I believe we are creating a world of competing crises and need a serious discussion about our vision of the future. No matter how you feel about the Iraq war, it has drained our resources and drawn us heavily into debt. Climate change is degrading the very biosphere that sustains us. It will have profound effects on the natural world and, if the hurricanes, droughts, and floods of the past decade are a preview of what’s to come, it will cause great human suffering. Our appetite for energy and our economic dependence on growth and consumption are creating a vortex of recession that is engulfing even our most basic needs, including food and transportation. And we seem to have forsaken education – the very foundation of our society and its future. What is more important to our security, economy, health, environment, and future than education? How can a society survive if it fails its young?
Despite all we hear about change these days, as a nation we aren’t asking the really difficult questions or trying to get at the real roots of our crises. We seem determined to stay a course of growth and consumption as though our resources are endless and all that matters is satisfaction of our immediate wants. We seem ever so willing to assume, or wager, that no matter what choices we make, science and technology will save us and our future generations.
Our problems stem from our cultures, life styles, expectations, and sheer numbers. Human population numbers are the great multiplier; every impact we have as individuals is multiplied by our growing numbers causing an ever increasing ecological footprint on our earthly home. I was born in 1951, when the earth supported 2.6 billion people. This year we passed 6.7 billion and will reach 9.4 billion by 2050. In 2008 alone, the world’s human population will grow by 78 million people. Where will they live, what resources will they consume, and what impacts will they have? In the U.S. our population will increase from just over 300 million at present to about 420 million by 2050.
We need a deep conversation about our current course and where it will take us. We need to develop a guiding vision of the future that we can proudly pass to future generations and then find the discipline to achieve that vision. We need to examine our values and who we are as a society, as world citizens, and as one element of the natural world. We need to shift our emphasis from all those conjured up things that separate us to those that unite us. We need to renew our respect for life—not just as it pertains to Americans, but to all peoples and, indeed, all living creatures. Only then can we put ourselves in perspective and steer ourselves toward a sustainable future in a world undiminished in its beauty, its wonder, and its promise. I believe we can do this. I dearly hope we will.