"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," climate activist Greta Thunberg told world leaders at the 2019 UN climate action summit. "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"  3

Fairy tales? Judging by the United Nations' "Global Sustainable Development Report 2019," which came out only a few months ago, in September 2019, it sure looks like eternal economic growth is a pipe dream. Better, therefore, to put climate action on the front burner.  4

The report is an outcome of 17 sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations back in 2015. At that time climate change was still perceived as something that would occur well into some distant future. No surprise, therefore, to find it as number 13 of a list of 17 issues to be dealt with. But today we know it is already happening. And so, what do we expect and what can we do about it?  5

Glancing over the report, I found it a big pill to swallow. For this old fogey anyway, but I suspect for younger people as well. It was prepared by a group of 15 scientists from around the world who sprinkled it with 894 references. I began therefore to limit myself to the report's executive summary and thought it useful to reproduce it with paragraph identifications, here, following a list of those 17 sustainable development goals.  6

Being somewhat in the dark about what exactly is meant by sustainble development, I found that it can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  7

Getting into the summary we hit a snag just about right away—in the second paragraph:  8

      "However, despite the initial efforts, the world is not on track for achieving most of the 169 targets* that comprise the Goals. The limited success in progress towards the Goals raises strong concerns and sounds the alarm for the international community. Much more needs to happen—and quickly—to bring about the transformative changes that are required: impeding policies should urgently be reversed or modified, and recent advances that holistically promote the Goals should be scaled up in an accelerated fashion." (Ref.)  9

I presume that "impeding policies" is a polite reference to the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to keep average global temperature rise within 2° C, which itself is already half a degree more than what climatologists perceive as a tipping point. So much for cooperation, collaboration and dialog called for in the summary's par. 34. For now, anyway.  11

The UN report lists six individual goals (it calls them "entry points" for co-operation to bring about transformations in thinking and action):

      Human well-being and capabilities
      Sustainable and just economies
      Food systems and nutrition patterns
      Energy decarbonization with universal access
      Urban and peri-urban development
      Global environmental commons.

How well is te world doing in reaching these goals? Let's see.  

    • Human well-being and capabilities. – Current estimates indicate that the world is not on track, without additional effort, to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.(Ref. Global environmental commons.)  13

    • Sustainable and just economies. – Well, that is a long story, beginning here, but the very short of it that "Investment in the Sustainable Development Goals from all sources is significantly short of what is needed." (Ref.)  14

    • Food systems and nutrition patterns. – A story with lots of caviats. Singling out one impediment: the accumulation of agricultural land by a few huge global corporations and their practices, Ref..  15

    • Energy decarbonization with universal access. – "Difficulties in adopting, at a sufficient scale, alternative energies to fossil fuels, including nuclear, hydro, bioenergy and other renewables, imperil substantial portions of the 2030 Agenda." (Ref.)  16

    • Urban and peri-urban development. – Plenty of concerns here. Singling out, "If development continues in the business-as-usual model, the cities of the world will consume 90 billion tons per year of raw materials, such as sand, gravel, iron ore, coal and wood, by 2050, That will have irreversible consequences on the depletion of those finite resources, and will mean the destruction of natural habitats and green space, and resulting loss of biodiversity. In many cases, urbanization is proceeding organically, without planning, and since urban centres concentrate in coastal areas, urban residents live with a high risk of flooding, mudslides and other disasters.(Ref.)  17

    • Global environmental commons. – Those are mainly the atmosphere, hydrosphere, polar regions, and such globally shared resources as forests, land, water and biodiversity. Today, these resources are under attack just about everywhere. Besides all sorts of pollution we have huge forest fires illegally set for agricultural land for growing cattle and palmoil, others started by extreme dryness such as in Autralia, Siberia, California, and Canada's western provinces. Black carbon from forest fires acceleratess the melting of Arctic ice. Quoting: "Climate change, for example, disrupts the supporting, regulating and provisioning services of ecosystems while increasing the intensity of hazards such as extreme heat, intense rainfall, floods, landslides, rise in sea level and drought." (Ref.)  18

    • Science for sustainable development. – "Technological innovations risk further entrenching existing inequalities, introducing new ones and, through unintended consequences, setting back progress towards the 2030 Agenda." Why would those innovations entrench existing inequalities? It strikes me that the financing of technological innovation is mostly in the hands of the super-rich (Ref.) and that the Global Sustainable Development Report—or fairy tales of eternal economic growth—has been written in a manner that avoids affronting those invisibles who somehow control our global society. Am I overly cynical?  20

In polite language, the report is about some compromise solution. Unfortunately, with climate change hitting us ever earlier than expected, it is heavy on compromise and light on solution.  21

In March of 2019, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian published an opinion piece by a Phil McDuff. The headline: "Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?" It can be found on the internet, here. Quoting from it:  22

      "We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital. The impact of a dramatic reconfiguration of the industrial economy require similarly large changes to the welfare state. Basic incomes, large-scale public works programmes, everything has to be on the table to ensure that the oncoming system shocks do not leave vast swathes of the global population starving and destitute. Perhaps even more fundamentally, we cannot continue to treat the welfare system as a tool for disciplining the supposedly idle underclasses. Our system must be reformed with a more humane view of worklessness, poverty and migration than we have now."  23

The Guardian—I checked it out—is neither a left-wing rag nor is it beholden to advertisers, and highly respected for accurate reporting. Besides I quickly found similar views expressed by other sources of substance.  24

The World Post is an online edition of The Washington Post. In May of 2018, it featured an article by Feng Xiang, a professor of law at Tsinghua University and one of China's most prominent legal scholars. Under the headline "AI will spell the end of capitalism" we read:  26

      "The most momentous challenge facing socio-economic systems today is the arrival of artificial intelligence. If AI remains under the control of market forces, it will inexorably result in a super-rich oligopoly of data billionaires who reap the wealth created by robots that displace human labor, leaving massive unemployment in their wake.

      "But China's socialist market economy could provide a solution to this. If AI rationally allocates resources through big data analysis, and if robust feedback loops can supplant the imperfections of 'the invisible hand' while fairly sharing the vast wealth it creates, a planned economy that actually works could at last be achievable.

      "The more AI advances into a general-purpose technology that permeates every corner of life, the less sense it makes to allow it to remain in private hands that serve the interests of the few instead of the many."  

One may wonder how wide the gap is between China's socialist market economy and the West's notion of well-regulated capitalism.  28

Back to Greta Thunberg's outcry because yet to be addressed is the sixth mass extinction. Which, hastened by man, already has been years in the coming.  29

The proposed goals and targets can be perceived as a network, in which links among goals exist through targets that refer to multiple goals.  *  fn1

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