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Penser global

Michel Wieviorka
Laurent Lévi-Strauss
Gwenaëlle Lieppe

Ouverture. The Inter-Galaxy Review of humanity on earth

Yuan Tseh Lee


2050 marks the end of human denial and hubris. In 2042 we shot past a 450-ppm CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Climate change, environmental degradation and resource depletion have all been much worse than experts ever imagined. Humanity now knows the party is over. It just doesn’t know whether it’ll survive the hangover.
With options running out, world leaders turn towards extra-terrestrial civilizations for guidance and help (contact was made just a decade ago). In response, an Inter-Galaxy Review Task Force visits earth to conduct a Review of Humanity on Earth. Task Force members all hail from alien civilizations that have thrived for at least 10 million years, making them uniquely qualified to evaluate earth and its young master species.

After three months of investigation, the Task Force delivers to the United Nations a 1,000-page Review Report of Humanity on Earth. The report lays out in stunning detail the story of human development on earth, and lights the way for how humanity can survive and prosper far beyond this century, by reconnecting itself to nature and sunshine, and by reconnecting peoples and nations into a strong global community.

Texte intégral

A Journey to the year 2050

1We would like to invite you on a brief journey into the future. For the next 20 minutes or so, please set your imagination free, and travel with me to the year 2050.

2Since 2012, humanity has added 2.5 billion to its ranks, and 9.5 billion people now walk the earth. Nations have continued to chase material wealth and growth, and so the average humans now consume much more resources than they did back in the 2010s. The latest Global Footprint report reveals that humanity is using resources that would require 3.3 earths to generate.

3Eight years ago, in 2042, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 450 parts per million (ppm)—the threshold that the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) once deemed ‘safe’, back in 2007. Yet, the consequences have been anything but.

4Vast coral reefs have died out, crushing the hopes of hundreds of millions for whom these precious ecosystems were the sole fountain of livelihood. The world’s bees have long disappeared and left the humans to pollinate their own crops at staggering costs. Massive forest die-offs destroyed entire industries and ecosystems, and countless species vanished with them, their mysteries and splendor never once beheld by human eyes.

5Floods, droughts, storms and heat waves have worsened every decade. It seems that not a month goes by without some record being broken, be it storm intensity or temperature. Sea-level rise, not expected to be a problem until the end of the century, is already forcing major coastal cities to retreat, with a flooded United Nations Headquarters its most iconic image. Battered by extreme weather and countless other crises, global food production has stumbled sharply even as population and demand have both risen dramatically… The list grows longer by the month.

6These crises have engulfed the world in massive social upheavals and violent political revolutions. The number of failed states exploded, as did the flight of refugees to countries barely able to cope with their own populations. This has stoked ethnic tensions, adding fuel to running conflicts and lawlessness that have killed millions. Yet, even in areas untouched by violence, billions struggle everyday simply to survive.

7At the latest climate conference in early 2050, the plenary hall is subdued and somber. Everyone understands that the survival of mankind is in grave jeopardy. Even the most ardent denialists and climate skeptics have long since flip-flopped, and now pretend that they were always for climate action. Sadly, while urgent actions remain imperative, the vast majority of experts and scientists say it is already too late. Many of them have been urging climate action since the 1990s. Their open dejection recalls half a century of pleas disregarded.

8Outside the plenary hall, there is only anger. Young people from all around the world have gathered in the tens of thousands. They call for putting the older generation on trial for ‘mass murder’. Their leader explains to the media: “Millions of lives have been lost or destroyed because the older generation failed to act. Things were getting worse and worse right before their eyes, yet they did nothing. Everyday they looked into the eyes of their children and grandchildren, and went right back to a business as usual that they knew full well to be unsustainable. And now my generation will pay the biggest price, and so will my children’s generation, if they even have a future.”

9Just as these words thunder from flat-screen TVs throughout the deathly quiet convention hallways, the assembled world leaders unanimously take a drastic and unprecedented decision. They reach out beyond our own galaxy for help.

