'The World Is On the Brink'
Newsweek|January 21, 2022
Less than a year before president john F. Kennedy delivered his Commencement Address at the American University in 1963, the Cuban Missile Crisis had brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
By HRH The Prince of Wales. Photographs by Paul Souders, Algi Febri Sugita, Central Press, Hulton Archive, Putu Sayoga, Bloomberg, Alastair Grant, Samir Hussein, Chris Jackson, Andrew Milligan, Karwai Tang, Anadolu Agency and Getty
Though the prospect of a lasting peace remained a distant hope, in his remarks JFK rejected the inevitability of war as “a dangerous and defeatist belief,” and argued against the view that “mankind is doomed” or “gripped by forces we cannot control.” Rather, he offered a global challenge, powerfully declaring that:

“Our problems are manmade—therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again.”

That inspiring call to action remains prescient today, but in a different context and a different conflict— our battle against climate change to create a cleaner, safer and healthier planet for future generations. Once again, the world is on the brink, and we need the mobilizing urgency of a war-like footing if we are to win.

“WE NEED the MOBILIZING URGENCY of a WAR-LIKE FOOTING if WE ARE TO WIN.”

Sixty years ago, my late father identified the damage humankind was inflicting on the planet and helped to found the World Wildlife Fund. A decade later, when I first spoke publicly about the environment, many wondered if my sense of urgency was misplaced. That view has shifted in the intervening decades, though all too slowly, and, even today, lacks the urgency needed.

As a father, I am proud that my sons have recognised this threat. Most recently, my elder son, William, launched the prestigious Earthshot Prize to incentivise change and help repair our planet over the next ten years by identifying and investing in the technologies that can make a difference. And my younger son, Harry, has passionately highlighted the impact of climate change, especially in relation to Africa, and committed his charity to being net zero.

Globally, dwindling numbers deny humankind’s role in climate change, but too many still pessimistically assert our lack of power to stop, and maybe reverse, the damage to our planet; that we are gripped by forces beyond our control.”

Science tells us these forces are very much within our control. But only if we consciously choose to act. Whether, as in JFK’s time, it is putting a man on the moon, or more recently developing a vaccine for COVID-19, humankind has proved capable of solving the seemingly insolvable. I believe we can, and must, do so again if we wish to protect and preserve this planet that we call home.

As 2021 ends, there is every reason to believe we have reached a watershed moment. The agreements reached at COP26 in November marked useful and important progress. Once again there was international recognition of the climate crisis. Leaders demonstrated political courage and a willingness to be held responsible and accountable for their actions. The focus appeared, as it should, on the impact of inaction for our children, grandchildren and generations beyond.

And yet, we know that appearances do not always tell the whole story. We have seen similar commitments at previous international gatherings and in the media before, only for the day-to-day to distract us, leading to missed targets and lost hope. This time, we cannot afford to lose momentum. 2021 cannot be yet another false dawn. We simply cannot go on ignoring the fact that for millions of people in dangerously vulnerable parts of the world, climate change and biodiversity loss are already devastating their lives and livelihoods and making where they live increasingly uninhabitable.

A SOLVABLE PROBLEM

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