When the Earth Planet has to face global problems
At the crossroads between a world public opinion and a spiral of silence.
Anas is a young Syrian who lives in Madrid, waiting that the civil war in his country ends in order to return to hug his family and his friends. In Syria he was an activist and an opponent to the Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Two months after the beginning of the conflict he was arrested in Damascus by the secret police during a demonstration against the government, with the false accusation of having made videos and photos to sell to the foreign press. He spent one night in the security forces’s headquarter, after being bandaged, tied up, beaten and threatened with being tortured. The next morning he was forced to sign a document in which he declared that he had been arrested on suspicion of association with terrorist groups, but released for lack of evidence. With that document he was declaring that all his rights were respected and that he signed that document voluntarily. With the help of one of his family member he was able to get a tourist visa to escape to Spain. Here Anas met people who became good friends and support him closely. But his judgment towards people and other countries is veiled by a certain bitterness. “It is very difficult to live far away and see people dying in my country without receiving help from the rest of the world”, he says. “People tell me they are sorry for what is happening in my country, but nobody does anything.”Anas’s history is similar to that of the 500,000 and more refugees who fled from Syria after the outbreak of the war. Newspapers, television, blogs and social networks have been the spokesmen for what is happening. But according to Anas is not enough: “from here people do not see anything of what is really happening in Syria because they get nothing or very few things from the media”.
But the rest of the world is really indifferent to situations such as the Syrian one? Does not exist a world public opinion able to make their voices heard in front of events like this? Is not easy to talk about public opinion, even less if this concept is extended to the international level. The search for a definition has committed brilliant minds, giving raise to a “theory of public opinion”. The italian political expert Sartori defined it as “a set of mental states that affects the status of the government”. For Habermas, sociologist and philosopher, it is “the opinion of all the individuals who make public use of reason, in public places through media that are publicly accessible and discuss as men according un’universalistic perspective”. Noelle-Neumann, author of “The Spiral of Silence”, concluded that public opinion is a “socio-psychological event that is based on fear of isolation”, something to which the individual tends to conform not to be isolated from the rest of the mass. Conflicting theories and definitions that demonstrate that often this concept is not unitary, but correspond to different schools of thought that prevailing in a society. All, however, seem to agree that, in order to speak of it, a civil society is necessary.
Given these premises, talk about global public opinion would mean to conceive the existence of a society composed of individuals from all over the world who come together through global movements and actions to achieve a common goal. It means a big society of citizens that make their voices heard so that those who are to the power begin to work together seeking real solutions to problems that are too big to be solved at the state level.
The civil war in Syria and previous movements against dictatorial governments known as the “Arab Spring” are just the tip of an enormous iceberg that threatens the planet. The climate change and global warming, the violation of fundamental human rights, the enormous waste of food and non-renewable resources are the main international problems that should touch and worry every person and that should be the main points of all agendas state. The process of globalization has led to the opening of each state reality to the rest of the world and to the subsequent formation of legal entities engaged in the search for solutions to these global issues.
Few days ago ended in Doha, Qatar, The United Nations Conference on Climate Change, started on November 26. The summit aimed to improve global action on climate and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, on the heels of the Copenaghen Summit of 2009 in which climate change was qualified as one of the greatest challenge for the planet safe. But despite summits and attempts to reach an agreement, the situation does not be improved. Several entities, as The World Meteorological Organization and the European Environment Agency,whose task is to provide information on the environment’s situation and on the state of the Earth’s climate and atmosfere, warn in their recent pubblications that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, reached record levels last year, with an increase of 40% compared to 1750. Climate change has already led to a wide range of impacts on environmental systems and society, and according these statistics further its impacts are projected for the future. The basic problem seems to be the lack of an agreement between the major world powers on the issue. Despite the gravity of the problem and the importance of finding a solution to more quickly, the last summit confirmed and pointed up that obstacle: the agreement reached in Doha, in fact, doesn’t include countries like the U.S., China and India that didn’t ratified for various reasons, demonstrating a failure in the international cooperation on environmental issues.
But, fortunately, there is also the other side of the coin. While the heads of state was discussing in Qatar without going to a common point, internet users from all over the world shared on their social network’s profile the new video launched by WWF to promote the next Earth Hour 2013, the event thatinvite the citizens of the planet on March 23 to turn off lights at the same time for an hour. It started in 2007 in Sidney as limited event organized by WWF Australia with the message “everyone has the power to change the world they live in”. In that occasion 2.2 millions of individuals turned their lights out to take position against climate change. Through the power of social networks, videos and news of that day were spread all around the world and the following year the “turn light off” event involved many other countries, creating an incredible domino effect and becoming an annual global occureance.
Events like this seem to show that the hopes are not yet lost and demonstrate an awareness and a reaction of the citizens. We have seen a reaction in the wave of popular protests in the streets against dictatorial governments to claim of human rights and democratic values in Arab countries, and the same for the manifestations of the indignados in Spain and ofthe members of the movement “Occupy Wall Street” in the US. The Economic Nobel Prize Joseph Stiglitz talked about it as of globalization of the protest, glimpsing a thread that unites these protests. He says that “globalization and modern technology mean that social movements go beyond the boundaries, as quickly as ideas”.
Actually, new technologies have played and important role in all these movements. The easy access to information helped to build a different consciousness and to foment the downtrodden peoples’s reaction in Arab protests and at the same time told to the rest of the world what was happening there, by providing information that the traditional media would haven’t shared. Like in a virtuous circle, the information travelled from pole to pole, creating a global public opinion that gathered around the protesters through messages of moral support in Facebook and Twitter.
Maybe there is no a single public opinion. The differences of opinion and thought characterizes human beigns as always. Although we live in a more global world, the local realities have not disappeared and the vision of each individual is influenced by its culture, common beliefs, prejudices and from what the medias of the country broadcast and share with their public.
The data confirm it. Coming back to the climate change, for example, the Gallup‘s latest polls show that opinions about global warming vary world wide, with big differences between countries. There are also several public knowledge of the same concept , because of differences in education, policy, media, culture, demography.
Doubtless, however, things have changed respect to the past. The opening to the outside allowed to share and sometimes melt different traditions, cultures and thoughts. The result is perceptible in these movements, protests, events, that involve the entire planet. Probably this is just a seed that has yet to grow, and will need time before giving the first fruits.
Anas looks at his country with nostalgia and sadness for what is happening. It is skeptical towards the world but do not lose the hope. “We must be united and more human”, he says with convinction, “because what is happening in Syria could affect that entire region and, perhaps, the world.”