The Inter-Galaxy Review of humanity on earth

10Contact with alien intelligence was made only a decade ago, when all the messages we’ve been sending were finally reciprocated. All of a sudden, a vast network of far older and more advanced alien civilizations revealed itself to us. It is to them that the world leaders appeal for help.

11A UN Security Council Resolution, citing the extreme and desperate circumstances on earth, humbly requests the formation of an Inter-Galaxy Review Panel to review humanity on earth. The Panel is to be composed of experts from alien civilizations that have survived for at least 10 million years, making them uniquely qualified to evaluate and counsel our young species.

12Without any delay, these benevolent extraterrestrial civilizations promptly deploy a mission to earth. And after three months of intensive investigation on the ground, the 20-member Panel delivers to the United Nations Security Council its 1,000-page report. Then, at the General Assembly in September 2050, the Panel’s Chair takes the floor before the world, and delivers an impassioned address.

The Chair’s address

13As our ship approached your solar system, the Chair begins, we beheld a spectacular sight: an almighty sun not unlike the ones that still power our own civilizations. And then Earth—the blue pearl orbiting the Sun at just the right distance to harbor an abundance of life. This is the rarest of all miracles in the universe. Yet, as soon as we landed, we saw that the sun no longer played a central role in the everyday lives of humans on earth. But this was not always so.

14Humanity once survived entirely on the power of the sun—which continuously recycled vital materials to sustain life on earth. Everything humans depended on came directly or indirectly from the sun, from the plants that made up their food base, the wood that upheld their sturdy dwellings, to the animals that toiled in their fields… Human development was intimately coupled with sunshine and the cycles of nature, and had minimal impact on the planet for thousands of years.

The Great Separation

The Great Separation of humans from sunshine & nature

15And then everything began to change in the 18th century—in what the Panel calls ‘The Great Separation’. That was when humanity began to distance itself from nature and sunshine, propelled by two critical catalysts.

16The first was the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Humans began to invent fantastic machines—the steam engine, sewing machine, ships, cars, elevators, etc. These machines performed labor and produced goods that man could not have conjured up in his wildest fantasies.

17As for the second catalyst, you also found fossil fuels from the bowels of the earth to power these fantastic machines. What humans could produce and consume was no longer limited by natural cycles and sunshine. Almighty machines drinking fossil fuels easily and exponentially outpaced humans and beasts chewing on plants. Human development accelerated, human numbers exploded, and human activities began to dominate all corners of the earth. Perhaps nothing symbolizes this Great Separation better than the fact that, while human development went up, the health of natural environments went the opposite way. The fates of man and nature were no longer bound together… or so it seemed.

The Great Separation of humans from one another

18The Great Separation did not just happen between humanity and nature, but also within humanity itself. This is somewhat strange—after all, haven’t technology and fossil energy led to ever-greater globalization, supposedly bringing people of all corners ever closer? Sure, but if you look deeper, you begin to see that the developments opened up profound divisions within humanity itself.

19First, globalization has benefitted some groups much more than others. Strong nations have used technology and fossil fuels to dominate the weaker nations, with a traumatic history of colonialism and world wars as witness. Within nations, the ‘individualization’ of technology (such as personal automobiles and electronics) meant that the rich could live material lives far above those of the poor. Inequality kept growing, and even today in 2050, humanity is still divided into a minority that has everything and a majority that has very little. And this continues to spark violent political crises and social revolutions.

20Second, while globalization has globalized the worst problems, it has not globalized the solutions. Your greatest problems, such as financial instability, deadly diseases and climate change do not respect national boundaries. But still humanity searches for solutions by having nation-states negotiate with one another for ‘all-or-nothing’ grand bargains. This ignores the fact that governments have always looked out for their national interests, first and foremost. They prefer to compete and fight for national wealth and power, rather than work together on truly global solutions. They spend trillions of dollars defending their borders against other nations, when the biggest threat to the security of all is something else altogether—the unsustainable way of life within their own borders.

