The globalization characteristic of today’s world is a process whose local effects are becoming increasingly intense and contrasted. It is thus of supreme importance that we should put all possible effort into achieving a more equitable distribution of the planet’s resources.
The urgency of the situation and the difficulties implicit in the current scenario are continually exacerbated by dramatic population growth and by unemployment. A problem that torments not only the world’s poorest areas, but also those that have undergone major industrial development. Addressed in considerable detail by the Club of Rome in its 1997 report, unemployment is one of the most evident and shocking manifestations of the social inequality of our times. Jobs can be seen as a resource whose unequal distribution provokes a negative chain reaction affecting the distribution of other resources, thereby increasing the disparity between rich countries and those with little or no development. Moreover, further disparity is often caused by the sort of economic development that derives from an increase in the kind of industrial activities that produce pollution as well as employment. Pollution also ultimately has a negative effect on resources, and our efforts to date at curtailing the problem have been totally insufficient.
One of the most evident and neglected aspects of the planet Earth is the non-homogeneous nature of the distribution of population, resources and employment, as a result unemployment itself is spread unevenly throughout the world despite the fact that global networks connect up far flung places, and in particular the world’s major cities.
Structured as communications systems in their own right, the urban nodes on this widespread network are sprawling outwards and engulfing the surrounding territory at an alarming rate. Yet despite increasing levels of interdependence, economic development continues to evolve unevenly, thus creating enormous disparity in distribution. Trade in all its economic and financial realities largely concerns the great rich regions while the poverty of the poorer countries grows hand in hand with their degree of financial indebtedness (With reference to SDGS Goal 1). This trend is also evident within the rich regions themselves, where economic well-being tends to revolve around particular areas to the detriment of less fortunate zones afflicted by poverty and marginalization. Many large cities are a case in point, since they comprise not only wealth but also districts in which urban poverty and social disadvantage abound.
Ernst Ulrich von Weiszacker has used the term “ecological imprint” to describe the effects of industrial pollution. Yet even in this field disparity prevails. For whereas rich countries can employ some of their wealth to curtail the impact of pollution, poor countries are not in a position to do so, and are thus destined to suffer increasingly negative effects.
International trade is growing in intensity, interdependence between nations is building up as never before, and yet little has been achieved in terms of adjusting the imbalance in the distribution of resources and addressing the present and future ills that derive from it. Major population growth together with disparity in the distribution of resources and the availability of employment, triggers migratory flows that can further undermine potential development, thereby exacerbating existing problems. It is essential that we should deal with this situation before it deteriorates further.
Nearly thirty years ago those taking part in the Club of Rome failed to recognize the paramount importance of imbalance in the distribution of resources in shaping the future of the world, and instead focused its attention on the “limits of development”. The trend was later analyzed by experts at MIT, who argued that five basic variables underlay the entire world system: population, food production, industrialisation, pollution, non renewable natural resources. Although it was recognised that these variables could lead to a collapse, the possible social variables and the uneven distribution of resources were generally overlooked
More recently, the Club of Rome has turned to “sustainable development” as a focus, and this has involved discussing problems of territorial redistribution. What this amounts to is sustainable development that reconciles the exploitation of present potentiality with the urgent need for environmental conservation, for saving non renewable resources, for limiting polluting activities, for using existing resources more efficiently and for discovering and developing new ones. The guiding philosophy behind sustainable development thus favours maximising the use and production of resources, and reducing waste and environmental pollution to the minimum. It is also our moral obligation to learn how to respect what we have acquired from the past, so that we can pass it on to future generations as part of their rightful heritage.
Drawn up by van Weiszacker, the Club of Rome‘s 1998 report concentrated on “Factor 4”, whose productivity should be increased by doubling production efficiency and halving it at all costs. What is proposed is essentially an “efficiency revolution” that implies a more equitable distribution of resources and thus the elimination of dire widespread poverty and famine.
While the parameters of poverty measurement have varied slightly according to time and place, the whole concept of resources, their impact, use and production has been radically modified by the current revolution in information technology.
The concept of resources dates back to early times. From the semantic point of view, it derives from the Latin verb resurge, which means “to rise again”, or “revive”, as in “resurgence”. A “resource” is thus a potentially useful and available source of something. and a non-renewable natural resource is a source of something that is destined to run out. By the same token, there are economic resources derived from human labour that presuppose specific business and managerial know-how, financial resources that always accompany economic processes. and the intangible resources or know-how that have become such an essential part of today’s technocratic society.
However, knowledge as a resource cannot achieve its full potential if it is not accompanied by another fundamental commodity: the “human factor” that can condition all the other resources by means of the human aptitude for business enterprise. Entrepreneurial activity thus constitutes another essential resource, one that creates jobs and influences levels of employment. At this point, if we return to the concept of resources we can appreciate that it should be expanded to comprise not only material reserves, but also potentially available non material supplies as well as the instrumental and social patrimony underlying business enterprise indeed the cities that are the tangible product of civil society. (With reference to SDGS Goal 8)
What stands out is the potentiality of resources that can only be made available and effective through human intervention and the appropriate social, technical and economic measures underlying the basic structure of both business enterprises and the cities that embody civil society and its scope for well-being.
In other words, resources should only be considered such when they can be effectively activated through human intervention. This transformation from potential to effective is achieved through business enterprise. through companies whose activities actually contribute to the imbalance in the distribution of resources described above. Despite the growing tendency towards globalization, the commercial distribution of such supplies further exacerbates the disparity by favouring those countries with the highest degree of industrial development.
