Safe Energy--Renewable Energy: $17 billion Retire Developing Nations Debt: $30 billion Stabilize Population: $10.5 billion Stabilize Population: $10.5 billion Prevent Soil Erosion: $24 billion Prevent Soil Erosion: $24 billion Stop Deforestation: $7 billion Stop Deforestation: $7 billion Stop Ozone Depletion: $5 billion Prevent Acid Rain: $8 billion Prevent Global Warming: $8 billion Prevent Global Warming: $8 billion Prevent Global Warming: $8 billion Remove Landmines: $2 billion Refugee Relief: $5 billion Refugee Relief: $5 billion Eliminate Nuclear Weapons: $7 billion Eliminate Nuclear Weapons: $7 billion Eliminate Nuclear Weapons: $7 billion Build Democracy: $2 billion
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