No single country can solve the problem of the Climate Emergency, technological challenges (including weapons development) and medical issues such as COVID. The gist of Professor Grayling’s book is that we need world agreement in order to meet the current challenges facing our planet.
In other words, It is no good if countries disagree with each other. So we need to develop a system of universally acceptable values so that we can cooperate. Grayling asks whether this is indeed possible with the current state of the world.
He formulates a law called Grayling’s Law. This states that, “Anything that can be done will be done, if it brings advantage or profit to those who can do it.” Historically this has certainly applied to new technology. However, this Law has a negative corollary namely, “What can be done will not be done if it brings costs, economic or otherwise to those who can stop it”.
In the past, this would be Luddites on the introduction of new technology which puts jobs at risk. However, people may be powerless to stop it. Indeed even Extinction Rebellion might not stop us from going over a cliff with global warming.
Challenge number 1: climate emergency
Grayling deals first with Global Warming. He paints a pessimistic picture to start, where the current situation will lead to an uninhabitable planet by 2100 if nobody does anything to stop it. The words “global warming” were first used in 1957 and since then carbon emissions have doubled.
Although he is not a pessimist, he thinks that the main reason that mitigation action is lacking is short-termism in the political and economic cycle making it difficult for governments to push the right measures through.
Challenge number 2: artificial intelligence
With the introduction of new technology, this has certainly speeded up dramatically since the introduction of the printing press in the 15th Century. He deals with some of the most troubling aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is not only with job losses, but also with the development of lethal autonomous weapons.
Sometimes, for example, GM food was banned in advance of introduction in Europe. Also moral and ethical rules can be written before the introduction of new techniques – eg the banning of “designer babies”. Although “Big Data” can give us amazing insights into medical problems, it can also be used to spy on us, and social media can subvert democracy.
Challenge number 3: injustice
His third subject for analysis is Justice and Rights. He points out that women and children are usually the main casualties of war. But also many deprived populations are likely to suffer most from Global warming. Flooding, storms and excessive heat are likely to drive migration and deprive people of the ability to grow food.
Thus in order to achieve the aims of developed countries to mitigate climate change and to be able to introduce new technologies, we must address the injustice and inequality in the world and deal with groups who lack access to a fulfilled lifestyle. The Universal Declaration of Human rights is often flouted and deprived people cannot rely on charity.
Nobody is in any doubt that it would be better and cheaper to deal with these world crises sooner, rather than being forced to act when we really are up against it. Grayling believes that democracy is important in reaching agreements between nations, but some “so-called democracies” are not democracies, of which the USA and UK are examples.
The First-past-the-Post system leaves many disenfranchised. If people in a country know that their view doesn’t count, they will vote illogically. He thinks that the key to solving the world’s problems is genuine and effective democracy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think that a “benevolent dictatorship” might do the trick – possibly because benevolent dictators often become tyrants.