UN report: humanity is at an “unprecedented moment”

A new UN report on human development makes it clear that our species faces a difficult future that we created ourselves.

The big picture: The COVID-19 pandemic – which sprang from nature but is in all other ways a man-made catastrophe – is the most recent sign that we are firmly in the Anthropocene, a new era in which man is the most powerful force on Earth. is. . What comes next is up to us.

What is going on: The Human Development Report 2020 – published earlier this week – marks the 30th year that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has assessed the holistic state of humanity.

  • The short version: It’s not good, as COVID-19 illustrates the pressure we’ve put on the planet – the pressure that “has grown exponentially over the past 100 years,” as UNDP administrator Achim Steiner writes.
  • Beyond the direct costs of the pandemic, COVID-19 has turned human development on its head, decreasing social mobility and increasing social instability.
  • Climate change – the clearest and greatest challenge of the Anthropocene – continued its acceleration, with 2020 likely to be the hottest year on record.

Of interest: The danger and promise of the Anthropocene is seen most clearly in the case of existential risks, those catastrophic dangers that threaten the future of human civilization.

  • While we’ve always faced rare but powerful cosmic threats such as asteroids, “the dominant risks to its survival today come from humanity itself,” writes existential risk scientist Toby Ord in the report.
  • But the same power that carries existential risks in the form of nuclear war or biotechnology pandemics means that “the future of humanity is largely within humanity’s control” – provided we are willing to take those risks more seriously than that. we have done so far.

It comes down to: We will be the authors of our own future, for better or worse.