CONTEXT: Chapter 1— What Does the World Want?

"Most current efforts to improve society are directed at getting rid of what we do not want rather than getting what we do want. Getting rid of what we do not want often results in getting something worse." —Russell Ackoff, systems scientist

"We must challenge the common wisdom that passes for immutable truth and find new ways to think about the world." —Moises Naim, editor, Foreign Policy Journal

What the world wants can be defined as the collective desires and needs of all the people on our planet, along with the needs of its biological systems. It is among the most important forces shaping the world today. It drives science, technology, economics, culture and politics. It has created the present world and it determines tomorrow. In short, if the world or a significant portion of it does not need or want something, the resources, creativity and initiative it takes to make anything happen does not come together.

So, what does the world want? Well, my Uncle Joe or your Aunt Rita certainly have a few choice opinions, as do a few other philosophers of more repute and organizations of more renown. Given that there is as yet no known way for the entire world to actually speak and tell us, the question "What does the world want?" immediately implies another question: "According to whom?"

Not surprising, religious thinkers and academics of various stripes have many ideas about what the world should and shouldn't want. I'll focus here, though, on ideas that have been formulated by international bodies such as the United Nations that have a case for speaking in a fairly broad manner about what the world might want. Other statements about what the world wants come from less well-accredited bodies which, lacking global credentials, have the next best thing— chutzpah. In both cases, what they say is worth looking at.

The Millennium Development Goals and Other UN-sponsored Work

The United Nations, in September 2000, issued its Millennium Declaration.[1] This formal UN resolution was adopted by all 189-member states of the UN, 147 of whom were represented by their heads of state.[2] This document calls for:

1.      The eradication of extreme poverty and hunger
      Achieving universal primary education
      Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women
      Reducing child mortality
      Improving maternal health
      Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
      Ensuring environmental sustainability
      Developing a global partnership for development.

Each of the Millennium Development Goals is accompanied by a set of specific targets and indicators by which progress is to be measured.[3] Although they are substantially unknown to the general public, these goals are permeating the entire UN system, shaping policy, organizing activities and providing a time specific yardstick by which to measure progress. For example, the Millennium Development Goals call for cutting in half, by 2015, the number of people living on $1.00 or less per day as well as the number of people who are malnourished. (See Table 2, What the World Does Not Want.) The "world" in "what the world wants" includes not just us human beings, but also the biosphere—as in, "what the biosphere wants, the biosphere will get." Sooner or later, with or without human cooperation, the biosphere wins out. If we go incandescent or cough ourselves to collective death, either way the biosphere will pick up the pieces and continue on her way of slowly increasing the complexity of the planet. Working with the biosphere on maintaining and increasing the long-term complexity of the planet is a key tool for discerning and predicting the future.

Around the same time the UN issued its Millennium Development Goals, civil society recognized the fundamental necessity of cooperation with the biosphere in the visionary Earth Charter. This document was put together by a variety of non-governmental groups working in consultation with each other over a multi-year period.[4] It was an outgrowth or spin-off of another UN-sponsored event, the 1992 World Summit on the Environment held in Rio.[5] Released to the public in April 2000, the Earth Charter, as might be expected, has a chiefly environmental focus. It is also less specific than the Millennium Development Goals about a time frame for accomplishing its noble objectives. It calls for, among other things:

1.      Respecting Earth and life in all its diversity
2.      Building democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful
3.      Securing Earth's bounty and beauty for present and future generations
4.      Adopting patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth's regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being
5.      Eradicating poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative
6.      Affirming gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensuring universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity
7.      Strengthening democratic institutions at all levels, and providing transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision-making, and access to justice
8.      Integrating into formal education and lifelong learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.

Again, each of these goals is accompanied by a series of more specific sub-goals.[6]

The approaching turn of the millennium was not the first time the UN had tried to articulate goals for all of humanity; the effort goes back to the organization's beginnings. In 1948, the UN looked at what the world wants in a manifesto on the rights every human being is entitled to.[7] As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these rights include:[8]

1.   Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
2.   Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
3.   No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
4.   Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
5.   Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
6.   Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
7.   Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
8.   Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services
9.   Everyone has the right to education.
10. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.

All these efforts at envisioning the future and what it should be, at staking a claim on or to the future, at setting out a goal or series of goals for the world, or at least that portion of the world enveloping the visionary is as old as our species. From Hamurabi's Code to Jesus, Mohammed to the Declaration of Independence, Tolstoy to the utopian movement, F.D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms to Gandhi, Martin Luther King's dream to the World Health Organization's world free of smallpox— all powerful visions of the future organize the present and lead the world in their direction. One of globalization"s least understood impacts is in making visions of how the world ought to be globally available and hence more powerful than ever before in history.

