In a world shaken by so many
problems, it is difficult to look at 2020 and not make some kind of holistic
analysis. While enormous progress has been made on many fronts, it is clear
that the tide has turned and we are now entering – or have already entered – a
new low point in the history of humankind..
we face an unprecedented existential threat brought about by the climate
crisis. According to scientists, we have until 2030 to stop climate change, after
which human conditions will be under several threats. Yet, we have just had a
world conference in Madrid on climate change, which ended in nothing. Not only
that, but since the beginning of the last decade, there has been a singular
change of the relations of politicians with climate. Climate has become not a
scientific but a political issue, with a number of politicians of not minor
weight, like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini and
Vladimir Putin arguing that there is no climate crisis. Some of them, like Australia prime minister Scott
Morrison, take holidays in Hawaii even as fires have destroyed an area large as
the end of the last decade, we have seen also another change in a vital
environment: democracy. With the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, everybody
was told that the threat of communism had now gone. As Francis Fukuyama
famously wrote, it was the end of history. Capitalism and market would unify
the world, and lift all boats, it was said at the time.
Then came the big financial crisis
of 2008-2009 which cost governments (and therefore people) 12 trillion
dollars and it became clear that only some boats were being lifted. Budget
trimmings affected especially welfare, education and health, while at the same
time some people were becoming fabulously rich. World debt doubled, (it now
stands at 325 trillion dollars), and suddenly nationalistic, xenophobic and
right-wing parties sprouted everywhere. Before the crisis of 2009, there was
only one, in France. Even Nordic
countries, long-time symbol of civism and tolerance saw the arrival of extreme
thirty years between the fall of Berlin Wall and the financial crisis, left a
culture of competition, individualism and loss of values – a culture of greed.
And the ten years between that crisis of and our incoming decade saw the rise
of a culture of fear. Immigration became the catalyst We were being invaded,
Islam was not compatible with our society, our jobs were being stolen, crime
and drugs were coming in and the same leaders who do not believe in climate
change became the guardians of Christianity, enacting restrictive laws to the
applause of citizens, regardless of human rights. In the last two decades,
trade unions have become irrelevant, and laws have been introduced that support
the making of jobs precarious and reductions in social protection. People started having fear, looking at the uncertain
future of their children.
affirm that the two main engines of change in history are greed and fear. We
enter the decade of the 2020s with both. Worse, many analysts believe we do so
fact is that two flags that we thought had been discarded by history are making
One is the flag ‘in the name of
think of ISIS and Al Qaeda, but this is the basis of the image of Putin, Orban,
Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini. The use of religion by the right wing has been
able to rally the poor. Theologian Juan Josè Tamayo has called politicians with
bible in hand the Christo-neo-fascist alliance. In the last elections in Costa
Rica, evangelical pastor Fabricio Alvarado won with a campaign based on the
defence of Christian values and neoliberalism, against abortion and the
paganism coming from Europe. This is precisely the electoral theme of Orban in
Hungary, Kacynsky in Poland and Putin in Russia.
In Brazil, the evangelical church
was vital in getting Bolsonaro elected. In El Salvador, the new president Nayib
Bukele asked an extreme right-wing evangelical pastor to offer a prayer during
his inaugural ceremony, and there is a draft law that would make the Bible
compulsory reading in all schools. You will all
remember how, after the overthrow of Eva Morales by the army, the new president
of Bolivia Jeanine Áñez and her supporters went around with a bible in their
hands at all ceremonies.
let us not forget that Trump was elected because of the support of the
evangelical church, which has 40 million faithful. He moved the US
embassy to Jerusalem to get their support. Evangelicals believe that when
Israel will recover all the territory of the biblical time, Christ will come to
earth for a second time, and they will be the only ones that will be rewarded.
The other country which moved its embassy to Jerusalem, Guatemala, was also the
result of the move of an evangelical president.
Theologian Tamayo speaks of an
international of hate: hate against gender equality, against LGTBs, against
abortion, against immigrants. Those who propagate hate defend reinforcement of the
patriarchal family, the submission of women, they despise what is not
traditional, they mistrust science and statistics, they deny climate change,
and they hate Muslims, Jews and blacks. What is being totally ignored in all this is the
problem of social inequalities, the growing economic gap for reasons of
ethnicity, culture, gender, social class, sexual identity, and so on.
observes that this is becoming a new international movement, which is now
coming to Europe, as the recent Spanish elections show. Vox, the extreme
right-wing party, created just four years ago, now has 52 seats in the
Parliament, and is the third largest party, like AFD in Germany. The party of
Italy’s Salvini, with his rosary beads, has become the number one party, and he
could become prime minister at any moment. And we know well of the very large
conservative front against the Pope in the Catholic Church which also wants to
save traditions, is against LGBTs, is for a patriarchal family, etc., etc. All
this is about using religion, fear and hate for political gains.
And what about the flag ‘in the name
of the nation’? Well,
the best example is Benjamin Netanyahu who has passed a law which makes being a
Jew the requisite for Israeli citizenship. This is how Narendra Modi in India
is trying to deprive Muslims (170 million) of Indian citizenship; it is
how the government in Myanmar is treating over one million Rohingyas. Those
cases join religion with the fight against minorities and different religions
in the name of the nation. China has now launched a campaign for a Chinese
dream (also persecuting Uighur Muslim minorities). This is exactly the same
strategy as that of Trump, who calls for the American dream. The United States
has no allies, and anybody who makes money in trade with the United States is
an adversary, be it Canada or Germany. “America First”, which in fact means
the flags “in the name of God” and “in the name of the Nation” frequently
overlap. Italian political scientist and
economist Riccardo Petrella observes that in recent decades, a third flag has
appeared with a large audience: ‘in the name of money”, and also that in the
last two decades corruption has become another universal countervalue.
its last report, Transparency International, the organisation which fights and
denounces corruption, analyses how corruption is weakening democracy. Freedom
House, a conservative US foundation, found that since 2006, 113 countries have
seen a net decline in their freedom score, while only 62 have seen some improvement.
