After the outbreak of COVID-19 – a virus constituting a genuinely worldwide risk – fear internationalised in just a few weeks. As the COVID crisis has profoundly shaken societies on a global scale it has contributed to a reconfiguration – perhaps a multiplication – of risks and their perceptions. While foremost constituting a biological hazard, the pandemic has large repercussions on other types of risks, ranging from long-term economic and digital disruption to psychological distress and political confrontation. The nature and frontiers of risks are thus moving as the multilateral system, the most adequate framework to deal with global risks, is ailing and current risk mitigation strategies are increasingly put to question. The six articles of the present Dossier explore these changing hierarchies of risk and the underpinning structural issues that endanger our existence.
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While poverty has been diminishing in absolute terms and relative income has been growing on a global scale for over two centuries, inequality – as measured by instruments such as the Gini coefficient – has been increasing steadily since the early 1980s. With the financial crisis of 2007, the growing digitalisation of the economy and the current pandemic, global inequality has further worsened, seeing the fortunes of the superrich attaining unprecedented levels and revenue concentrating in the top percentiles of societies.
Concurrently to the aggravation of the social fracture, additional fault lines have been opening or hardening along logics of race, gender, ethnicity and religion. Identarian revendications and logics of difference and exclusion have come to complement, compete with or supersede more traditional struggles for equality in a postmodern and neoliberal context that has normalised inequality, homogenised societies and done away with earlier grand narratives and collective agendas.
The consequences of inequality(ies) are dramatic, as reflected in the polarisation and fragmentation of societies, worsening health and mortality indicators, political tensions and violence, a decline in democracy, and mistrust in state institutions. The objective of the current issue of Global Challenges is therefore – by reverting to the analytical tools of social science – to reflect on the causes behind the multifaceted growth of inequality(ies), anticipate their noxious fallouts and explore potential remedies.
The Rise of Inequality and Its Contested MeaningsReading time: 6 min
Visible and Invisible InequalitiesReading time: 5 min
The Enduring Inequities of Racism
Inequality and GenderReading time: 5 min
Education and the New Inequality DividesReading time: 5 min
Income Inequality and Economic Growth: Known UnknownsReading time: 4 min
“Hustlers versus Dynasty”: Kenya’s New Class PoliticsReading time: 5 min
Understanding the Implications of Inequality for the Elites
How the Pandemic Deepens Health Inequities: The Case of the United StatesReading time: 5 min
Inequality in Hunger and MalnutritionReading time: 5 min
Soil is an essential component of the Earth's ecosystem. It contributes to and fulfills a wide range of environmental and societal functions such as food production, water filtering, carbon storage and the preservation of biodiversity essential to the survival of the human species. While soils have witnessed significant environmental degradation in recent decades, lands have been the object of increased economic competition and financial speculation. The commercial and financial scramble for land has never been more intense as transnational actors and governments such as the Chinese seek large scale bids for land in the Global South that have been likened to new forms of neocolonialism. The consequences of this double tension include the loss of biodiversity, floods, climate change, famines, forced migration and conflict.
It is the assumption of the present Dossier that issues such as large scale exploitation of land and natural resources, soil degradation, biodiversity, food security and climate change are closely interdependent and cannot be treated in isolation. Seeking to explore and better understand the interlinkages between the material degradation of soils and the increased extractive, commercial and speculative pressure on lands, the Dossier aims to address some of the broader stakes the Anthropocene is currently facing: How irreversible is the damage that has been caused to earth's soils? Have we reached a point of no return? How many people is the earth able to feed and for how long? Are we trapped in a Malthusian logic? How will climate change depend and interact with changing patterns of soil distribution and depletion? What is the impact of large scale deforestation and natural resource extraction on the environment, particularly the soils? What are the governance patterns and technological solutions emerging to address land depletion and scarcity? What are some of the cybernetic loops and mechanisms of autoregulation through which the earth reacts to human interference?