Jeffrey Sachs says challenge of sustainability defines our generation

Sachs underscored the complexity of the global systems driving humans’ great and competing needs, and said the quality of our lives – and our children’s lives – depends on making the human population on the planet more sustainable.

Jeffrey Sachs: I would say this is the challenge that defines our generation – sustainable development.

Jeffrey Sachs is director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. He’s talking about meeting the human demands of the present – basic needs like food and water – without compromising the ability of future generations to meet those same needs.

Jeffrey Sachs: The world is bursting at the seams. We have nearly 7 billion people, and they’re on the search for enough food, water, energy to meet their needs, to make economic progress. But when you add it all up, we are already a globally unsustainable world society.

Sachs has led many initiatives to help study and alleviate hunger, poverty, and disease across the globe. He said that he remembers the words of John F. Kennedy:

Jeffrey Sachs: He said, some people feel we are doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. He said, our problems are man-made, and they can be solved by man. I subscribe to that view.

As an example, Sachs brought up our global water shortage. He said we can make global water use sustainable if we examine the different ways the resource is used across the world, and strategically invest in and implement water technologies.

Jeffrey Sachs: It’s a chance to use our knowledge and our new global, societal reach to do wonderful things for the future.

Dr. Sachs spoke of mounting global challenges, adding that focused, organized political action on these issues – some of which he called crises – has not yet occurred. But he said the challenges are being taken seriously. He underscored the complexity of the global systems driving humans’ great and competing needs, and admitted that there’s no simple fix.

Jeffrey Sachs:
I was at the G20 meeting recently, and found it a very sober meeting. The leaders of the G20 spoke in earnest; they spoke knowledgeably. It gave me hope there are venues of serious discussion right now. I have no illusion of thinking that that translates into immediate action. But it does give me hope that we’re not just out on a lark, but can start bear down and pay attention to what is, after all, the biggest challenge of humanity.

He said the quality of our lives – and our children’s lives – depends on making the human population on the planet more sustainable.

Jeffrey Sachs: I would like everybody to be involved in the challenge of sustainable development. That means helping the poorest of the poor make their way out of extreme poverty, and helping the rich and the poor together to find a sustainable pathway to the future.

But Sachs admitted that not everyone understands what’s at stake.

Jeffrey Sachs: These problems are huge. And the gap between the scientific knowledge and the public knowledge is very large right now and needs to be closed, dramatically.

Lindsay Patterson