SOCIETY CAN DO SO MUCH AND YET SO LITTLE

By februari 2, 2024 Algemeen

We find ourselves surrounded by the paradox that society can do so much and yet so little at the same time; it is concurrently so powerful and so fragile. It is capable of deploying unprecedented technological power, yet it cannot guarantee development that is balanced in legal, social or environmental terms.

The world is facing a set of risks that feel both wholly new and eerily familiar. We have seen a return of ‘older’ risks – inflation, cost-of-living crises, trade wars, capital outflows from emerging markets, widespread social unrest, geopolitical confrontation and the spectre of nuclear warfare – which few of this generation’s business leaders and public policy-makers have experienced. These are being amplified by comparatively new developments in the global risks landscape, including unsustainable levels of debt, a new era of low growth, low global investment and de-globalization, a decline in human development after decades of progress, rapid and unconstrained development of dual-use (civilian and military) technologies, and the growing pressure of climate change impacts and ambitions in an ever-shrinking window for transition to a 1.5°C world. Together, these are converging to shape a unique, uncertain and turbulent decade to come.

Erosion of social cohesion and societal polarization has been climbing in the ranks of perceived severity in recent years. Defined as the loss of social capital and fracturing of communities leading to declining social stability, individual and collective wellbeing and economic productivity. A widening gap in values and equality is posing an existential challenge to democratic systems, as economic and social divides are translated into political ones. Polarization on issues such as immigration, gender, reproductive rights, ethnicity, religion, climate and even secession have characterized recent elections, referendums and protests.

Health is no longer just about physical well-being. Mental, emotional, financial and other aspects of health are becoming part of the conversation, broadening our collective understanding of what it means to be ‘in good health’. At the same time, there is a growing realization of how connected our health is to everything around us, including our local environment and the world at large.

The wealth gap has increased by the widened inflation and interest rates leading to an ongoing uncertainty for people living from month to month, and the prospect of a recession is causing additional anxiety. People are grappling with these inequalities and uncertainties, both short-term and longer-term, in myriad ways. Geopolitical conflicts such as Russia’s war on Ukraine, and the resulting energy crisis, have added to the uncertainty, as have worsening climate / ecological related disasters.

Due to an aging population, increasing life expectancy and technological developments in healthcare, the total demand for healthcare is increasing. As a result, healthcare costs are increasing and the affordability of the healthcare system is increasingly under pressure. Due to the greater influx into the social domain, the affordability of the welfare state is under pressure. The consequences are financial problems for healthcare providers, an increasing demand for the self-reliance of clients and a public debate about the welfare state.

There is increasing misunderstanding about political decisions surrounding major social themes such as climate and migration. These controversial social themes increasingly lead to large-scale protests in which the public seeks confrontation and opposes political power and political decisions.

Society is becoming increasingly aware that our economic approach of infinite growth is not realistic because we are bound to the limits of our planet as an ecosystem. This has led to a counter-movement that opposes the dogmas of our capitalist system because they believe that a different and more sustainable approach to growth is necessary to guarantee the future of our planet.

In an attempt to halt climate change, gas production is being accelerated. In combination with increasing demand and less supply from major gas-producing countries such as Russia, whether for geopolitical reasons or not, this leads to rapidly rising energy prices. For households with low incomes and poorly insulated houses, this increasingly leads to energy poverty: financial problems due to a rapid increase in monthly energy costs.

Our interconnectedness with our devices and the fear of missing out has meant that everyone is always on. As a result, people become overstimulated more quickly and increasingly seek primary care to reduce the health consequences.

Individualization is a social and cultural process that has been underway in the Western world since industrialization. The dependence on others or on groups has become smaller. This development means that people increasingly want to be seen and approached as individuals.

The social contract is an implicit and hypothetical contract between the state and its citizens from which the legitimacy of the state’s authority over its citizens arises. Driven by major social issues such as the climate crisis, the housing shortage, the affordability of healthcare, institutional racism and social inequality, this social contract is increasingly coming under pressure.

