Does global citizenship exist? The answer to this thought-provoking question depends on how you define the concept. Defining global citizenship in line with national citizenship leads us to look for an entity that can protect the individual and grant participation; and for global citizenship, this entity would have to be supranational. However, there is no such thing as a global state, and there is no direct link between individuals and supranational organizations like the United Nations (UN). The legal status of global citizenship is missing worldwide. The UN does not provide individual participation or protection to migrants, and it does not provide stateless persons with global citizenship. Nor does the UN even state what this would mean. Moreover, the UN calls on its member states to provide national citizenships, the authority for which remains firmly within the borders of the nation-state.
Alternatively, defining global citizenship in line with democratic citizenship leads us to look for a set of competencies that can support people from all over the world in living together. In this case, the question arises of how the concept of global citizenship is distinct from other educational concepts such as competences for democratic culture as defined by the Council of Europe. However, there are two factors that can distinguish global citizenship from other concepts. The first factor is that global citizenship is not inextricably linked to democracy in the literal sense of the word. Global citizenship is not necessarily about exercising active engagement for participatory governance and the rule of law independent from the current governments. The second factor consists in the focus beyond the nation-state. Global citizenship looks at how the relationships between individuals from various nations as well as stateless people can be developed in a way that promotes and supports their common interest.
Consequently, the aim of global citizenship education is twofold. First, it is to foster agreement on a common interest; and second, it is to develop the mindset needed to accomplish this common interest. I suggest that the common interest is to survive; no more, no less. Following on from this, education has to start with establishing an understanding of the extent to which the survival of citizens of state (A) depends on the citizens of state (B) For global citizenship education, the value of ubuntu, “I am because you are,” is then not just a normative benchmark; rather, it is the essential reason for being in the sense that our future existence factually depends on it. We are all interconnected in our ways of living, and we cannot plan the survival of the human race in a national or regional framework. On the contrary, the future of the human race depends on individuals’ global interconnectedness. Expressing and nourishing this understanding is much easier than actually living and practicing it. Therefore, global citizenship education has put even more energy into its second aim, which is to develop a concrete mindset that steers our behavior towards this common interest.
In this short article, I want to introduce two phenomena that should be discussed in classrooms in order to develop our global citizenship mindset, namely childlessness and treelessness. While I will relate childlessness to our ‘ecological footprint’, I am going to relate treelessness to our ‘ecological handprint’.
Childlessness is considered a defect by many societies. From the perspective of the nation state, increasing levels of childlessness pose a challenge to social security schemes and the economic power of the nation. From the perspective of cultural or religious traditions, the continuity of a certain set of conventions is at stake. Consequently, childlessness is perceived as a social and political danger and connected to existential fear. But how does global citizenship education relate to childlessness? I feel it is important that we should consider this question irrespective of the national, tribal, or religious roots which we all incorporate to some degree. At this time, there are more children worldwide than we can sustain in an ecologically responsible way. Even if half a generation or more remains childless and even if the emergence of a new culture were to remove the stigma of staying childless or of limiting reproduction, it is hard to argue that there will not be enough humans in the future. Yet the effect of childlessness will also manifest itself in a reduced number of children growing up in indigent circumstances and in a reduced contribution of the human race to its ecological footprint. In India, the yearly CO2 emissions per capita amount to 1.77 metric tons. See data through this link: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC. In Germany, that figure is 4.3 times higher, and in Saudi Arabia, it is more than 10 times higher. This means that while the impact of childlessness or of reducing reproduction on our global climate may not be equal in all regions of the world, it clearly has an impact everywhere. From this perspective, childlessness can be considered as one of the most effective ways to reduce our ecological footprint.
Treelessness, on the other hand, is a plea to our ecological handprint. It seems to have been the hidden agenda that humankind has been implementing for 10,000 years. Treelessness is the result of our continued habit of clearing forests and cutting down trees where we live. Knowing that trees mitigate the impact of climate change on a global and local scale, we need to increase the number of trees that we have right now. Against that backdrop, planting and taking care of trees needs to be a topic beyond just a topical address in global citizenship education. And we must not content ourselves with discussing this topic at a theoretical level. In order to change our mindset, we need to practice tree planting and taking care of trees at school and through public activities. Global citizenship education faces the challenge of developing appreciative rituals that value caring for trees as a means to increase our ecological handprint.
The phenomena of childlessness and treelessness are two examples that highlight the requirement for global citizenship education to question our existing mindsets and to provide alternative ways of thinking, structured opportunities for alternative practices, and recognition for those who engage accordingly.