Why This Center?

Introduction by James Bacchus


How best can we seek global economic and environmental opportunity in the 21st century? The answer lies in seeing the world as it truly is, not as we may mistakenly assume it is, and not as it used to be. We must see the world as it is and address the world as it is, or we will surely be shaped by the world in ways we will not like.

The beginning of such true sight is to see a central necessity of this century that is widely overlooked. In this time of great global anxiety, one overriding necessity for securing opportunity is to find new ways to grow and govern the world economy that will work both economically and environmentally for all of humanity. Rarely do most of us consider the confluence of economy and environment, which encapsulates and connects much of all that most concerns us, locally, regionally, nationally and worldwide.

Climate change is real. We are causing it. It is already here, and it is happening faster and faster. Carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere now total more than 400 parts per billion – twice what they were at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Melting sea ice at both poles is at record lows. NASA has reinforced the nearby beach to protect the rocket launch pads at Kennedy Space Center from the rising sea. Moreover, as pervasive as it is, climate change is only one result of the profound alteration of the earth’s ecosystems caused by the ever-intensifying human impact on our imperiled planet.

At the same time, more than seven billion people on the earth are struggling to become free or to remain free amid fearful economic uncertainties. The international economic integration that we call “globalization” has lifted nearly a billion people out of poverty in the past generation, especially in China, India and the other emerging economies of Asia. Further such integration can liberate hundreds of millions more throughout the world from the poverty that has persisted in so much of the world for millennia.

Yet, all our recent gains, much of humanity remains mired in immiseration. More than a billion people still remain mired in poverty worldwide, somehow living on less than $1.25 per day. What is more, in much of the developed world, the vast economic gains from globalization have not helped everyone; most of those gains have gone to the wealthiest among us. The jobs of 38% of American workers are said to be at risk from automation. Yet these Americans are told by some to blame their plight on foreign trade and on foreign investments made by US companies because of the open markets of globalization.

In considering and in confronting these and other unprecedented economic and environmental challenges, our habit in every part of the world has long been to see and treat the economy and the environment as separate and distinct. They are not.  The economy and the environment are, in fact, one and the same. Our future economically cannot be separated from our future environmentally. History teaches us that, if we push on heedlessly past the boundaries of the earth’s ecosystems, ours will not be the first civilization to fall for failure to live within our environmental means.

An awareness of the basic inter-connectedness between the economy and the environment must be written into all the rules we choose together to live by at every level of human governance. In the rules we live by, economy and environment must be united into one. We must live by rules because freedom is only possible within a framework of rules on which we have all agreed.

Because of the economy and the environment are actually one and the same the two must thus be treated as one and the same in the enabling frameworks of rules that we write to help catalyze the liberating and wealth-creating magic of the marketplace. Likewise, the two must be treated as one and the same in the enabling frameworks of rules that we write to help counter climate change and to help prevent other ecological harm.

Moreover, because the natural environment knows no borders, and because the human economy today connects and re-connects across borders, many of these rules in these enabling frameworks must likewise cross borders. The rule of law is essential; but it will not succeed if it is limited and confined entirely within and behind borders. In the eyes and in the efforts of every nation, the rule of law must also include the international rule of law, which can only be established and maintained through international cooperation.

Internationally, the 194 countries that are Members of the United Nations culminated several decades of work in New York in September of 2015 by agreeing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Drawing from the engagement of millions of people worldwide, all these countries, including the United States, have agreed on 17 global goals and on 169 targets for achieving them. Their agreed aim is to achieve them all by 2030.

These are not exclusively environmental goals. There is a widespread misperception that sustainability is solely about the environment. It is not. The Sustainable Development Goals are goals equally for economy, environment, and social inclusion. For example, the first of the goals is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” The underlying assumption is that none of these global goals can be met in any lasting way without meeting them all.

Solutions are not imposed from the top down. Solutions must arise from the bottom up. The solutions we seek for sustainability will only be found down in the vibrant and innovative enterprise of free marketplaces, and down in the practical problem-solving of the global explosion of creative and collaborative public, private, and public/private coalitions, alliances, and voluntary networks at the catalytic “grass roots” of the world. Global solutions start as local solutions that become global over time.

It is at the global “grass roots” where the answers will be found, and where they will then be scaled up from the bottom up to serve all of humanity within enabling and linked frameworks of local, regional, and global rules that help us secure an abiding global prosperity by according appropriate primacy to global sustainability. Wellsprings of cooperate human imagination and experimentation will create success and will breed more success in sustainability solutions that will encourage and will ultimately empower an affirmative global political transformation. With an outpouring of such leadership down at the global grass roots, we can build up from the bottom up.

Together, we can summon the will we need, we can forge the cooperation we must have, and we can discover the sustainable solutions we must find to attain the Sustainable Development Goals. Together, we can unite the economy and the environment through the international rule of law in ways that will enable us to shape and share a sustainable global prosperity for all.

Join us.

James Bacchus
Director and Distinguished University Professor of Global Affairs

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