Bradford Grammar School's David Alcock: We live a global life, but we have yet to take full responsibility for it

HOW would you finish the sentence “I am a citizen of…”? I tried this simple exercise with two dozen of my students. Would you, as some of them did, give your town or your city? Or, as one of them did, would you proudly write ‘Yorkshire’?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle speak during the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival at the Great Lawn, Central Park on September 25, 2021 in New York City. Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle speak during the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival at the Great Lawn, Central Park on September 25, 2021 in New York City. Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.

Or would you fit in with the majority, who wrote down ‘England’ or ‘Britain’? Perhaps you have sympathies with the pair who simply wrote down ‘earth’. And does it matter?

Recently, there was a global series of televised concerts called ‘Global Citizen Live’. But what does being a global citizen entail, and why has the time come to develop a global citizenship mindset?

Emma Raducanu is a high profile ‘global citizen’ whose Twitter biography reads London, Toronto, Shenyang and Bucharest.

Comments from Guido Gianasso on Raducanu went viral: he wrote about how various nations have claimed Raducanu as their own, but that “at a time when many countries are going back to very ethnocentric models and policies, Emma is the best evidence that we must embrace a geocentric mindset”.

I must admit that the term ‘geocentric mindset’ was new to me, but I knew what he meant: global citizenship. The concept was lambasted by Theresa May, who said in 2016: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

Some people can see where she was coming from. If you identify as a ‘global citizen’, they say, you are abandoning any commitment to local or national forms of identity. But are England football supporters any less loyal to their local club? Are rugby players who represent the British Lions any less loyal to England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland? No – and I argue that all of us can live with a multi-layered conception of citizenship.

So, if we agree that we already belong to the same civilisation, why do some people feel the need to promote global citizenship? It’s because, as the late Ulrich Beck pointed out, we have yet to develop anything like the cosmopolitan awareness necessary for society and the environment to operate peacefully and sustainably.

In other words, we live a global life, but we have yet to take full responsibility for our role in it.

Two recent examples demonstrate this. “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. Gordon Brown – now the World Health Organisation’s Ambassador for Global Health Financing – made this plea in August. The spread of the Omicron variant illustrates his point well.

In 2020, developed nations promised to help less developed countries to vaccinate their populations against Covid-19. It would cost about £70bn to vaccinate the world. This is a lot of money. But the cost of not vaccinating the world is estimated to be almost 50 times bigger, at £3.3 trillion.

National self-interest is keeping the world from the much cheaper global solution.

In 2009, the developed world, who industrialised and prospered on the back of a fossil fuel-led economy, agreed to supply $100bn of finance a year by 2020 to developing countries to help them to adapt to the changing climate and to invest in alternative energy sources.

But this deadline has now shifted to 2023. As with Covid vaccinations, the social and economic cost of meeting the challenge of climate change would be much less than the cost of suffering its consequences. We too often stick to national allegiances at the expense of global social and environmental interests.

Huge global issues require huge shifts in our mindset. So how can we start? Firstly, we could recognise that on top of our local identities, we are all citizens of the world.

But is that enough? No, because I would argue that to truly belong to a group entails responsibilities to that group.

So, we should consider the effect that our actions might have on people living elsewhere. Also, we could find out more about the steps we need to take to deal with the global challenges of the 21st century – and then we may decide that it is time to act.

Mike Berners-Lee, author of There is No Planet B, puts it well: “If our sense of ‘tribe’ doesn’t embrace the whole world, we are going to be in for a very nasty time. We have to get our heads and hearts around the idea that we are in this together because that is the only way any of us can live well.”

David Alcock is a geography teacher at Bradford Grammar School. He comes from Guiseley.