Scholars discuss global crises at Kyung Hee University conference
“The health crisis has in some ways acted as a wake-up call for [the] multilateral order,” Irina Bokova, the former director-general of Unesco and the Miwon Scholar of Practice at the university, said as she joined the conference virtually. “The Covid-19 pandemic [has shown that there is] a strong link between infectious diseases and climate hazards [...] It still remains to be seen whether climate change will fight its way onto the agenda for a period or become sacrificed again.”
Due to the pandemic, scholars gathered virtually at the annual forum, hosted by the Kyung Hee University System and organized by the university’s Global Academy for Future Civilizations, in recognition of the Sept. 21 International Day of Peace.
The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations after Kyung Hee University proposed its founding that year during a conference of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP).
The forum on Tuesday was themed “The Era of Urgency, a New Horizon for Political Norms,” focusing on the pandemic and climate crises among other global issues calling for immediate attention.
Speakers at the forum made a point of questioning values and ideals that a majority of the word has accepted as universal.
“The 200 years of competitive capitalism have lessened hunger and disease but they have not eliminated them. But they brought us new problems, including the Covid-19 and climate change [crises],” said Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University. “For too long we have been told that there is no alternative [...] as capitalism that dominated half a century has filled the needs of many but left many [behind]. The urgent question is never what is the alternative, [but] how do you come to believe that a given alternative can be achieved.”
Evidence that the planet can no longer withstand the detrimental effects of greenhouse gas emissions and intensive industrial practices around the world can be found around the globe, said Oreskes, mentioning the more frequent landfall of deadly hurricanes in the United States, extreme heat waves in India, floods in Pakistan and wildfires in Australia.
“There are moments when we stop, catch our breath, and this is such a moment,” she said.
Despite the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change being felt in most corners of the world, a lack of globally coordinated efforts is concerning from the perspective of someone who has studied liberal democratic systems for decades, said John Ikenberry, professor of international relations at Princeton University.
“It is a very somber year and worrisome year to be talking about global cooperation,” said Ikenberry, also joining the forum virtually. “We haven’t found a way to replace the old American-centered governance system, which did generate huge amounts of cooperation.”
Failure to act now will have repercussions across generations, he said.
“I would emphasize that there are multiple layers in the global crises [one of which] is the crisis of liberal democracy,” he said. “Failure of liberal democracy is not just a failure of American or French politics. It’s a failure of several hundreds of years of models of open society and representative government in the sense that reason, civic discourse [...] and limited government can generate solutions to the problems.”
But neither scholar was too pessimistic about the ability for mankind to turn things around.
“The closest thing I’ve seen to today’s crisis was the 1930s and early ‘40s,” Ikenberry said. “The good news there is that they did find solutions. The Holocaust, the Great Depression [...] all these things generated creativity, new thinking, new deals [...] new coalitions.”
Oreskes added, “We will get to the other side. But what that transition looks like is potentially very ugly — that is what we want people to understand.”
Choue In-won, the Kyung Hee University System chancellor, emphasized that mankind at this moment is more equipped with knowledge and technological advancements than any of its previous generations.
“We are at the face of not just one crisis but multiple ones,” he said. “But we have also with us knowledge that has been accrued over the ages [...] Now is the time to talk about what kinds of discussions we want to have on multilateral and international settings to realize a future we all want despite the difficult road ahead.”
BY ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]