Clearly, there is significant overlap of purpose and vision of these three representative documents. The Introduction of this book imagines a world where these same basic principles are in effect, and together they present a fair picture of what the world wants. From a high enough altitude, all efforts at determining what the world wants are similar. Each has its own emphasis, priorities and phrasings, but upon closer examination they reveal more overlap and shared purpose than disagreement. At their core, all attempts to particularize what the world wants involve meeting the basic human needs of 100 percent of humanity, regenerating the environment, and ensuring a safe, just and secure world.

From all these efforts we can deduce the following: as articulated by a not insignificant group of those residing on this planet, the world actually does want something. More precisely, it wants a finite set of things that will increase its well-being, health, strength and capacity for a good time. The following integrates all these visions of what the world wants:

What the World Wants: A Synthesis
There now exists a general consensus that 100 percent of humanity should have, on a sustainable basis:
Abundant supplies of nutritious and culturally appropriate food
• Abundant supplies of clean water and sanitation facilities
• Adequate housing
• Access to local comprehensive health care and the latest medicines
• Abundant, clean, safe and affordable supplies of energy
• Access to credit, property and fulfilling work
• Literacy and access to advanced educational opportunities
• Access to communication facilities so that anyone can communicate with anyone else on Earth who wants to be communicated with
• Access to transportation facilities, enabling anyone to go anywhere
• Access to decision-making processes that affect their lives
• A peaceful, secure, and terror nuclear/chemical/biological weapon-free world
• A safe, crime- and illegal drug-free world
• A clean, self-regenerating environment, free of toxic wastes, and pollution of all kinds
• Easy and equitable access to the materials and information needed to produce the above
• Freedom of speech, press, religion, and cultural expression
• Gender equality and absence of all forms of prejudice—race, religion, gender, age, sexual preference, nationality, ethnicity, and income
• Respect and celebration of the diversity of all cultures and nations
• Strong social incentives that foster initiative, trust, cooperation, respect and love
• Access to full equality before an independent and impartial tribunal that is free of all forms of torture, degrading treatment or punishment
• Access to the right to nationality and the right to perform public service in one's own country
• Access to rest and leisure
• Access by mothers and children to protection, special care and assistance
• Access to spiritual growth and fulfillment
• Continuing accumulation of knowledge and exploration of intellectual and other frontiers, along with an active space program.

As stated previously, everything the world wants is technologically possible using known material resources. Furthermore, we have the financial wherewithal to pay for this dedication of technology and resources to the betterment of all, and to do so in a way that not only will not bankrupt ourselves but can make us unimaginatively richer. And on top of all this, we could do it relatively quickly. Perhaps so quickly as to make everyone in the world a billionaire around the time there are seven billion people on the planet.

Very few people realize or believe this—especially the part about financial capacity and economic rewards— and hence the world does not have the will to get what it wants. Lacking vision, will doesn't coalesce into initiative. Not taking initiatives allows the power structure to resist change. Keeping the world the same— the present volatile mix of haves and have-nots (along with the gasoline of the super-rich, have-no-hopes and near universal access to television that makes everyone aware of what others have) could lead to an explosion — which could be a global disaster of both unheralded and unprecedented proportions.

If what the world wants is more than the capacity of the world to supply, there is a "serious problem", to say the least. To say a bit more: an Armageddon-type showdown between the global haves and have-nots is an eventual likelihood.

If the world has the capacity to meet its needs, then why don't we behave as if it has this capacity? Could our short-term focus be lethal? We must also ask:in a well armed and dangerous world, if the world does have the capacity to meet its needs and wants, and it does not do so, what will the consequences be? With capacity come expectations; with unmet expectations come demands; with unmet demands and continuing privations comes conflict. And conflict, in an integrated world economy where weapons of mass destruction are available not just to nation-states but to more volatile entities, including individuals — carries the potential for global catastrophe.

The Roles of Globalization
Globalization plays a profound role in shaping the problems confronted by the now global humanity as well as our available alternatives and solutions to these problems. Some will claim that economic globalization is making matters worse by pitting workers in wealthy nations against their lower cost counterparts in developing countries— while others will point out that the other side of this sword is raising the life expectancy and living standards of larger numbers of people in the poorer regions of the planet. Others will claim that technological globalization is making matters better by bringing life-saving technology to areas currently suffering the consequences of inadequate health care, clean water and other "conveniences" delivered by modern technology— while still others will claim this same technology is destroying native cultures. In addition, there are aspects of globalization that are being shaped by rules and laws concocted by governments. Many of these are benefiting a select minority, the rich— usually those making or influencing the law making— and are, in affect, increasing the gap in wealth between the super rich and the super poor (those earning more than $1000 per day and those earning $1 or less per day).