21And of course, the separation of mankind into rich and poor also makes it even more difficult to achieve genuine global cooperation, as the shadows of inequality, injustice and historical responsibility persistently hang over all discussions.

The moment of crisis—can mankind survive & prosper?

22And so it is that, at this midway point of the 21st century, some 300 years after the Great Separation, humanity is staring at a deadly mix of environmental, economic, political and social catastrophes, and wondering: Will we survive the century? Is there still enough time to avoid a global collapse?

23The Inter-Galaxy Review Panel was of the unanimous conviction that the answer is YES. Humanity can absolutely survive to see the 22nd century, and even prosper through it. But to survive and prosper, humanity will have to come together and begin a ‘Great Reconnection’. It will have to reverse the Great Separation, and heal the divides that led to this miserable predicament.

The Great Reconnection

24The Great Reconnection, naturally, will mirror the Great Separation. While the Great Separation divided human development from nature and sunshine, the Great Reconnection will re-unite them. This is the first and most important task.

Reconnecting humanity with nature

25For too long, human development progressed to the detriment of the natural environment. But from here on they must progress together. From here on, a thriving human civilization must be synonymous with a thriving nature. Long-term human prosperity is simply impossible without a healthy planet.

26One way to reconnect humanity with nature is to fully integrate measurements of human progress with measurements of the earth’s health. The Sustainable Development Goals created 40 years ago pointed in the right direction, but sadly governments continued to use their own indicators to measure progress at home. And to no one’s surprise, national policies and measures doggedly followed the national priorities, while the Sustainable Development Goals gathered dust on ministry shelves. This simply must change. Governments everywhere must enshrine sustainability into their laws. And they must evaluate success by both how well they improve people’s lives and how well they safeguard their environments and natural heritage.

27Reconnecting humans with nature also requires mankind to ask a basic but infinitely vital question…

28What is development?

29Over 60 years ago, one of your reports defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. But this doesn’t answer two key questions—“What do you mean by development?” and “what exactly are those needs?”

30The Panel has only spent three months on earth, yet it was abundantly clear, even during those first days, that the kind of development you have pursued cannot be the right kind: huge houses, cars and electronics for every individual, replaced by new versions every few years. This is not development. This is over-development. And it’s not what humanity really ‘needs’. The kind of development humans truly need would focus more on happiness and sufficiency rather than material consumption, and be entirely compatible with a healthy natural environment.

Reconnecting humanity with sunshine

31Now, what about reconnecting human development with sunshine? For too long, human development also disregarded the mighty sun, and chose instead to dig up dirtier and dirtier fossil fuels. The black gold poured forth so endlessly, humans forgot the fact that the sun remains the most powerful energy source you have ever known, showering the earth with enough energy hourly to quench a year’s human thirst. And yet ‘solar-powered’ came to represent something akin to ‘cool but impractical’ gadgetry.

32This must change. From here on, human development must be powered by sunshine like it was in the ancient times. But unlike in the ancient times, advanced technology allows for infinite possibilities in exploiting solar power efficiently to power human needs. But this will only happen if you pursue these possibilities with all your heart, investment and policies.

33So these are the first priorities of the Great Reconnection—to reconnect human development with both nature and sunshine.

Reconnecting humanity into a strong global community

34The second priority, of course, is to reconnect humanity with itself. No longer can you let the strong dominate the weak with technology and energy, and divide the 1% from the 99%.

35The Great Reconnection must heal the divides. It must tirelessly search for solutions that deploy sustainable technology to uplift the welfare of all, solutions that build a sense of community and solidarity the world over. Such solutions do exist; we’ve seen them with our own eyes. There are systems that give affordable mobility to even the poorest humans while causing minimal environmental impact. Agriculture that grows cheap but healthy food for entire communities while safeguarding environmental health. Find these solutions and scale them up!

