"Let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests, and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot 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."
So concluded Professor Jeffrey Sachs in the first of this year's Reith lectures this morning, after asking some challenging questions about the geo-political problems facing our generation as a result of living in an unprecedentedly crowded world:
Can it be true that because we don't want to talk to Iran, H5N1 won't pass through Iran, we won't have to deal with avian 'flu in places we don't want to speak to, because we put on pre-conditions to negotiations, that we can't see the commonality of our problems? And can it really be, ladies and gentlemen, that the solution to Darfur, one of the most urgent crises on the planet, is all about peacekeepers and troops and sanctions, when we know that in Western Darfur the rebellion started because this is just about the poorest place on the whole planet, where the rebellion started because there's not enough water to keep people alive, where the livestock have no veterinary care, where there's no basic infrastructure, where a power grid may be a thousand miles away? Can we really think that peacekeeping troops and sanctions will solve this problem?However, despite Sachs' infectious optimism, like a number of people in the audience, I felt that the kind of "gradual evolution in human institutions" that Sachs is calling for if mankind is to rise to these great global challenges requires too much faith in intergovernmental institutions and a step change in human nature which is simply not going to happen. Any thoughts anyone?
And how can it be, ladies and gentlemen, that we think we can be safe? We think we can be safe when we leave a billion people to struggle literally for their daily survival, the poorest billion for whom every day is a fight to secure enough nutrients, a fight against the pathogen in the water that can kill them or their child, a fight against a mosquito bite carrying malaria or another killer disease for which there's no medicine though the medicines exist and are low cost but there's no medicine in the village available to save the child and thus a million or two million children will die this year of malaria. How can we think that this can be safe? And how can we choose, as we do in the United States, to have a budget request this year of six hundred and fifty billion dollars for the military - more than all the rest of the world combined - and four and a half billion dollars for all of African assistance, and think that this is prudent? One might say oh it's a science fiction that a zoonotic disease could arise and somehow spread to the world, except that Aids is exactly that. How many examples do we need to understand the linkages, and the common threats, and the recklessness of leaving people to die, recklessness in spirit, in human heart, and in geo-political safety for us?