Any effort at redressing this imbalance implies dealing first and foremost with business enterprise, for only when businesses engage directly in helping underdeveloped areas to share the fruits of future prosperity will some degree of ethical content give true depth to the dictates of article 7) of the Carta of Duties, while safeguarding the goals outlined in points 8) and 9).
What this ultimately means is that companies should begin to exercise the invisible hand that Adam Smith[i] attributed to the market and some later day analysts have perceived as a corporate appartenance. Manufacturing companies must take on the task of helping spread jobs and employment more evenly across the globe. To be effective and responsible agents within civil society, companies should teach poorer countries not only how to consume products, but also how to set up their own business concerns. Information technology can facilitate this task enormously, since companies are increasingly becoming learning organizations that rely on knowledge workers. There is great potential for improvement in the basic education and training of human resources. Moreover, if such human resources are provided with the right know -how , they can become an integral part of a manufacturing system that supplies new markets with particular products designed and built for their requirements, thereby allaying local poverty and the migratory trends that derive from it.
For too long we have overlooked the priority of the human factor in shaping not only business enterprise but also world events. It is thus high time that greater resources were devoted to the sort of training that can help individuals improve their lot and that of the societies to which they belong. What we need is a revolution in education and the way knowledge is disseminated that can help mitigate the widespread disparities of today’s world.
Knowledge is an extremely important factor in modern economies in view of the way it can shape business enterprise. It should thus be the cornerstone of all policies aimed at bringing new balance to the world-wide distribution of resources. As things stand at present, all too often individuals lack basic education, and companies are unaware of the long-term effects and ethical implications of their activities. Society, like the cities it inhabits, rarely seems bent on achieving the common good. Von Weiszacker has invoked an “efficiency revolution” in the wake of modem information technology, but surely this will never become effective until we have activated a “knowledge revolution”. Knowledge is now man’s foremost basic resource in business enterprise. In 1992 the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development stated that :
“Information must be disseminated through formal and informal educational systems so that the policies and action needed for the survival and wellbeing of the world’s societies can be expla1ned and understood”.
While scientists and technologists engage in scientific research in order to optimize the use and production of existing resources and to discover new artificial reserves, politicians and sociologists should endeavour to gain important new ground in disseminating knowledge in a more equitable fashion throughout the world. This would make the business system more global and would also help redeem urban areas smitten by marginalization.
The development of scientific and technological knowledge should go hand in hand with improvements in basic education, in professional training and in the transfer of knowledge in general. To achieve sustainability in development and the balancing of resources what is required is a major new alliance between the world of science and that of politics; only thus can knowledge as a resource be fostered and exploited to the benefit of all peoples.
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development explained that we should
“consider people the central element in the system, evaluating the social, economic, technical and political factors that affect how they use natural resources”.
The “knowledge revolution” underlying adequate education would also produce beneficial effects on the population explosion and on environmental pollution (with reference to SDGS Goal 4). Companies need to pay more attention to the concept of quality and to devote new resources to improving basic culture. The spread of information technology has done much to facilitate this objective since successful companies are increasing the number of knowledge workers among their staff. This is a tendency that should be encouraged to the full so that opting for quality in all sectors comes as second nature to entrepreneurs and their businesses.
Since education and training have remained basically traditional in their structure and content, the schools and universities in which they take place should be backed up by more ductile and innovative learning systems and networks: for instance, the scientific and technological parks that in many places are still absent or in their infancy. Resources pertaining to knowledge require cultural awareness and skills and these too should be fostered through deliberate policy.
Manufacturing companies could actually be involved in the important task of improving and promoting knowledge by engaging in educational and training programs in the geographical areas in which they operate. Their yield in commodities would certainly be enhanced by their contribution to culture and learning.
1992 was also the year of the Heideberg Appeal[ii] which declared that: “The greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression.” To fight such evils it proposed a great alliance able to promote the development of science, and more generally of knowledge.
Similar conclusions were reached by the Club al Rome and expressed in the declaration made in Brussels on 25 April 1996:
“We are convinced that every human being could choose to assume responsibility for his or her own future rather than being a victim of events. The imagination and creativity of every individual, together with a greater sense of social responsibility, can contribute to changing our attitude and to making our societies better able to address the various crises that afflict the planet. We are convinced that the information-based society that is currently taking shape, though not without risks and limits, offers considerable opportunities for building this better future”.
So we now have to get these energies to converge so that ideas can be turned into realities. Surely this is within our power. As Aurelio Pecci declared on introducing his association:”The Club of Rome essentially proposes to work towards two objectives. The first is to stimulate research and reflection that can help us better understand the dynamics of the various systems of our planet. This initially involves a particular focus on the limits of development [… ]. The second is to use the understanding thus acquired to promote policies and strategies inspired by a new humanism that can bring the whole of humanity back to a wiser guiding principle “
The only way to achieve this “new humanism” in real terms is to find the appropriate alliance between scientists and politicians. Together they should look to manufacturing companies for an important contribution to the dissemination of knowledge.
If man once more becomes the primary agent of development, of sustainability and a balanced distribution of resources, then humanism will indeed be born again and nurtured through the spread of knowledge. Individuals no less than companies and businesses have a moral obligation to ensure that this process effectively gets under way, in accordance with the guidelines for a civil society outlined in the Trieste Declaration on the Duties of Humanity.
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