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King: It’s time for global cooperation

POSTED: April 25, 2008 5:01 a.m.

We’re told Ronald Reagan won the Cold War by driving the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. Now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are pushing the U.S. in the same direction.

Glaciers are melting faster than expected. The world’s output of carbon from human activities totals about 10 billion tons a year and is rising steadily. Scientists say that if this continues we can expect "... serious consequences."

Clearly the years ahead are going to be rough no matter who wins in November, but you won’t hear this from any of the candidates, because without a positive message they know they’ve little chance of getting elected. However, unless the president — whoever that is — and the American public understand the depth and dimensions of today’s problems, we’re all in trouble.

Unfortunately, we’ve been living an unsustainable existence. Yes, even Americans at or below the poverty level. We all consume at an unsustainable rate.

If you aren’t familiar with the term "ecological footprint," I suggest you look it up. An ecological footprint measures how much land and water an individual needs to produce the resources he or she consumes and to absorb the waste that individual generates. To calculate your own footprint go to

I do what I can to be environmentally responsible, but my footprint is still so large that if everyone in the world lived as I do, it would take four or five planets to provide the necessary resources.

It isn’t so much a political problem as it is a biological problem. Whether it’s a germ in a petri dish or an animal in a limited habitat, a successful organism — and humans are the most successful species the planet has ever known — will expand until it has used up its resources, starts to foul its nest and then dies off. While the United States still has a few unexplored environmental and economic niches left, we are fouling our nest at an ever-increasing rate.

With the price of goods going up and the housing market and the U.S. dollar going down, the public is understandably uneasy. Unfortunately, the immediate reaction to hard times is not compassion for others in a similar situation, but an "us against them," mentality.

We don’t share; we compete. This, too, is biological. Competition for resources is natural, but it is not necessarily good for human beings in a time of crisis.

Historically, when faced with a harsh environment, people have survived by being cooperative. Groups might compete with other groups for resources and territory, but everyday human interaction was basically cooperative. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not a cooperative nation. Americans are conditioned to want more, not accept less, but it hasn’t made us a happier people; and right now it’s not making us a stronger or more successful society.

Americans are used to having their own space: their own home, their own car, their own possessions. The very idea of shared resources is ... well, communistic. But with so many things beginning to fall apart — the economy, the war, the climate — it’s time to rethink how we relate to one another. We need to relearn cooperation.

This isn’t the opinion of a "bleeding-heart liberal." The call for a more cooperative society is occurring at all levels. A Washington think-tank, the Center for International and Security Studies, is promoting a policy called cooperative security. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, in his book "Supercapitalism," suggests that many of our economic problems can be traced to the overcompetitive, and litigious, nature of our corporative structure. Formerly antagonistic religious groups are beginning to cross denominational lines to work and pray with each other.

While hostility toward undocumented aliens has not abated, wiser voices point out that the same people we are trying to force out of the country would make just the kind of citizens the country needs if we worked with them instead of against them. Many of the undocumented are hard-working family people who want nothing more than to become fully American. Their English may be flawed, but once their children enter the public school system, the next generation absorbs both the language and our culture.

We live in a global society. We have global problems that require global solutions. The first step is to see each other as part of a global family, one that’s best served through mutual cooperation.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on


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