As mentioned above, for the global issues of the 21st century to be successfully overcome, humankind needs to establish long-term, cooperative political agreements.
Humans must however be mentally and psychologically ready and able to engage in discussions leading to such agreements. For this, specific conditions, which are amenable by public policy, must be met.
Humans subject to stress and fear are short-sighted, egoistic and aggressive
The human species shares many features with other animal, mammal and primate species with which we also share part of our evolutionary history. Like other animals and mammals, we are subject to stress and fear, which releases a specific hormone, cortisol, in our brain. Cortisol has two effects: (1) in the short term, it raises awareness, increases the heart rhythm, stimulates the muscles, and in general makes the body ready for fast reactions (flight, combat) – but also switches off all functions that consume energy, such as our heavy, energy-hungry and specifically human brain (the neo-cortex, which consumes typically 25% of all energy we use); (2) in the longer term, permanent exposure to high levels of cortisol reduces intellectual capacity, and causes inflammatory diseases (hypertension, many cancers).
Such a permanent exposure to stress and fear modifies the behaviour and capacities of humans: they focus on the short term, their trust level in others diminish and they lose the capacity to engage in cooperative behaviour, they become more aggressive1.
Social inequalities and precariousness are the main drivers of stress and fear at a collective scale
Two social factors contribute massively to stress and fear in society: social inequalities and precariousness.
Social inequalities create stress and fear for two reasons:
they corrupt relations between p; ersons, by creating power and money relationships among them: the richer and more powerful fears being requested to help or to supply money, the poorer and less powerful fears being despised, ridiculed and trampled upon.
they make the consequences of failure and weakness more dramatic. Unequal societies provide more support (better infrastructure and public services, including health and education, direct subsidies and tax breaks) to the rich and powerful, and less to the poor and weak. Therefore, any step down in the social ladder is doubly dramatic: (1) it has the direct effect of reducing one's living standards, as in any society; (2) it has the additional effect of reducing support received from society (e.g. worse health and education services), which cumulates with the first, direct effect to build a pressure downwards, with the risk of a downward spiral ending in homelessness and absolute poverty, for oneself or one's children.
As a result, people in unequal societies are in a permanent defensive mode towards others, permanently attempting to assert their social position and in the permanent fear of failure.
Precariousness is almost a synonym of stress and fear. When a person's income, and thus his/her economic and social future, is limited at very short time frames (tomorrow, next week, next month), or is subject to massive variations with no capacity for savings, that person is anxious and afraid. Despite all ideological discourse supporting "entrepreneurship" and self-employment (which too often translates into self-unemployment when sales don't take off) people massively shun risk, for very good reasons2.
Social justice is the only means to place humans in the trustful and confident situation where to achieve long-term, cooperative political agreements
As we saw above, humankind needs to reach comprehensive, long-term and cooperative political agreements to solve any of the very major global issues of the 21st century. If they are subject to stress and fear, and thus short-sighted, egoistic and aggressive, no progress whatsoever can be expected.
Reciprocally, in order to achieve these agreements, they need to trust each other, and be sufficiently confident about their long-term personal future to wait until then to reap the benefits of the compromises made today.
It is thus only by removing the collective sources of stress and fear, namely social inequalities and precariousness, that public policy can place humans in the confident and trustful situation that makes them amenable to discussing long-term political agreements with a reasonable probability of success.
Social justice is in addition a pre-requisite for the frugal consumption necessary to achieve environmental sustainability
In unequal societies, it is of vital importance to appear as belonging to the class of the rich and the powerful. Belonging to this class is indeed the only means to be respected and protected, in the absence of regulation, or when regulation and administrative, police and legal procedures are biased in favour of those having the financial means to pay for costly and complex trials.
In large, mainly urban, communities where the greatest share of contemporary population lives, and where people don't know each other personally, the only means to display one's belonging to the class of the rich and the powerful is through ostentatious consumption. The purchase and display of grossly branded luxury consumer goods, spending holidays in expensive hotels in remote overseas resorts, or living in oversized and over-furnished homes in low-density neighbourhoods are all means to show to others that one belongs to the dominant class – and to reassure oneself about it. This is a powerful engine of over-consumption, way beyond any form of reasonable "needs".
The advantages of over-consumption in unequal societies are so large that large shares of the population even pretend that their income is higher than what it actually is – thereby generating an additional layer of stress and fear by contracting disproportionate personal credit liabilities.
In an equal society, this engine of over-consumption vanishes. There is neither the motivation, nor the possibility (because of the equality of income), to appear socially superior to others by one's consumption. It is only then that a frugal way of life becomes possible for the whole population. This frugality is an absolute pre-requisite for humankind to adapt its consumption level to the resources made available by the biosphere, and thus to overcome the first of the global issues that we identified above.
Concluding long-term, cooperative political agreements, and consuming frugally are two pre-requisites to overcome collectively the global issues of the 21st century. Both of them are only possible with social justice, i.e. with an equal and secure society for all, where all humans have an absolute confidence in their personal future and in that of their children, and where social relations between equals are relaxed, polite and friendly. This is why social justice is the second milestone of the "30-40-50 Roadmap to sustainability" of the CosmoPolitical Party, to be reached in 2040.
1Wilkinson, R; Pickett, K. "The spirit level. Why equality is better for everyone", Penguin, 2010
2Banerjee, A; Duflo, E: "Poor economics. A radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty", Public Affairs, 2011