The speed at which technology is developed and the potential negative effects of this development on employment are causing many people to worry. Developments such as AI, which potentially make human actions redundant, lead to anxiety among employees who feel that the future of their jobs is at stake.

Not being able to keep up with the speed and volatility of today’s society has caused more and more people to become socially isolated. Factors such as increasing individualization and digitalization make it more difficult for socially vulnerable people to come into physical contact with others, making them feel lonely.

As the baby boom generation reaches retirement age and average life expectancy increases, the share of elderly people in the Dutch population is increasing. Aging will be a major challenge in the coming years because, among other things, it puts pressure on the healthcare and pension systems.

Polarization pits groups in society against each other because the contradictions of these groups become stronger. The question is to what extent there is really polarization or whether attention to polarization is increasing because the differences between groups are magnified by social media and traditional media.

‘ISSUES’

  • Collapse or lack of social security systems; Non-existence or widespread bankruptcy of social security systems and/or erosion of social security benefits: disability, elderly, family, injury, maternity, medical care, sickness, survivor, unemployment etc.
  • Employment and livelihood crises; Structural deterioration of work prospects and/or standards for the working-age population: unemployment, underemployment, lower wages, fragile contracts, erosion of worker rights etc.
  • Erosion of social cohesion; Loss of social capital and a fracture of social networks negatively impacting social stability, individual well-being and economic productivity, as a result of persistent public anger, distrust, divisiveness, lack of empathy, marginalization of minorities, political polarization etc.
  • Failure of public infrastructure; Unequitable and/or insufficient public infrastructure and services as a result of mismanaged urban sprawl, poor planning and/or under-investment, negatively impacting economic advancement, education, housing, public health, social inclusion and the environment
  • Infectious diseases; Massive and rapid spread of viruses, parasites, fungi or bacteria that cause an uncontrolled contagion of infectious diseases, resulting in an epidemic or pandemic with loss of life and economic disruption
  • Large-scale involuntary migration; Large-scale involuntary migration induced by climate change, discrimination, lack of economic advancement opportunities, persecution, natural or human-made disasters, violent conflict, etc.
  • Pervasive backlash against science; Censure, denial and/or skepticism towards scientific evidence and the scientific community at a global scale, resulting in a regression or stalling of progress on climate action, human health and/or technological innovation
  • Life expectancy gap, solife expectancy is increasing everywhere, but myriad inequalities exist that are continuing to determine life expectancy based on privilege, access to and availability of healthcare.
  • Severe mental health deterioration; Pervasiveness of mental health ailments and/or disorders globally and across multiple demographics, negatively impacting well-being, social cohesion and productivity: anxiety, dementia, depression, loneliness, stress etc.
  • Widespread youth disillusionment; Youth disengagement and lack of confidence and/or loss of trust with existing economic, political and social structures at a global scale, negatively impacting social stability, individual well-being and economic productivity

The challenge of cities today is not just one of scale, speed and scarcity of resources but on a more fundamental level, it is one of complexity. Cities are the center of civilization and thus express a complex set of social, ecological, technological and economic factors; these forces that shape our built environments come from very different realms and often pull in very different directions. In an age of globalization and information technology, the urban equation that we are dealing with today has become a lot more complex.

Cities must reinvent and rethink themselves in the context of planetary change. The emergence of complex interactions among human, natural, economic, social and technological systems and the uncertain trajectories that characterize urban futures require that cities critically review their assumptions and expand their capacity to ask new questions. Urbanization is driving systemic changes in socioeconomic ecological structures by accelerating rates of interactions among people and places, multiplying numbers and strengths of connections, and expanding the spatial scales and influences of human activities to global levels. It is increasingly evident that cities amplify the consequences associated with globalization such as the movements of people and products, access to, and disruption of natural resources, and threats to biodiversity.

Convergence and interactions of functional, structural, and social changes result in challenges of unprecedented complexity for city governments. To understand how cities emerge, function and evolve, we must study urbanization as a process that simultaneously transforms places, populations, societies, and the environment. To navigate this transformation phase, it is necessary that we understand cities as integrated social, economic, and physical systems in more precise and predictive ways.

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