The multidimensional (economic, technological, political, cultural, ecological) inter-linkages of globalization have created what appears to be one vast organism where the privations or diseases of one part now impact the whole. Just as your whole body suffers if you have a headache, broken arm, or heart attack, so now the entire world is at risk if "just" Bangladesh or Sudan is "sick." And because of the globalization of our communications technology, this organism now has a nervous system that informs all of us of what is happening all over— insuring that the poorest of us see what the richest of us are doing and have access to. The palace walls are now increasingly transparent, as are those of the hovel.

Increased transparency is making it increasingly difficult to rip off the world, be it by corrupt government leader or short term corporate "profit maximization." It is also making what the world wants increasing visible, viable and in demand.

Financing What the World Wants
We can make a world of seven billion billionaires. The vision of meeting the needs of all humanity on a healthy planet can be made real. The chart above and its accompanying text back up this statement with facts, figures and strategy. They show that with present day, off-the-shelf technology and available resources, we can get what the world wants. We do not need to invent a fantasy fusion reactor to power the world or discover a Saudi Arabian- size oil field in New Mexico. We already have what we need. Anything else in the pipeline that might advance our abilities to take care of our species and lessen our impact on the environment, from nanotechnology to genetic engineering, will simply make the job easier.

If the technology and resources are there, the question becomes one of financial capability and will. Can such an undertaking— meeting the basic human needs of all people while regenerating the environment and securing a safe, just, and peaceful world—be afforded by the governments of the world, already deeply in debt? Given their staggering debt loads and herculean efforts to just maintain the status quo, to keep from sliding backward on the upward slope of economic development, the pragmatic answer has to be "No." No way can governments in the poorest parts of the world, where needs are greatest and the expenses would be largest, afford to undertake such an effort. No way can the United States, whose national debt now stands at $6.8 trillion (and growing), and its fellow developed nations (who are also heavily in debt) afford such a charitable endeavor. Nor can the combined charitable resources of the Gates, MacArthur, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations make more than a small dent in the financial investment needed to get what the world wants.

But the answer doesn't have to be "no." To assume that getting what the world wants is financially impossible is to assume that financing the vision is the responsibility only of governments, or international programs funded by governments (such as the UN), or of philanthropy. From a different perspective, however, getting what the world wants is not only affordable but will be the best investment we can make and that has ever made in the million-year-plus history of human life on earth.

From this perspective, the real question becomes, "Can we afford not to do it?" or "How could we possibly afford not to do this—and as quickly as possible?" Admittedly, this point of view is not easily arrived at, because we have been used to looking at the world and its needs in a fragmented way and with a short-term focus dominated by problems, not capacities. But there are several keys to unlocking this perspective, and we'll examine them in these early chapters. One key is to recognize that the nation state is not the only actor on the global stage.

Other Actors On the Global Stage
Globalization has created both a global stage and new actors to strut upon that stage. Although nations states are still the big boy on the block, the block is now orders of magnitude bigger and populated with many more big boys, girls, groups, gangs, and organizations— as well as new toys, tools, and props. Some of these actors have powers that rival, and in some instances exceed, those of the nation. Globalization has also undermined some of the proclivities and prerogatives of the nation, while new technology has created new niches of economic opportunity those nations are incapable of filling.

One such actor is the multinational corporation. Corporations today have a vast store of resources, skills, and power to make a huge difference in getting what the world wants. Corporations today have a vast store of resources, skills, and power to make a huge difference in getting the world what it wants. There are over 64,000 multinational corporations in the world, compared to some 200 nations. Some corporations are bigger than nations, when their gross revenues are compared with the gross national product of nations. Looked at this way, 53 of the world's 100 largest economies are corporations.[9] Wal-Mart, the world's largest corporation, is bigger than over 150 countries— and it employs more people than live in over 50 countries.