36At the same time, governments must stop obsessing about growth, wealth and national ‘competitiveness’ while climate change threatens to unravel everything. No longer can nations erect walls and point arsenals at the threats abroad, while ruinously unsustainable lifestyles endanger everyone at home.

37In a sense, humanity and its governments must ‘complete the process of globalization’ by giving birth to truly global institutions: institutions that advance the interest of all mankind rather than of select nations; and institutions that pool global resources and devise global approaches to solve global problems.

38This is therefore the second priority of the Great Reconnection: to complete the process of globalization and reconnect humanity into one world community, where global institutions answer the grand challenges and protect the interests of all.

Reconnecting knowledge with action

39Let me bring up yet a third aspect of the Great Reconnection. There was a time in human history when there were no walls separating the academic disciplines, when the pursuit of knowledge was simply the pursuit of knowledge. And there were times when humans lived and acted according to the best evidence and wisdoms they possessed. Better knowledge led to actions that bettered the world.

40The Great Reconnection must happen on this front as well. The problems humanity confronts do not recognize disciplinary boundaries—food challenges are simultaneously problems of water, energy, population lifestyle, policy, etc. The disciplines must therefore come together in order to solve such complex and interconnected problems.

41And scientific knowledge needs to be connected to concrete actions to make a real difference. The pursuit of knowledge never ends, even for ancient alien civilizations such as ours. There will always be more research to do. But humanity already possesses all the knowledge it needs to weather this storm. What’s needed is the resolve to act.


42Despite all these challenges, the Chair revealed that the Panel remains optimistic, though guardedly so. They have seen civilizations fail and perish, but they have also seen ones that wake up and act before it’s too late. Most of these civilizations endure and prosper to this day.

43The good news is that humanity possesses all the best qualities of those who endured: ingenuity, resilience, and love for one another.

44But the big questions remain: can mankind reconnect with nature and sunshine? Can it reconnect its members into a strong global community, guarded by strong global institutions in the interest of all? And can it connect its best knowledge and wisdoms with urgent, determined action?

Back to the present—what will we choose to do?

45Let us now return to the present—the year 2013. The hellish vision of the year 2050 may be an exercise in imagination, but it can easily come true if we continue with business as usual, and if we don’t act urgently to transform the way we live and develop.

46And if it does come true, we doubt there will be alien civilizations coming to our rescue. We can only change our destiny ourselves. We know what we have to do. And we should understand that transforming our civilization will incur a heavy cost. There’s no cheap and easy way out of this mess we’ve made for ourselves. We will have to make sacrifices. But there is no other choice.

47We are pleased to tell you that our organization, the International Council for Science (ICSU), and our partners are already mobilizing. Last year, an alliance of science organizations including ICSU and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), research-funding governments and UN agencies launched a 10-year research program called Future Earth. The goal is to deliver to society the knowledge and solutions needed to confront global environmental change, and to seize opportunities to innovate and build a sustainable future.

48You can learn more about it on the Future Earth website1, but here is the key: if the knowledge doesn’t connect with action, we can do all the research in the world, and it won’t make nearly enough of a difference. It is absolutely essential that we turn better knowledge into urgent and effective action that takes us closer to a sustainable future. This goes for the entire global research community.

49We hope you have found this journey into the future both enlightening and thought-provoking. But above all we hope it has convinced you that it is time to take action. Otherwise, there just may come a day when our children and grandchildren clamor to put us on trial for destroying this earth and their future.


1 [viewed 2014-12-21].


Le professeur Yuan Tseh Lee est chimiste de formation et a reçu le prix Nobel de chimie 1986. Il est actuellement président émérite et chercheur émérite à l’Academia Sinica à Taipei (Taïwan). Il est également le président de l’International Council for Science (ICSU). Le deuxième auteur, Andrew Wei Chih-Yang, est adjoint spécial au professeur Yuan Tseh Lee. Il a reçu une maîtrise de la Fletcher School de droit et une autre de diplomatie aux États-Unis.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2015

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