Myron J. Frankman
. . . what lies between us and extinction is horrifying enough, and we have not yet begun to contemplate what it means to live under those conditions . . .
David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019), p 34
A characteristic of the advancing Anthropocene is that we have entered an unpredictable and unstable phase in the Earth’s history. Institutional arrangements and norms shaped over millennia to assure a degree of stability, predictability and governability are crumbling even as efforts are made to sustain them. Our accustomed sedentary lifestyles may prove a fatal obstinacy in the face of extreme heat and cold, uncontrollable forest fires, rising tides, extreme rainfall and drought, pandemics and other catastrophes. Similarly, obstacles to crossing national boundaries, whether procedural or physical, may become even more deadly. Yesterday’s dream of a peaceful realm, with or without world democratic federalism, already seems unattainable.
In addition to these challenges, independent of climate change, many types of employment are disappearing and societal breakdown is advancing. Individual well-being declines when jobs vanish as a result of offshore and automated production. Proposals for a basic income, present for more than a half-century, are now being extensively discussed, albeit at the level of sub-national units and with, at best, pilot projects replete with conditionalities and exceptions. These rarely lead to full-blown commitments and, to date, basic income is not considered a right of residents or citizens of local, sub-national or national political units. A planet-wide unconditional citizen’s income, along with the abolition of borders, should be seen as critical conditions for human survival in a world where we are connected electronically, but still physically separated by a multitude of border walls and increasingly subjected to unpredictably destructive natural forces which humanity has unleashed through our flagrant disregard of the environmental impact of our undertakings. The “good news” is that many of those walls may well be either swept away by floods or crumble owing to extreme weather events.
In my 2004 book, World Democratic Federalism: Peace and Justice Indivisible, I wrote “When the dust finally settles, we may realize that the attainment of substantive global democracy, peace, and justice was the cultural impact of the electronic process.” Basic income, open borders and behaviour guided by planetary consciousness, both local and global facilitated by the “electronic process” may well be the only options open to humanity to weather the unpredictable disruptions that lie ahead. The electronic process may provide the warnings necessary to escape from major cataclysms and to locate safe havens. It is a process that could potentially unite us across skin colour, nationalities, language, and distance. If, however, we hunker down behind what were once envisioned as impenetrably sealed national boundaries, it may merely result in our own demise.
Our cell phones could well be our lifelines, directing us to survival guidance procedures including sources of safe food and safe havens from floods, droughts, ice storms and other perils. And with the aid of devices such as the MUAMA Translator, currently capable of facilitating conversation in 43 languages, we may be able to either give or receive assistance key to our survival until a rudimentary universal vocabulary, part sign and part verbal, emerges.
A flourishing humanity in the Anthropocene requires basic income, open borders, spontaneous ‘local’ governing assemblies and a homo sapiens’ consciousness and practice. Climate change is a global phenomenon: it knows no borders and is unlikely to produce any long-term safe havens. Whatever stability was enjoyed by people born in previous centuries will be a thing of the past.
Are we entering a post-sedentary period in human life? We are likely to be headed to a minimalist condition, where the glamorous products of the Paris couturiers will be supplanted by survivalist gear, with our post-iPhone, solar, supercharged devices keeping us continuously informed of critically important details and act as well to communicate with instant links in an emerging planetary language.
National laws may have to coalesce to a single jurisprudence with distinctions made for interlinked regions with unique characteristics. Much of the current reflection on the future assumes that national (and provincial) boundaries, with their corresponding national (and subnational) laws and practices, will survive.
A planetary modus operandi needs to be shaped that recognizes the impermanence of population concentrations, of changing norms for survival, of a new nomadism that assigns us all the common status of Sapiens, replacing our previous divisive classifications of nationalities and places of residence.