by Michael D. Sellers
I still remember how, for me at least, the internet at that point was something I only kind of dimly understood. I was still faxing and hadn’t really made the transition, and didn’t fully understand it — but that edition of time opened my eyes and made it clear to me that the internet was going to change everything going forward, and I changed my own habits and ways of doing business accordingly.
So when I came across the current edition of Time entitled “10 Ideas That Are Changing the World — What’s Next 2008” I settled in with the magazine to read it very carefully. And I was rewarded right away with Idea #1, “Common Wealth”, written by Jeffrey Sachs who is the head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Keep in mind that the core thing I’ve been struggling with at WeEarth is how to make WeEarth be rooted in environmental awareness but also make it larger than that — make it be about how we are all connected. This has been a delicate balancing act and one that is not always easy to articulate. Sachs, in this article which Time is putting out there as the #1 Idea that is changing the world, says it for me better than I have been able to so far. This is very exciting.
Here are excerpts from the article. You can also read the entire article — and edition of Time — at Time Magazine
The defining challenge of the 21st century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet. We have reached the beginning of the century with 6.6 billion people living in an interconnected global economy producing an astounding $60 trillion of output each year. Human beings fill every ecological niche on the planet, from the icy tundra to the tropical rain forests to the deserts. In some locations, societies have outstripped the carrying capacity of the land, resulting in chronic hunger, environmental degradation and a large-scale exodus of desperate populations. We are, in short, in one another’s faces as never before, crowded into an interconnected society of global trade, migration, ideas and, yes, risk of pandemic diseases, terrorism, refugee movements and conflict.
We also face a momentous choice. Continue on our current course, and the world is likely to experience growing conflicts between haves and have-nots, intensifying environmental catastrophes and downturns in living standards caused by interlocking crises of energy, water, food and violent conflict. Yet for a small annual investment of world income, undertaken cooperatively across the world, our generation can harness new technologies for clean energy, reliable food supplies, disease control and the end of extreme poverty.
That’s why the idea that has the greatest potential to change the world is simply this: by overcoming cynicism, ending our misguided view of the world as an enduring struggle of “us” vs. “them” and instead seeking global solutions, we actually have the power to save the world for all, today and in the future. Whether we end up fighting one another or whether we work together to confront common threats—our fate, our common wealth, is in our hands.
To make the right choice, we must understand four earth-changing trends unprecedented in human history:
First, the spread of modern economic growth means that the world on average is rapidly getting richer in terms of incomes per person. Moreover, the gap in average income per person between the rich world, centered in the North Atlantic (that is, Europe and the U.S.), and much of the developing world, especially Asia, is narrowing fast. With well over half the world’s population, fast-growing Asia will also become the center of gravity of the world economy.
Second, the world’s population will continue to rise, thereby amplifying the overall growth of the global economy. Not only are we each producing more output on average, but there will be many more of us by midcentury. The scale of the world’s economic production by midcentury is therefore likely to be several times that of today.
Third, our bulging population and voracious use of the earth’s resources are leading to unprecedented multiple environmental crises. Never before has the magnitude of human economic activity been large enough to change fundamental natural processes at the global scale, including the climate itself. Humanity has also filled the world’s ecological niches; there is no place to run.
Fourth, while many of the poor are making progress, many of the very poorest are stuck at the bottom. Nearly 10 million children die each year because their families, communities and nations are too poor to sustain them. The instability of impoverished and water-stressed countries has ignited a swath of violence across the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. What we call violent fundamentalism should be seen for what it really is: poverty, hunger, water scarcity and despair.
The Power of One
Great social transformations—the end of slavery, the women’s and civil rights movements, the end of colonial rule, the birth of environmentalism—all began with public awareness and engagement. Our political leaders followed rather than led. It was scientists, engineers, church-goers and young people who truly led the way. If as citizens we vote for war, then war it will be. If instead we support a global commitment to sustainable development, then our leaders will follow, and we will find a way to peace.
Each of us has a role to play and a chance for leadership. First, study the problems—in school, in reading, on the Web. Second, when possible, travel. There is no substitute for seeing extreme poverty, or deforestation, or the destructive forces of nature in New Orleans, to understand our generation’s real challenges. There is no substitute for meeting and engaging with people across cultures, religions and regions to realize that we are all in this together. Third, get your business, community, church or student group active in some aspect of sustainable development. Americans are promoting the control of malaria, the spread of solar power, the end of polio and the reversal of treatable blindness, to name just a few of today’s inspiring examples of private leadership. Finally, demand that our politicians honor our nation’s global promises and commitments on climate change and the fight against hunger and poverty. If the public leads, politicians will surely follow.
Our generation’s greatest challenges—in environment, demography, poverty and global politics—are also our most exciting opportunity. Ours is the generation that can end extreme poverty, turn the tide against climate change and head off a massive, thoughtless and irreversible extinction of other species. Ours is the generation that can, and must, solve the unresolved conundrum of combining economic well-being with environmental sustainability. We will need science, technology and professionalism, but most of all we will need to subdue our fears and cynicism. John F.Kennedy reminded us that peace will come by recognizing our common wealth. “If we can not end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
COMMENT: This is just an extremely exciting piece of writing to me and for all of us involved in WeEarth. It suggests we are really onto something and that we may be positioned in such a way as really become a factor in all of this. I will be going over this today with the WeEarth team.