The Best Thing You Can Do to Save Humanity from Itself

By John Vlasto

Please note that the article below was written for a US readership, and refers readers to the US member organization of WFM. For non-US readers, for further information please send WFM a message here.

Most people do not benefit from wars or from degradation of our global environment. Allowing them to continue year after year carries existential risk through unconstrained conflict or environmental catastrophe. So, given the fact that the risk far exceeds the reward, why don’t we stop this self-destructive behavior?

The reason is that our global institutions are inadequate to the task. The United Nations was founded after the Second World War as a club of sovereign nations, with the five winners of that long-ago conflict given a veto in the Security Council. As the renowned physicist Albert Einstein (a founder of the movement we continue today) warned at the time, “With all my heart I believe that the world’s present system of sovereign nations can only lead to barbarism, war, and inhumanity.” And so it has proved. War, inhumanity, and barbarism towards our environment continue unabated.

The solution is to create global governance that is fit to handle modern challenges – governance that is effective, equitable, accountable to the people, and strictly limited to global issues that are beyond the reach of individual nations, such as the planetary environment, pandemics, and war.

We know how to do this. The European Union provides one example, the United States of America another. In 1788, George Mason, speaking against the state of Virginia joining the newly proposed U.S. federal government, asked: “Is it to be supposed that one National Government will suit so extensive a country, embracing so many climates, and containing inhabitants so very different in manners, habits, and customs?” As it turns out, yes – despite many challenges, under its federal government the U.S. has grown to be one of the richest and most powerful countries on Earth. The European Union, too, has had its challenges, but is unquestionably preferable to the two world wars that catalyzed its creation.

A federal system, with governance at different levels to tackle challenges at different levels from local to global, has been proposed for generations. President Harry Truman remarked in 1945: “If Kansas and Colorado have a quarrel over a watershed they don’t call out the national guard in each state and go to war over it. They bring suit in the Supreme Court and abide by its decision. There isn’t a reason in the world why we can’t do that internationally.” Such a federal system works in the United States, it works in Europe, it works in many diverse countries and regions around the world, and it could work equally well at the global level.

A global federation of nations would not threaten national sovereignty over national concerns, it would enhance it. In a rules-based international order, nations would be free to do their own thing, subject to not harming others. In our current system, where multinational corporations run rings round national governance, nations are forced into a damaging race to the bottom. No country can afford to move first on reducing carbon emissions when other countries can simply freeride. It is a classic tragedy of the commons. Such tragedies are resolved by agreeing to and enforcing rules that serve the common good.

All this is known, which begs the question why nothing is done. Recently I asked this question of an experienced UN diplomat. Did he think that humanity is taking an existential risk with its future? Yes. Is the solution to create more effective, equitable and accountable global governance? Yes. How? To which he replied “I despair” – not the answer I was looking for. When pushed, he quoted what is known as Juncker’s Curse (named after a former European Commission president): “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”

Although there are many politicians who know that we need to strengthen global governance to tackle urgent global challenges, the people are not demanding it. People are demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, preservation of the Amazon rainforest, and lower carbon emissions. But the common thread – strengthening global governance – so that countries can go to court to settle their differences rather than resort to war, can put a global price on carbon so there is a financial incentive to preserve the rainforest and lower emissions – this is not widely perceived or, therefore, demanded.

If you agree with this analysis – that the solution to the existential global challenges we face is to create global governance that is effective, equitable and accountable, while protecting national sovereignty over national issues – then the best thing you can do to save humanity from itself is to promote this understanding. Talk to your family and friends. Write to your political representatives, demanding meaningful engagement with current international governance institutions, and calling for a new and reformed global system. Get involved in the campaign to strengthen global governance towards democratic world federation.

Many Americans are already involved in this campaign through Citizens for Global Solutions, the U.S. member organization of the World Federalist Movement.

If people demand the global governance we need, then politicians can act. If politicians do not act soon, it may be too late.