Given their ubiquity, power, speed, and motivation the corporation can play an important role in meeting the needs of the world, including those four billion people who live at the base of the global economic pyramid and who are currently not serviced by corporate enterprise. The four billion at the base of the pyramid spend over $2 trillion each year— a sufficient market size and incentive to motivate almost any even moderately visionary corporation looking for new markets and profits. The challenge, which this book seeks to meet, is to point out the huge opportunities for corporations so that their core competencies and the needs of the world can be creatively (and profitably)

Another new global actor is the incredibly ubiquitous non-governmental organization. They are today a major player in the global economy and in the race to get what the world wants. Numbering over three million and situated all over the world, issue-focused NGO's have grown in power and effectiveness as they successfully market their missions and messages.[10] [11] They are one of the checks and balances in the global governance of both corporate enterprise and nations. For example, Greenpeace had the power to force one of the world's largest multinationals (Royal Dutch Shell) to not only re-think its decision, but to change course. When the British government gave its approval to the sinking of an obsolete oil platform in the North Sea, Greenpeace went into action to stop the move. After a well-coordinated media campaign that included a boycott of Royal Dutch products, the company reversed its decision and spent $23 million towing the huge platform to dock and disassembling it.

When the value of a brand and brand image has real world value, damage to that brad has bottom line consequences. In this case, the $23 million spent on "doing the right thing" for the environment was less than the loss of brand value. Brand value (and the transparency and communication tools provided by globalization) has given non-governmental organizations a fairly large stick that helps level the global playing field.

Yet another major player on the global stage is the new breed of informed, active, mobile and interconnected global citizen. These highly motivated individuals share an ethical sensibility and have the capacity to come together over issues despite geographical separation. They are the cutting edge (some say the bleeding edge) of humankind's increasing empathy for our fellows. Their ethical sensibilities show the world, and model for the world, what doing the right thing is. For all these reasons, the new global citizens are making a critical difference in shaping global opinion, will, and action.

Finally, the 6 billion plus individuals in the world are increasingly players on the global stage. When this 7 billion pound gorilla wakes up, it will get what it wants. "Wake up" in this context refers to our growing technological and economic interconnection with every one else in the world, our dawning realization that the well being of each of these individuals we are increasingly connected to is inter-linked with our own well being (and wealth), that if we act together we have enormous, even unprecedented, power, and that our growing technological capabilities are increasingly providing us with the ability to work together.

When the people of the Philippines decided to throw their government out, there was no way the government could stop them. When a significant mass of people decides to do something (from donating to a worthy cause, to insisting on the availability of the "classic" Coke they like, to demonstrating in the streets) the something gets done. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it."

The wealth of the whole is always made up of the value of each of the parts— and these parts do not add up arithmetically (1 + 1 + 1 = 3), but synergistically (1 + 1 + 1 = 4 or 5 or 6 or . . . ) The more parts, the more wealth— and the better off each of these individual parts are, the more wealth the whole system has. Our human capital increases on the planet as we each become more informed, educated and experienced. As our individual and collective awareness of our human rights and responsibilities grows, along with our interconnections, "us individuals" become more powerful and capable of making our concerns and voices into effective action.

Table 1
Actors on the Global Stage







Multinational corporations



Non-governmental organizations


3 million

Global citizens


10-100 million



6 billion+

Table 2
What the World Does Not Want—Breakdowns

Social/environmental ills that can be remedied


People living on $1.00 per day or less[12]
People living on less than $2.00 per day[13]
Malnourished people[14]
eople without access to safe drinking water[15]
People without access to adequate sanitation[16]
Children under 5 who die from easily preventable causes, per year [17]
People with no access to essential health services[18]
People who die from curable infectious and parasitic diseases, per year [19]
eople infected with AIDS virus[20]
ople who seek treatment for malaria, per year [21] 
People infected with tuberculosis
People without adequate housing in urban environments
ople who are homeless[24]           
Iliterate adults
mber of children not in primary school[26]            
Child laborers
Refugees/Displaced people
People killed or maimed by landmines, per year
People killed since 1950 in wars
Tons of carbon added to atmosphere, per year
ons of topsoil eroded from world croplands per year[33]      
Desert land formed annually by mismanagement (in acres)
Forest destroyed each year (in hectares)
Size of hole in Antarctica ozone layer (in square miles)
oxic waste sites (U.S. only)[36]                                               
Tons of nuclear waste stored worldwide
Number of nuclear weapons




. 020 (20,000)

032 (32,000)
.132 (132,000)
03 (30,000)

"We need to do better than attempt to solve 20 year global problems with four year local solutions staffed by bureaucrats with two year appointments funded with one year allocations budgeted by politicians who can not see beyond the next election or vacation and who expect the problem to go away if ignored long enough—and who were elected by apathetic voters informed about the issues through sound bites and TV sitcoms and who view problems as an excuse to go shopping. The best to come out of this process is something that fails slowly." —Dempster Grob

"...perspective helps us to explain the past, anticipate alternative futures, and provide sound guidelines for policy making." —Walter C. Clemens, Jr. Dynamics of International Relations

"To understand a system, you need to understand the system it fits into." —Howard Odum, ecologist

"You can't hedge against the world." —Paul Volker, former head, U.S. Federal Reserve

[1] See http://, Section I for full text of this landmark document.
[2] UN General Assembly resolution 55/2, approved September 8, 2003.