The Economist says that democracy was stagnating in 2018, after three
consecutive years of deterioration. Of the 62 countries which transitioned from
authoritarian rule to some form of democracy, in the last quarter of the
20th century, half of them have seen their level of democracy stagnate or
even falter. Transparency international highlights that while fight against
corruption is high on the populists’ platform, when in power they tend to
weaken democratic institutions, and engage into corruption like their
predecessors. It cites the cases of various country, from Guatemala to Turkey,
from the United States to Poland and Hungary. When corruption seeps into the
democratic system it corrupts leaders. Economic corruption has increased in the
last forty years, after the “greed is good” campaign, as the market has
substituted man as the centre of society. It reaches the entire public sector, besides obviously
the private sector.
Two-thirds of humankind now have no
trust in police and other public services, because they are considered corrupt,
and they believe that corruption is so diffuse that it cannot be
have become accustomed to hearing about corruption in the last two decades,
because it is in the news every day. We have slowly become trained to look as
natural things that are at all no natural: a good sign of the extent to
which we have lost a moral compass.
If you ask children today if wars
and poverty are natural, they will probably answer yes. And, as adolescents,
they will also probably consider corruption as natural.
is therefore evident that two fundamental environments for humankind are
in danger. One in the short term is the natural environment. The conditions of
life on the planet can worsen dramatically, and we have all the forecasts. We
have only the coming decade to try to reverse the trend of climate change, be
it natural (some say) or man-made (all scientists). But then the question is:
how long do we have to protect our political environment, which runs our economic,
social and cultural life, before that also goes into an irreversible decline?
Of course, a bloody dictatorship is
less dramatic than seas rising seven metres, temperatures 3 degrees, or l0osing
all our glaciers, and many rivers and water sources. Now that we have all the
data, why do citizens not act for the survival of their environment?
the other hand, 2019 will remain in history the year of mass demonstrations. In
21 countries, in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, millions of people went
out on the street to protest against corruption, social injustice, the gap
between political institutions and citizens, the fear and decline of social
welfare as a political priority, Young people, who have deserted political
parties and elections, have been frequently at the forefront. They are at the
head of the campaign for a sustainable world, where an adolescent, Greta
Thunberg, has brought together young people from all over the world. But the system does not appear to be really listening
to them, unless they become violent as in Chile, Paris, Baghdad or Hong
These reflections bring us to three
first is that, not by accident, the enemies of the fight to defend our natural
environment are also the enemies of our political environment. they do not care
if the first is destroyed, because they are intertwined with corporations, gas
and oil companies, farmers who want to take over land (like the case of Brazil
and Amazonia), or coal companies, like in Poland and Australia. But they want
to twist the political environment in their favour, for their power. Orban of
Hungary has campaigned for am illiberal democracy. Bolsonaro has gone further,
talking about the good old days of the military dictatorship. And all of
them, from Trump to Salvini, look on international cooperation, multilateral
agreements and any initiative that reduces the freedom of a country for peace
and justice (like the United Nations or the European Union) as enemies. They are all in favour of building walls, forgetting
that the Second World War taught us to abolish them.
second is that democracy is in danger, for the same reasons that the
environment is also in danger. There is no ability and will among populists to
reach any internal agreement. Would it be possible today to create the United
Nations, or sign the Declaration on Human Rights? Certainly not just as there is no will to fight
third, therefore, is what is going to happen in the new decade we are now
entering. It looks like it will be a decisive decade. In just a few years, we must take action on how we
will deal with two existential issues: how to remain in our present
environment, and how we will live together.
this will be decided by voters. And this raises an issue: is it legitimate to
believe that fascism, xenophobia and nationalism are the answer to our
problems? Humans should learn from their mistakes (like all other animals do). And we should have learnt from the two world wars that
those beliefs are not an answer but the roots of war and confrontation.
here a final reflection. According to Steven Pinker, the Canadian cognitive
scientist, writing in The Economist, in the last seven years humans have become
healthier, live longer, are more secure, richer, freer, more intelligent and
educated. This trend should continue. But humans have evolved, because they
have dedicated themselves mainly to the advantages of reproduction, survival
and material growth not because of wisdom or happiness.
The first urgent step is to reconcile
progress with human nature. We have cognitive abilities, and also the ability to
cooperate and be emphatic, unlike other animals. Between the Age of
Enlightenment and the Second World War, we made important progress on science,
democracy, human rights, free information, market rules and the creation of
institutions for international cooperation. This trend cannot be stopped,
argues Pinker; it is now in our genes.
Well, in ten years we will know if
all this is in the human genes or is just one of the many passages of history. Also,
because in 2022, Bolsonaro and Orban should leave office: Erdogan in 2023;
Netanyahu, Modi, Putin and Trump in 2024. So, in just four years (a microsecond
in human history), we will know how the world is, and what damages are
irreversible or not, and if we have made any progress in halting the climate
*Presidente de OtherNews, el italo-argentino Roberto Savio es economista,
periodista, experto en comunicación, comentarista político, activista por la
justicia social y climática y defensor de una gobernanza global antineoliberal.
Director de relaciones internacionales del Centro Europeo para la Paz y el
Desarrollo. Es cofundador de la agencia de noticias Inter Press Service (IPS) y
su Presidente Emérito.