Editor’s Note: Jamie Metzl is the founder of OneShared.World, a member of the World Health Organization international advisory committee on human genome editing, and author of Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity. Follow him on Twitter @jamiemetzl The views expressed are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The coronavirus alone didn’t itself break our world. It just exposed a world that was already breaking.
With our health infrastructures, economies, governments and global power structures collapsing and with billions of people around the world, including the most vulnerable, at risk, we find ourselves at a transitional moment for our planet. The last time we experienced something like this was in the early years of World War II.
When our world collapsed in the 1930s and ’40s, however, we had leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill putting forward a vision of the better world they hoped to build when the war was won. Our best strategy was to follow them to victory. In the absence of equivalent leadership today, regular people from across the globe must come together to lead ourselves out of the current darkness.
This process must begin with an honest understanding of the core problem we are facing.
In the narrowest sense, we are fighting the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. But because there could be an even deadlier pathogen just around the corner, we must also be building a better infrastructure for countering all deadly pandemics. But even if we miraculously accomplish that, we will still not be safe.
Imagine if our world today was not shattered by a virus but by nuclear bombs detonated simultaneously in major cities. The survivors would be having a slightly modified version of the conversation we are having today, pointing to decades of reports warning in ever starker terms of the growing threat. The same would be true if our ocean ecosystem collapsed, if climate change made larger swathes of our planet uninhabitable, or if cascading state failures or hunger turned billions of people into roving refugees.
Looking at these challenges collectively makes increasingly clear that the ultimate problem we face today is not the coronavirus, or deadly pathogens, or any other single threat. It is our inability to solve most any of the shared existential challenge we face. We haven’t been able to create an empowered global public health system to protect us from deadly pandemics, a global environmental authority to coordinate efforts to save our planet, or a mechanism to prevent the widespread diffusion of weapons of mass murder, all for the same reason.
In each of these areas, the narrow interests of our specific nations overpower our collective needs as members of one species sharing the same planet. Our national political leaders have failed to protect us not because they haven’t done their jobs but because they have precisely done the job we hired them to do.
If this virus has taught us anything, however, it’s that we are all one humanity facing an enemy that does not meaningfully differentiate between us. If the virus mutates and grows in poor countries with weak public health and governance infrastructures and vulnerable populations, people in wealthier countries will ultimately be harmed. Our health and well-being, in this respect, reside in every other human and every other species in our shared ecosystem.
Once we fully recognize this interdependence, we’ll realize that helping others is not charity. It’s one of the best investments we can make in helping ourselves.
But it’s not enough to just recognize our interdependence. If we today don’t have leaders like FDR and Churchill, we’ve got to divide the job of global leadership among ourselves.
Although our national governments and international organizations are essential, we’ll only be able to address our greatest common threats if we come together to demand that our collective needs be met.
In recognition of this critical need to come together to save ourselves, over a thousand people from 85 countries joined together in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic to form OneShared.World, a broad and inclusive grassroots community working to ensure a better future for humankind and the sustainability of our collective home. We are a fully inclusive social movement and political force representing the democratic expression of our common humanity.
Over the past six weeks we have collectively drafted the Declaration of Interdependence, which we recently released in multiple languages. This declaration affirms our mutual responsibility for our common well-being and asserts that an appreciation of our interdependence with each other and our shared ecosystem must underpin efforts to help build a healthy, safe and sustainable future for all. People around the world have been invited to join our movement by signing the Pledge of Interdependence.
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Our four-stage strategy involves active public engagement and education, developing broad partnerships with aligned organizations, launching focused issue campaigns addressing urgent needs, and working to integrate an appreciation of the mutual responsibilities of interdependence into the missions and platforms of organizations, entities, businesses, political parties and governments around the world. Our ultimate goal will be reached when leaders at all levels – from local communities and city councils to state and provincial legislatures, national governments, G7, G20, the United Nations – wisely balance local and national interests with global public interests for mutual benefit across geographies and generations and when the needs of all people and our common home are addressed effectively, equitably and sustainably.
If all of this sounds audacious, it is. The demands of our crisis require nothing less.
With our world in dizzying disarray as we reel from the Covid-19 pandemic, we now have a unique opportunity to start building a better world.
Shame on us if we don’t collectively seize this moment.