Time after time, I watch Anthony Pompliano’s podcast. My original plan was to write my weekly post on crypto freedom fighters, and that’s where research started.
The guest is Jessica Vaugn, a former Playboy Playmate. I’m sure many of you will be scratching your heads at this, with the usual preconceptions… Well, she is brilliant, and if you watch the video for that reason alone, I have to sadden you, she is wearing a dress—all the way.
Jessica has rediscovered herself in recent months as a talented photographer and has become a dedicated bitcoin advocate. The conversation also covers fake news, “fascist” California, Miami, Elon Musk, the Federal Reserve, the free market, and many other exciting topics. I highly recommend it!
At one point, however, Agenda 2030 was mentioned in the video, which completely diverted me from my original plan. Although I had heard of this United Nations action plan announced in 2015, I had never gone deeper into it. Now I’m even more interested!
What is Agenda 2030?
In September 2015, 193 UN member states adopted Agenda 2030, an action plan for sustainable development.
The 2030 Agenda is a 15-year global framework centered on an ambitious set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 169 targets, and more than 230 indicators. The vision is a secure world, free from poverty and hunger, full and productive employment, access to quality education and universal health coverage, gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, and an end to environmental degradation.
The 2030 Agenda is a global framework for people, the planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. It integrates the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, peace, governance, and justice. It is universal, meaning that developing and developed countries alike are implementing the Agenda. The Agenda also includes the overarching principle that no one should be left behind in achieving the SDGs.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- No Poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
- Zero Hunger
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
- Good Health and Well-being
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
- Quality Education
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- Gender Equality
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Clean Water and Sanitation
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
- Affordable and Clean Energy
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
- Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
- Reduced Inequality
Reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Responsible Consumption and Production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
- Climate Action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
- Life Below Water
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
- Life on Land
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
- Peace and Justice, Strong Institutions
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- Partnership to achieve the Goals
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Rather ambitious goals, aren’t they? Now let’s take a brief look at the goals that COVID has influenced in the short term to achieve them.
COVID versus Sustainable Development Goals
The epidemic has presented a unique challenge to the achievement of several key SDGs.
But the third goal, Good Health and Well-being, is the most directly relevant. People around the world have fallen ill and died because of COVID. As health care systems are overwhelmed by the virus, they cannot care for people with other diseases.
The pandemic has deprived children of regular education, affecting the fourth Sustainable Development Goal: Quality Education and its ultimate goal of helping people lift themselves out of poverty. It is estimated that 90% of students worldwide are no longer in school, further widening the disparities between the richest and poorest students. In low-income countries, children in the wealthiest 20% have 79% of their schooling, while children in the poorest 20% have 34%. It is estimated that online education is out of reach for at least 500 million students worldwide.
The United Nations has created Sustainable Development Goal 5, Gender Equality, to treat it as a human right and a necessary foundation for a better world. On the other hand, women probably did more than three times as much domestic and care work as men during the pandemic. Moreover, women face more consequences of the pandemic than men. For one thing, 70% of health and social workers worldwide are women, so women are more directly exposed to the virus. On the other hand, staying at home means that women worldwide are more likely to be harmed by abusive partners.
But let’s go even further and explore why we should think about how to achieve these goals.
- The contradiction of growth
The Agenda reaffirms the need to achieve “harmony with nature”, commits to keeping global warming below the 2°C thresholds, and calls for “sustainable production and consumption patterns.” This wording signals an awareness that something is wrong with our economic system – that the drive for endless industrial growth is eating away at our living planet and threatening our very existence.
And yet, the very essence of the SDGs’ development and poverty reduction plan relies on the old industrial growth model – ever-increasing levels of production and consumption. Goal 8 calls for 7% (!) annual GDP growth in the least developed countries and higher levels of economic productivity everywhere.
In other words, the SDGs demand both less and more. How can they be expected to succeed when there is such a profound contradiction at their root?
At present, global production and consumption levels exceed the capacity of our planet by about 50% per year. This is a monumental crisis that stems from the logic of capitalism. Yet the SDGs offer only superficial responses: reduce food waste, make resource use more efficient and ‘encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices. These proposals explicitly bypass the only real solution: to reduce overconsumption by the world’s elite.
- Growth does not reduce poverty
The Agenda promotes growth as the primary solution to poverty. While global GDP has grown by 271% since 1990, the number of people living on less than $5 a day has increased by more than 370 million. Growth is not working. In the best-case scenarios, the picture looks somewhat more promising, but even so, the poorest 60% of humanity will receive only 5% of the new income generated by global growth.
Why do the SDGs rely on growth as a poverty reduction strategy? Because the prospect of growth allows our leaders to circumvent the challenge of a more equitable distribution of existing resources.
The only problem is that even in the best-case scenario mentioned above, it will take 207 years to eradicate poverty with this strategy. And to do so, we need to increase the world economy 175-fold from its current size. It is clearly a terrible strategy: even if such a vast increase were possible, it would increase climate change to catastrophic levels and, in the process, rapidly reverse the progress made in the fight against poverty.
We need to abandon GDP to favor a more sensible measure of human progress, not one based on endlessly increasing production and consumption.
- Inequality has been ignored.
Suppose growth is not the solution to poverty. In that case, the only natural alternative is to reduce the huge inequalities that characterize global society, where the wealthiest 1% own half of the world’s total private wealth. Tackling inequality is the only way to end poverty in a world where we have to deal with climate change constraints.
- The main drivers of poverty are not being addressed.
Surprisingly, the SDGs offer few solutions to many of the known major causes of global poverty. They say nothing about the unfair trading system of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or the many bilateral trade and investment agreements that liberalize global markets at the expense of the poor.
And instead of calling for an end to the financial speculation that has caused food prices to soar since 2007, forcing 150 million people to go hungry, the SDGs call for “ensuring that food commodity markets function properly.” It is unclear what this means, but it could easily be interpreted as meaning more liberalization, which is what caused the food crisis.
The SDGs are also silent on the need for greater regulation of financial markets and big banks. Tax evasion and tax avoidance, which deprive developing countries of $1.7 trillion a year, are politely bypassed.
- Mismeasuring poverty
Nowhere is the compromising nature of the SDGs more evident than in their proposal to eradicate extreme poverty, measured at just $1.25 a day. High-time poverty was eliminated, but more and more scientists point out that $1.25 is not enough to live on (!).
According to several recent studies, people need something closer to $5 a day to achieve an average life expectancy and meet their basic needs as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
So why do the SDGs insist on $1.25? Because it is the only one that will allow them to come close to eradicating poverty by 2030. If poverty is measured by the more accurate $5 a day threshold, the number of people living in poverty rises to 4.3 billion, or more than 60% of humanity.
Ending poverty on this scale would require more than weeding around the edges of the problem. It would require changing the rules of the global economy to make it fairer for the majority of the world. The SDGs fail to do this. They offer to reshape the global economic system in a well-intentioned attempt to make it all seem a little less violent. But as Arundhati Roy puts it, “we are not fighting to tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.”
These are interesting times. Indeed, we have the big brains talking over our heads about patching up a system that has been due for replacement for years and is now finally dead. It is only a matter of time before it finally collapses.
In the meantime, hundreds of years – in Europe, perhaps thousands of years – of legal institutions are being tried to be imposed on new technologies such as blockchain or artificial intelligence. Those could serve the future and the rise of humanity if they were finally put in the hands of people who do not crave power.