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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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Jeffrey H. Schwartz

What are the three most critical challenges facing Planet Earth going forward?

1. Inequality
From my own observations, and information provided through the media, it is obvious that the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in the world is widening at an alarming rate. Witness, for example, the immediate emplacement of a nouveau riche class in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the increase in crime and violence in South Africa by a growing underclass frustrated by unemployment and a rampaging death rate from HIV-Aids. Whatever challenges face Planet Earth today and into the future – from achieving peace to changing sociocultural behaviors that contribute to climate change and global warming – it is doubtful that they can be adequately and appropriately addressed until the reality and effects of social inequality are confronted.

2. Education
Hand-in-hand with inequality is education, or more precisely lack of access to even minimal education for vast numbers of humans. A Kenyan I met on a research trip to Nairobi was hopeful that newly elected President Kibaki would keep his pledge to open more schools. She was convinced that with an education her children would be better equipped to assess their circumstances and to improve their quality of life – and the desire to have and the possibility of actually achieving improved quality of life will have positive effects beyond a single individual. More than that, it is obvious that the extent to which large-scale attempts to confront practical problems facing Planet Earth will succeed will depend on the efforts of everyone, not just on the largesse or actions of the educated and well-off.

3. Understanding that global means global
While the Al Gores of the world have played a positive role in provoking confrontation with socioeconomic practices that have clearly taken an irreversible toll on Planet Earth, it is also the case that the audience to whom their pleas for conservation are pitched represents a small portion of the human population. For while on the one hand it makes sense to preach that one should, for example, downsize to more fuel-efficient vehicles, change from incandescent to fluorescent light bulbs, better insulate one’s house, and be less wasteful of water, many individuals lack their own means of motorized transport and may have only one low-wattage bulb to illuminate a small, unheated house lacking in running water. Most people do not know what polar bears are and would care less about their plight due to diminishing ice sheets when faced themselves with issues of survival from one day to the next. Yet, all of us have contributed and many will continue to contribute to the crises now facing Planet Earth in their daily struggles. And it is to these people and their issues that meaningful efforts must be addressed.