Save the Cat, Save the World

By Sarang Chaudhary

In 1935, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger suggested a thought experiment that left even Albert Einstein scratching his head. Schrodinger questioned a tenet of quantum mechanics that applies to everyday objects. He argued that a cat placed in a closed container may be simultaneously alive or dead, a state known as a quantum superposition. When one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends, and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. Crazy, isn’t it?

As an example, Schrodinger presented a scenario in which a cat is sealed in a box with a deadly radioactive substance. Now, until one opens the box, it is impossible to know whether the cat were alive or dead. So, in a way, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.

Now imagine the cat is us: humanity, homo sapiens, mother earth — call it whatever you want. What is the radioactive substance? What can kill us? Well, the list is long. Let’s start with nuclear weapons. The world currently possesses and nurtures 15,000 nuclear warheads (a majority of which belong to the U.S. and Russia), enough to blow up the entire planet multiple times over.

Then there’s climate change. According to analysis done by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, the earth’s average global temperature has increased by more than 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) in the last 100 years. Should we care about one degree of warming? What if the earth’s temperature rose by 4 or 6 degrees? In a 2012 report, the World Bank said, “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

What do we have, next? Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)? A chief concern comes from cyber criminals using A.I. to attack information – things like identity theft, denial-of-service attacks, and password cracking. A.I. has the power to solve complex human problems such as healthcare, transportation, food security, and climate change. Therefore, the problem is not A.I., itself, but rather whether we can mitigate its abuse.

In the face of various threats, it all comes down to global governance, or rather coordinated global action. Can a world so divided forget its differences and work together for common goals? There are historical examples that suggest it can. World War II resulted in the formation of multilateral Institutions such as United Nations and World Bank which have largely achieved what they were set out to be. The Paris climate agreement signed by 195 countries is a perfect example of the nations of the world coming together to fight a global problem. However, one must also acknowledge that many parts of civil society had been crusading for a comprehensive climate agreement for decades, and we could have achieved an agreement much earlier.

Although the Paris accord was a delayed result, its mere existence can serve as a silver lining. It serves as tangible evidence that global civil society can play a significant role in modern global governance. In the last 30 years, and especially after the end of the Cold War, the presence of civil society organizations (CSOs) in international affairs has become increasingly relevant. They have played a role not only in agenda setting, international law-making, and governance, but also in the implementation and monitoring of a number of crucial global issues ranging from trade to development and poverty reduction, from democratic governance to human rights, from peace to the environment, from security to the information society. CSOs have thus been significant international actors as policy advocates, service providers, knowledge brokers, and watchdogs and monitors of state and intergovernmental actions.

Still, the challenges ahead are arduous. The world witnessed a massive spike in deadly conflict in the last decade. In 2014, more than 180,000 people died in 42 armed conflicts. The rise in conflicts has resulted in the worst displacement crisis since World War II. Based on a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report, in 2017 there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in the world which includes 22.5 million refugees, 40.3 million internally displaced and 2.8 million asylum seekers. At the same time, the globe is facing waves of violent terrorism and Xenophobia. These issues are global in scope, and effective responses must therefore be global, as well.

So, can we save the cat? Yes, the answer is global governance. In fact, the cat is alive. Just open the box.

Sarang Chaudhary is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy.