the worlds a mess cover

The problems of the world are many. And the solutions to the truly big issues facing us will not be fully resolved, or at least not implemented in any reasonable time frame, unless the general public get behind the politicians and support them in making the difficult but necessary decisions. There is a need for adults, certainly in the western world where political power and resources are, to take collective accountability for the state of the planet and the state of the societies we live in and to participate much more in public affairs.

For public participation to be of any real value, three elements must be in place. Firstly the media must play their part in educating the public on the  issues. Secondly there needs to be overarching plans at local, national, regional and global levels aimed at solving those issues. Finally an information system that monitors the implementation of these plans must be made available on an ongoing basis. 

This book is aimed at the general reader, the person who wants both to understand something of the big issues and feel part of the solutions. It is different from other books in this area in five important ways: 

i) It connects the development and implementation of effective solutions to global issues with the positive participation by responsible adults in public affairs. This is called public leadership and governance. 

ii) It demonstrates what a global strategy to resolve global issues might look like by adapting tools in common use by large complex global business  organizations. 

iii) It describes an information system, adapted from those used by leading global organizations, which would allow the general public to monitor progress on the implementation of national, regional and global initiatives. 

iv) It provides a balanced approach to selected global issues, clearing the  confusion by making clear what is known, what is not known, and what is  uncertain. Each issue is covered in around 25 pages and at a level of detail that allows the general reader to make informed judgments. 

v) It provides an overview of many of the problems facing global society and by encouraging the reader to develop their own list and compare it to others demonstrates how difficult it is for governments to get the priorities right without public help. 

Compiled in eight chapters the information is concise and well laid out. The lack of heavy academic style is refreshing.  

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ISBN: 978-1-921731-04-4    
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:224
Genre: Non Fiction


Author: Dr. Garry Greenhalgh PhD.
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English


Author Biography

Dr Garry Greenhalgh has been a business management consultant for over twenty years. His major assignments have been for European and American companies in South East Asia (Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore), Europe (Holland, Belgium, Germany, Hungary), the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman), India, Pakistan, West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana), Russia, Australia, New Zealand and China.

His area of expertise is with large complex organisations, assisting management with strategy focusing, deployment and implementation, and large-scale performance improvement aimed at lifting return on capital. His style emphasises practical ways of getting things done.

Garry has an intellectual interest in how society can find and implement practical solutions to complex global problems. This book is a product of that interest.

In his spare time Garry is a keen ocean swimmer and surfer and enjoys going to interesting places.

Garry holds a PhD in manufacturing strategy, a master’s degree in industrial management and a bachelor’s degree in science. This is his third book.

Chapter 1

What Mess and Why My Fault?

Key messages

¨              There are a lot of things happening in our world that we all know are just plain wrong; they should not be happening.

¨              There are known solutions to many of the problems. There are at least first steps to a solution for most of the others.

¨              The blockages to implementing real solutions are essentially political, but don’t simply blame the politicians.

¨              Ultimately we must decide what we want our world to be.

¨              Without broad agreement on the priorities, resources and effort will be spread too thinly across too many issues, with no problem truly solved.

¨              Without broad support for our political representatives the implementation of real and lasting solutions is almost impossible.

¨              It is hard to decide what our world should be if we identify only with our local area and country. A broader and deeper identity is needed.


There is a lot happening in our world that is simply wrong.

The world’s a mess, and it’s all your fault. Well, it is. But what mess are we talking about, and why is it your fault, and my fault too?

Every day, in newspapers, on the radio and on television we hear and see events or situations that to most people are plainly wrong. We see examples of people suffering overwhelming poverty, we see people suffering at the hands of corrupt governments and in some cases brutal dictatorships. We see nations that cling to laws and practices that debase women and girls. We watch while our environment degrades. In recent years many of us have noticed the seemingly blind acceptance by the general population of negative aspects of globalisation. We also see the actions of lobby groups that influence government policy to benefit very narrow interest groups. But for so many of us these things appear inevitable and unchangeable. Competing groups offer equally plausible explanations and criticisms of each other’s policies. We would like it to be different but we don’t know what to do. In the end we blame our politicians or the United Nations or the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. If ever a situation cried out for real public leadership, this is it.

This book is for the general public, you and me. It’s about asserting collective public leadership on the political priorities that will put right some of the obvious wrongs in our global societies and generate the greatest good for the greatest number without creating impossible problems for future generations. We need to tell our political leaders that we will back them on important and difficult decisions and that we will ignore the efforts by special interest groups to denigrate them.

Above all, we need to stand up for what we know is right and not allow ourselves to over-intellectualise issues to the point of inaction. We don’t have to know or even completely understand all the solutions ourselves. Nor should we have to get caught up in political wrangling over solutions that may be difficult to understand without strong technical knowledge. It does not require us to become experts on every issue but it does require us to focus on the end result we want and then demand that the politicians deliver that end result. Ok, you say, but which mess are you talking about and where do we start. Well, we start by facing up to some realities.

First, most of the world’s people want the same basic things: to live decently, to have a home with enough food on the table to feed the family, to feel secure and free from oppression, to have access to education for themselves and their children, to have access to meaningful and fairly paid work, to know that the laws of the land are applied to all and that justice is done, to feel that they have a say in who governs them and their country, to feel positive about the future.

Second, those of us in the ‘west’ must recognise that our way of life is enjoyed by a minority of people on the planet. Most of what we call the modern world exists in only a few countries. I’m not just talking here of all the material goods available to us in the west. I am referring to the ability of western democracies to provide the basic freedoms and necessities of life. Despite all the issues and problems each western nation believes it has, and no doubt there are many, we still have a far better life than the majority of people on the planet.

Third, if we really believe that society should be civilised, democratic, tolerant, law-abiding and compassionate then why haven’t we demanded that all the peoples of the world enjoy the benefits that we enjoy. Yes, of course western societies are not perfect. Few days go by without something unpleasant happening. But in western societies we at least get a chance to make a decent life. Why can’t everyone? Do we deliberately and consciously deny the majority the very rights and freedoms we demand for ourselves?

Some of you reading this will say, “But we have the United Nations”. Yes, we do and if you read the United Nations Charter, you could be forgiven for wondering how Bosnia or Rwanda happened. Despite the many dedicated people working for the United Nations and its ideals, we still have dictators, corrupt governments, overwhelming and degrading poverty, and appalling treatment of women in some countries.

We also have environmental degradation in many forms, for example the deliberate over-fishing in certain areas by western nations as well as the destruction of forests, sometimes legally and at other times clearly illegally. And while it looks as if the world got its act together to fix the ozone layer, it has been unable to agree on anything substantial with regard to global warming specifically and climate change in general – the Kyoto Agreement is not substantial in terms of effect. And it doesn’t end here because there is this thing called globalisation that has generated huge debates and arguments in recent years. Unfortunately, much of the debate is confusing because it tends to concentrate on the negative versus the positive arguments, with very little discussion about what globalisation is. The point to be made here is that globalisation is not moral or immoral, good or bad; it is a process that can have positive consequences and negative consequences. At the time of writing this book, it is obvious that whatever impact globalisation has had it has been very uneven, with most benefits going to developed countries. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we want to, we can make sure that the benefits are shared.

What are the priorities? What do you think the priorities should be? Is your list of priorities the same as your neighbours’, or your best friend? Do you think the people (not their governments) who live in developed countries could agree on a set of priorities? Would that set of priorities be different from people who live in transition economies? What about the priorities of those people who live in undeveloped countries; how might their list differ from ours? Recently I was in Egypt on a family holiday and while wandering around a bookshop in Luxor just happened to come across a book[i] describing some research on what environmental issues bother the people in various parts of Cairo. The research showed that while the people knew about or were at least aware of many of the major global environmental issues, their priorities were about specific local problems such as poor garbage collection, dirty streets, noise and air pollution and poor water quality. In the west, we might talk about terrorism, global warming and nuclear proliferation, to name just a few. The Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair, said publicly in 2006 that climate change and Africa were two major priorities for his government over the next few years.

The first action then, is to get members of the general public talking about what they think the priorities should be. Notice that I didn’t say we needed to decide the solutions; we just have to get more public debate and discussion on the priorities. The reason for this is that it is very, very difficult to get politicians to agree among themselves on what the priorities should be without a big dose of public input. Further, it is equally difficult to get politicians (in one country let alone globally) to commit to actions over a long period of time to resolve the issues to do with the priorities without huge public support. It’s easy to understand of course. New issues and pressures arise continuously and it requires considerable discipline and some courage to maintain resources and focus on previously agreed priorities.

So, what should be discussed? Table 1.1 below provides examples of important issues that some people may feel need more public debate and action by global or regional leaders. Yes, I can argue a case for my list but that doesn’t make me right and everyone else wrong. I am simply arguing my list as an example of what a set of big picture priorities might look like.


Table 1.1 List of perceived world problems[ii]

Some examples of important issues requiring action by global or regional governments

Proliferation of nuclear & other weapons of mass destruction

Gradual breakdown of infrastructure

Genetically modified foods

Water availability

Economic growth

Cost, quality & availability of education

Extreme poverty



Modern day trafficking in women & children

Major diseases e.g. malaria, cancer, AIDS

Discrimination against women

Perceived dangerous states eg North Korea

Soil erosion

Land, air, ocean and waterways pollution

Material consumerism

Energy security

Government debt

Climate change

Effectiveness of the United Nations

Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems

Population growth



Globalisation / capitalism


Minority rights

Loss of traditional cultures and languages

Poor management of natural resources e.g. fish

Loss of forests to agriculture

Urban development

Violence on television

Industrial development

Power of global corporations

Increased attractiveness of nuclear power

Religious intolerance

Drug trafficking and substance abuse

Family / marriage breakdown

Child labour / slavery

Food security

Sanitation & access to clan water

IMF & World Bank policies

Regional & local conflict

Corruption in government

Malnutrition & hunger

What else might bother you?

Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic was charged with 66 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s[iii]. The trial had been going on for more than four years before Milosevic died.

Four years for a trial.

 Is this acceptable to you?

 In the Darfur region of Sudan, around 300,000 black Africans have been killed by the Janjaweed militia (a group backed by the primarily Arab government in Khartoum) and more than 2 million people are homeless as a result of a war that started in February 2003[iv]. At the time of writing, no end to the conflict is in sight.

Is this acceptable to you? If the 300,000 dead had been white Christians, do you think the situation would be the same?

 In Myanmar (Burma) the military government has continued to refuse to accept the results of the democratic election in 1990 in which the people voted for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. She has been under house arrest for much of the time since then and her party colleagues have been jailed or harassed by the military government.

 Is this acceptable to you?

 A report presented to the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City said that of the world’s 6 billion people, 1.1 billion do not have enough clean drinking water and 2.6 billion do not have sanitation[v].

 Is this acceptable to you?

There are known solutions to many of the problems.

The list in Table 1.1 covers a great many problems. Which are most important? Where do we start? Where would you want us to start? What would we do to solve these problems? How many have solutions or part solutions? Of course, I am not going to be so arrogant as to say that I know the solutions to all the problems in Table 1.1. Clearly, some of the solutions require technology and some require groups of people to get together to resolve their differences. But I have been led to believe that for many of the problems there are solutions, or at least first steps towards a solution. Some are much harder than others and some are more political than others, but so what, that is the way the world is. I believe however that we can overcome all or most of the problems if we really want to. Some situations may require human ingenuity to develop a workable solution. Others require the simple courage to say enough is enough and thereby give politicians the will to act. For other problem areas, the situation may not be as we see it. Let us look at some of the problem areas.

The situation regarding oil is an interesting one at present. Energy security has become an important issue globally. Depending on who you talk to we are either running out of oil, or we have enough oil but not enough production capacity, or we have enough oil but not enough refining capacity. A Mr Syed Rashid Husain writes a column ‘Oil Scene’ each Friday in the Arab News, a Middle-East newspaper. In one article he points out that since the late 1800s, experts have predicted on a number of occasions that the oil was about to run out.

“In 1874, Pennsylvania’s state geologist fretted that America had only a 4 year supply of oil left. He was definitely wrong. In 1914, Washington claimed that we had only a 10 year supply. That also turned out to be wrong. In 1940, the US government announced that reserves would be depleted within 15 years. Wrong this time too! In 1977, President Carter lamented that within a decade, we wouldn’t be able to import enough oil, ‘from any country, at any acceptable price,’ to meet our needs.”[vi]

According to Oil & Gas Journal, between 1970 and 2000, 680 Gb of oil was produced while in the same period 980Gb were added to reserves, a net increase in reserves[vii]. So, do we have a problem now? It’s hard to say since no-one really knows what the total reserves of oil are because the oil-producing countries won’t give exact figures except to say there is plenty left. It is also true that at the time the OPEC countries decided to base quotas on their known reserves, the estimates of those known reserves went up dramatically. Some estimates doubled. Saudi Arabia’s increased by 80%. It is not known whether these increases were legitimate and simply reflected updates that should have been made years previously, or whether the countries concerned increased their official reserves in order to increase their official quotas.

In the same article, Husain makes another interesting observation about oil formation. It is commonly believed that oil is the remains of plant and animal matter that died millions of years ago and has been under conditions of intense heat and pressure for those millions of years. There is another theory called ‘abiotic theory of oil formation’[viii] that says that oil is the product of hydrocarbons being formed from hydrogen and carbon under intense heat and pressure in the earth’s mantle during the formation of the earth, not from dead plants and animals. What we see as oil today are these hydrocarbons that have leaked up towards the surface through cracks. The theory is contentious but if proved to be true it would mean we could be literally floating on the stuff. So, again, do we have a problem? And if it turns out there is plenty of oil, what are the political – and more importantly, the environmental –consequences arising from this? Would we continue our addiction to oil?

Let us examine global warming, specifically whether business is taking it as seriously as it might do. For many of us, global warming is something we read about. We may know it is happening, but after all, what can we, as individuals, do about it? Until recently I would have said the same about the business response to climate change – they probably know it is happening but would have difficulty pointing to any projects that are designed to reduce CO2 emissions. This is changing. Business is starting to see benefits both in the competitive sense and for the planet by, as they say, going green. Perhaps they have recognised the parallel with quality in the 1980s when business discovered that a broad approach to quality not only reduced costs but improved overall competitiveness. Prior to this, it was thought that an increase in quality meant an increase in costs due to increased inspection. A broader view of quality, one that emphasised the removal of waste in all its forms along with the concepts ‘quality at source’ and ‘do it right the first time’, provided enormous benefits. A report in The Economist[ix] indicates more companies taking a more serious approach and aiming to be carbon neutral. Many managers now believe the public see global warming as real and will expect business to respond appropriately. While some businesses will have an easier time than others – banks don’t produce as much CO2 as mines – the report shows that 74 companies from 18 industries in 11 countries that are committed to reducing greenhouse gases have combined and produced savings of US$11.6 billion.


Don’t just blame the politicians

If we debate the priorities, the organisations that monitor public opinion will pick up the debate about those priorities. And it will have greater impact if the general media come on board and help the public debate by providing balanced and informative articles on the various topics. Be assured that politicians will know what is happening. They may not be completely comfortable with what the public is after, but they will hear the message. I am however, digressing. We need not just a debate about what the priorities might be. We also need some discussion on the factors that will help resolve the issue and the identification of the major blockages to real action.

Using my list as an example, Table 1.2 following shows what I mean by factors and blockages. In the first part of the table, I have listed six ‘big picture’ issues that I believe world governments need to resolve. I haven’t said how they should be resolved, just that they should be. The second part of the table states three pre-conditions required for real and lasting solutions. The third part identifies some major blockages, while the fourth part identifies key initiating and supporting aspects. The initiating action by the general public and the educative role by the media would probably be constant factors in these exercises, although they may not always be the only factors.

Table 1.2 The basic logic of what is required to solve major world problems

The world is in a mess … some examples

¨        Brutal dictatorships

¨        Appalling treatment of women in some countries

¨        Government corruption

¨        Overwhelming and degrading poverty

¨        Environmental degradation

¨        Negative aspects of globalisation

Real and lasting solutions require …

¨        Recognition by governments that the issue is real, on the agenda, and that the public expects action

¨        Individuals and/or groups with the capability to provide governments and the UN with real options for implementation

¨        Political will by our national leaders

But first we need to sort out some blockages …

¨        Certain special interest pressure groups

¨        The immature nature of international law

¨        The practices of some international institutions

However none of this can be done without …

¨        The general public demanding political leaders implement solutions

¨        Information for public leadership

¨        A mature and supportive media that:

o    Reflects public concerns and thereby gets the issues onto the political agenda

o    Assists the public’s understanding of the issues by presenting the issues and potential solutions in a balanced way.


Our decisions on what we want our world to be like give politicians the strength to implement real and lasting solutions.

The examples given in the first part of the table are just that, examples. You might have a different list of issues you believe are more important. But for the moment let’s accept them as examples of significant world problems needing to be solved. Clearly, for each issue to be resolved it needs to be recognised by governments as a real and important issue. This is not normally difficult. What is difficult is getting the issue on to the government’s agenda as something to action. For many issues (read, ‘the hard ones’) this only happens when the public have made it clear that they want the issue resolved. But governments can be hard to convince, the public can be fickle, and what is an issue today may not be an issue tomorrow. Governments know this and where the required action is risky or needs significant resources over a long period, it is understandable that governments will waiver.

Let us assume we have been successful in convincing the government that a particular issue is real and that we want it resolved. Let us also assume that the public researchers have told the government that we, the public, understand that anything the government might do will take years and cost significant money. Preventing CO2 from being released into the atmosphere from coal-fired power stations might be one good example; the Australian Government action to support struggling East Timor might be another. The government still needs a workable solution or at least action that will make some progress while a long-term solution is developed. Obviously, this will depend on the problem at hand. Further, the government must have, and maintain, the political will to sustain action and resources over extended periods. This can be difficult for politicians since they have continuous demands placed upon them, either for resources (taxpayers’ money) or changes to the law that will allow some group to benefit. And if it is difficult to get our own governments to take real and concerted action on big national issues, think how difficult it must be to orchestrate a number of countries to take consistent and coordinated action on an issue of global importance.

A British diplomat, Robert Cooper, in his very readable book The Breaking of Nations[x] has something to say about how countries make decisions. He points out that different countries define their national interest in different ways, and that in some cases a country makes a decision based on what sort of world it wants to live in or what sort of country it wants to be[xi]. We should recognise that governments do not always make decisions based solely on narrow self-interest; they are capable of taking a broader view and making strategic decisions for the good of many.

However, there are potential blockages to these decisions. The one that comes to mind first is that of pressure groups, or lobby groups, that make representations to government on behalf of often relatively small but politically powerful groups in our society. Such pressure groups seek government decisions in favour of these small minorities often at the expense of the majority. One example would be the farm lobby groups in Europe, Japan and the USA that effectively prevent the opening of those markets to Third World countries. This is despite the fact that these three governments pay huge subsidies to the farming industry using taxpayers’ money, and ensure that the prices of the relevant products remain artificially high for consumers. For example the price of rice to consumers in Japan is very high because of government protection to Japanese rice growers. If they opened their markets to other countries, the price of rice would fall dramatically. A similar situation exists in Europe with regard to dairy products, and in the USA with regard to many farm products, particularly cotton. Of course there is nothing sinister in pressure groups putting their case to government. That is their right. However, we expect governments to govern for all and it is clear that significant government decisions are made that benefit small sections of our communities at the expense of the majority. In the case of farm lobbies, the government decisions are inconsistent with (and make a mockery of) their arguments about the benefits of free trade, and they prevent the farmers in some Third World countries from lifting themselves out of poverty.

The second major potential blockage is international law. We will look at this in a later chapter. What is important is to recognise that international law is immature, still in an early stage of development, and as such is deficient in certain areas. If we are to argue the rule of law then we must ensure that the law is as fully developed as it can be at any point in time, recognising of course that the law will always be developing. At this stage however, and despite what some legal experts would have you believe, two things are clear: firstly, international law is not enforced in the same way we experience law enforcement in democratic countries; secondly, while much international law begins with good intentions, the resulting ‘law’ is often not binding or it has escape clauses. As a general statement, international law is what countries agree to abide by because that is the best that humanity has been able to achieve until now. To take an extreme example, you may remember articles in newspapers saying that the American-led attack on Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussain as dictator was illegal. Although there were equal arguments saying it was legal, let us accept for the moment that it was illegal. On that basis, Saddam Hussain should have been returned as dictator of Iraq. I did not see or hear any argument for this to happen. No-one in the international community wanted Saddam back in power. But many continued to argue that the attack was illegal. This is an example of international law being in an early stage of development. The law should not recognise dictators who murder their own people. This however would go against the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of nation states.

When we speak of international institutions, we tend to think of the United Nations (UN), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These represent the third blockage. They have come under increasing criticism in recent years, the UN for its lack of leadership and responsiveness to crises and the IMF and World Bank for their policies concerning Third World countries. As we shall see later in this book, while it is easy to criticise these institutions, in many ways they are limited either by their membership or by their charters. When we criticise the UN we are really criticising the Security Council, which has the real power to take effective action in a crisis. Ultimately the UN will only do what its members want and empower it to do. Of course the criticisms concerning the need for reform of its structure, way of working and corruption in some areas are valid, but more could be done if we – you and me, the people – decide to tell our governments that we want and expect the UN to be much more effective in addressing world problems. The World Bank and IMF are also easy to criticise although in many cases they are simply acting out their charter, that is, their goals, objectives and guidelines for operating. If we want them to change then we have to get our governments, particularly the major providers of funds, to change the rules of operating for these institutions. This is not to say they are above criticism. The IMF has made some silly and irresponsible decisions, for example in the decision to push the former Suharto Government in Indonesia to increase fuel prices knowing that tens of millions of ordinary people would be unable to afford oil and kerosene for everyday cooking purposes. Having said all this, it remains true that reform of key international institutions remains a priority.

We need to identify with more than just the country we live in

In this brief introductory chapter, we have noted some of the important problems facing the world. We are told that there are solutions to many of these problems. We have also noted some of the main blockages to concerted international action. But what it comes down to is the need for the general public, you and me, to generate the necessary political will in our political representatives in order for them to put in place real and long-lasting solutions. If the great mass of people in the world could do this, then the political bargaining that currently goes on would become something quite different. Imagine what might be achieved if we, the people, made it very clear to our politicians that we were no longer willing to accept the existence of certain problems in the world. Imagine a media that supported us by taking a balanced view so that we had enough information to understand the broad issues underlying the problem, the potential solutions and the positives and negatives of each. Imagine us being able to communicate what an acceptable solution or end point looked like and that we expected urgent action. Imagine what could be achieved.

What’s stopping it?

If we are going to truly solve the really big problems this world faces then many more of us are going to have to take a much greater interest in what is going on around us. It is true that there is a great deal of debate going on about world issues, possibly more than ever before in our history. This debate however takes place in the academic world and among the so-called elites, not out on the street where we are.

I am an Australian and very proud of it. I identify first and foremost with Australia. But if I am somehow to contribute in a meaningful way to solving some of the really big problems, I am going to have to identify with something broader and deeper. I will have to identify with this planet we call earth and everything on it, not just the bit I call Australia and home. And you will too.

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