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.
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.
A SOLVABLE PROBLEM
Polar bears in Norway, endangered by global warming; residents are evacuated in Indonesia last year
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.
after heavy rains caused the polluted Citarum River to over flow
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.”
trash washed ashore on Bali’s Kedonganan Beach
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.
and industrial smoke fills the air
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.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
'Division of the World Is Inevitable'
Countries need to choose whether to align with autocrats or democracies, says a former NATO Secretary-General
Big Tech's Great Reckoning
A spate of new laws in Europe and the U.S. Foreshadow What Could Be the End of dominance for Google, Facebook and Amazon
Sustainable Cabin Vacations
Everyone needs to get away from it all sometimes. But not everyone's idea of the ideal vacation is the same.
Summer Music Festivals to Get Your Groove On
What seemed a relic of the past amidst COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing precautions are now back in full force. This summer promises a music festival resurgence, with events taking place all over the world. Across festivals, lineups are both highlighting international talent and championing local artists. From Afro Nation on the pristine Portuguese seaside to Glastonbury in rural England to Fuji Rock in a Japanese forest, live music lovers of every genre have a lot to anticipate. Let the music play!
Crypto In Your 401(k)?
Just because you may soon be able to buy Bitcoin in your workplace retirement plan doesn’t mean you should.
BANS OFF OUR BODIES
MoveOn and Abortion Access activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3 after the leak of a draft opinion overturning the Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
CITY OF WATER
As climate change triggers sea-level rise and extreme weather, even New York, one of the world's best-prepared cities, may not be doing enough
How to Shop Green
Customers seeking sustainable merch are a big deal these days. But which products actually deliver on their environmental promises?
Blue -or Bluer
In Pennsylvania and Texas, democratic voters face clear ideological choices that could signal the party's direction