[3] There are 18 time restricted targets and 48 indicators. Published in ÒRoad map towards the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration; Report of the Secretary-General.Ó UN September 6, 2001 Fifty-sixth session Item 40 of the provisional agenda; Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit.Ó


[5] The document that came out of that conference, Agenda 21 as well as the Brundtland Commission's Report on Sustainable Development, issued in 1972 are intellectual antecedents to the Earth Charter. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, issued in 1947, is also an early attempt to clarify what the entire human family wants.

[6] To see the entire Earth Charter, see Appendix 1, Section II.

[7] Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948.

[8] To see the entire Universal Declaration of Human Rights, see Appendix 1, Section III.

[9] Medard Gabel, Henry Bruner, Global Inc.: An Atlas of the Multinational Corporation. (New York, The New Press. 2003).

[10] There are over one million citizen groups in both Brazil and India; in the U.S. the number was 734,000 in 1999. Bangladesh has over 20,000, Central Europe over 100,000, Indonesia has over 2000 of just environmental groups (from Bill Drayton, Asoka, and David Bomstein,

[11] Elizaabeth C. Economy, in The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to ChinaÕs Future, (Cornell University Press, 2004) says there are 2 million NGO in just China. Adding this number to those for NGOs in India, Brazil and the U.S. clearly brings the number to well over 4 million.

[12] World Development Report 2003 (The World Bank, Washington DC, 2003, p. 6).

[13] Ibid. p. 4

[14] FAO, World Food Program,

[15] World Development Report 2003 (The World Bank, Washington DC, 2003, p. 7).

[16] Ibid.

[17] "Urgent call to improve survival of millions," (WHO, June 23, 2003)

[18] 800 million: WHO, Removing Obstacles to Healthy Development (Geneva, WHO, 1999, p. 34). 2.5 billion: The Economist, "The health of nations", December 22, 2001, p. 83.

[19] Ibid. WHO, p. 2

[20] WHO, The World Health Report 2002,

[21] Victoria McGovern, Queta Bond, "Global Health Research" (Science, June 27, 2003, p. 2003).

[22] Victoria McGovern, Queta Bond, "Global Health Research" (Science, June 27, 2003, p. 2003).

[23] WHO, Removing Obstacles to Healthy Development (Geneva, WHO, 1999, p. 34).

[24] Judith Achieng, HABITAT: Renewed Campaign To Assist The World's Homeless, February 22, 2001 by Inter Press Service

UNDP, Human Development Report 1996 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 24.
UNDP, Human Development Report 1990, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991),
p. 17.
[25] UNICEF, State of the World's Children 2001

[26] UNICEF, State of the World's Children 2003
[27] Amarta Sen, ÒTo Build a country, build a school houseÓ (New York Times, 5-27-02).

[28] UNHCR, ÒWorld News,Ó Choices, Volume 1 #130, 2003

[29] U.S. State Department, To Walk the Earth in Safety: The US Commitment to Humanitarian Demining (Washington DC, November 2001)

[30] ibid.

[31] Vital Signs 2002, (Washington DC Worldwatch Institute, 2002, p. 94). 50 million to the year 2000; since 2000 various researchers estimate that from 3 to 6 million additional people have been killed in violent conflicts.

[32] Vital Signs 2003, (Washington DC Worldwatch Institute, 2003, p. 40).

[33] Lester Brown, Edward C. Wolf, Soil Erosion: Quiet Crisis in the World Economy, Worldwatch Paper 60, (Worldwatch Institute, Washington DC, 1988).

[34] Michael Williams, Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2002).

[35] J. Weiner, The Next 100 Years: Shaping the Fate of Our Living Earth (New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 152).

[36] P. H. Abelson, "Cleaning Hazardous Waste Sites," (Washington DC, Science, 246 1989, p. 1).

[37] Vital Signs 1996, (Washington DC. World Watch Institute, 1996, p. 88).

World Resources 1990-91, (Washington DC, World Resources Institute, 1990, p. 324).
[38] Center for Defense Information, Nuclear Facts at a Glance, ( CDI, Washington, DC February 4, 2003).


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