Man on the Earth

The death of Neil Armstrong has made us all think of those days when Mankind took that giant leap.  Armstrong seems to have been a lovely, talented and modest man; and therefore a good choice to be the first of our species to step on the Moon.

Few of us have had the privilege of looking back at the Earth from Space and seeing its blueness wrapped in the white lacework of clouds.  From out there the world looks small and vulnerable, but beautiful.  You can’t see the artificial lines that divide us up into nations, or the religions and languages and cultures that divide us differently.  The Earth looks like one place – and that place is our home.

John F Kennedy wasn’t still around to see the USA succeed in putting a man on the Moon, and bringing him safely back to Earth, within the decade of the 1960s.  Kennedy’s ‘Man on the Moon’ speech is worth re-reading.  Russia was ahead in the space race when this speech was made, and success was uncertain.  Also, note that Kennedy made it clear that all Americans would pay, in some respect, for trying to put a man on the Moon.  It’s a great speech, and not one that I could imagine politicians making today.

Here is what I hope JFK would say now, if he were able, or maybe it is for President Obama to make this speech:

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary to win the battle to live sustainably on Earth and that  holds the key to our future happiness and safety. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the global or national decisions or marshaled the resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

I therefore ask the United Nations and fellow world leaders to work with me to provide the leadership and coordination which are needed to meet the following global goals:

First, we in the wealthy West should not trample on the rest of the world’s people to maintain our comfort and status but should move to share the wealth of this planet more equitably with our fellow man.  Let us be clear that in getting to the year 2012 some peoples and countries have benefited from unwise and profligate misuse of the world’s resources and others have lost.  If we aspire to fairness to our fellow man, and who will say that they do not, then it is unavoidable that over time our wealth in the West should be reduced so that that of others can approach our own.  Let us bite the bullet, the ‘fairness bullet’, and together admit that this should happen, and start on the journey together to make it happen.

Secondly, reducing global carbon emissions from fossil fuels to safe levels within the next 25 years in a fair and equitable way. No single environmental mission will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range survival of our species, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

Third, put an end to species  extinctions.  The test of our humanity is not just how we treat our fellow humans but also how we treat our fellow inhabitants of the Earth in all their fantastic glory and complexity. Here in the USA we drove the passenger pigeon, the commonest bird in the world, to extinction in a 50-year spasm of over-exploitation and habitat destruction.  Though nearly a century ago, it still stands as an example of Mankind’s carelessness and insensitivity.

Fourth, to provide a sustainable basis for global fisheries so that they are less destructive and more productive at one and the same time. If we are to live up to our own description of being Homo sapiens then we must act with greater wisdom in our stewardship of the seas which make up two thirds of our Blue Planet.

Fifth, let us stop the destruction of the world’s rainforests with their abundant life.  We can feed the world using the land we already have under agricultural production if only we distribute that food more fairly and efficiently.  We will make a start by ceasing the production of biofuels which reduce food stocks, increase food prices and encourage more rainforest destruction.

Let it be clear that I am asking the world to accept firm commitments to new courses of action – courses which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs, but very great benefits to Mankind as a whole, the disadvantaged across the world in particular and to the future successful existence of our species on earth. This is a new beginning, a change in direction and a new future.  If we reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment, we will continue to head for a future of great suffering for many of the people on this small blue planet and history will judge us as being selfish, short-sighted and having failed in the most basic human endeavour – to live fairly and happily.

Living  well and happily should not be at the expense of current generations elsewhere on the planet, not at the expense of future human generations and not at the expense of the life with which we share the Earth.  Every citizen of this planet should consider these matters carefully in making their judgment.

This decision demands a major commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other less important activities. It means a degree of dedication, organization, discipline and international cooperation which have never before characterized our development efforts.

Now this is a choice which we must make together. But all of you have seen the evidence for a changing climate, the chainsaws felling the world’s forests, the reduction in fish stocks and the near extinction of the great whales.  We are learning, and we must learn, that we are not masters of the natural world but part of it and we need a new course of action and a new set of values to cope with that realisation.

It took time for our species to understand that we are not at the centre of a small universe but just one part of a very large one.  And it has taken time for us to realise that we were not placed on the Earth to take whatever we want but have evolved here under natural laws to which we are still subject.  We have put a man on the Moon – it is time for Mankind to decide how to live on the Earth.



Tomorrow there will be a Guest Blog by Magnus Linklater.


15 Replies to “Man on the Earth”

  1. A great speech, Mark! I can just about (only just about) imagine President Obama saying something similar but what I can’t imagine, under any circumstances, is it being given by Mitt Romney. The thought of him becoming the “most important leader in the world” sends cold shivers down my spine.

    Halfway through the book and still greatly enjoying it! (I’m a slow reader).


  2. I agree about the politicians, Debbie. So maybe other people have to say it. Thank you for saying it so very articulately, Mark. This blog deserves to travel far and wide and we can get it farther, faster than Kennedy could.

  3. If you are scared of Mitt Romney why were you not scared of David Cameron and his mad for killing wildlife Conservatives!! I do hope the EU have the guts to take them for what they are. Oh, you have not heard the EU is investigating our government!!

    1. John, I’m just as scared of them as well, but perhaps we can do something about that!

  4. Back in 2007 David Milliband made the sort of speech you’re talking about to mark the CPRE’s anniversary. OK, it was only about domestic landuse but then he was only SoS for Defra, not President of the USA. Faced with the ‘standard’ view and more radical alternatives he in every case chose the radical – I know because I was supporting one of the radical options – greening the green belt. He talked about ‘beauty’ and in a sentence debunked something economists were agonising over – that slicing off a corner of St Jame’s Park, according to their economics, made sense. Milliband simply said ‘don’t be so stupid’. A great response. So what happened next ? He, of course moved on, and a Foresight Study was set up. It took 40 Professors and many other experts to get the cat back in the bag but they did so, and very firmly indeed. The title page of their report said it all – neatly divided into the approved sectors – farming, conservation etc – and each making their standard bids – and that is where we are still today, with the hard boundaries around farming, the urban edge and our nature reserves still firmly in place – and little evidence of any real desire to question the status quo.

  5. Fantastic speech, if only it had come from a prominent politician or world leader. Maybe it should be sent to as many people as possible, we should all email it to our MPs, spread the word however we can, and all do our bit for our little blue planet.

  6. Brilliant speech!
    Sadly if the suggestions made are not followed I dread to think of the state of this planet in the future.
    When those that can change things realise they must – it will be too late!

  7. We are doomed Mark,e-petition for Virgin keeping control of west coast railway in one week over 130,000 signatures.E-petition Vicarious Liability running for months less than 10,000 signatures.
    Shows the ordinary persons outlook.

    1. No, not doomed, Dennis. Just different campaigns. A world where I see harriers as I drive across the moors to Macclesfield station to catch a Virgin train is not an impossibility. It has happened within the last five years, but not the last two, (the seeing harriers, that is , not the driving) and is surely within reach again.

      I will concede however that Vicarious Liability is a much more complex issue, with an unfortunately tricky title, to communicate about than the Virgin train account. There is some explaining that needs doing before people who get inspired by our great birds realise that this is really a ‘Keep the harriers flying here’ campaign. But surely. the DEFRA/Buzzard issue shows how powerful and rapid social media can be. And I can tell you that when harriers did nest fairly near here, local ordinary people who knew about it were thrilled and hardly took their eyes of them until they were safely fledged. It’s all about making the message personal and relevant.

  8. Excellent speech – yes but experience shows that telling people what to do is likely to result in the opposite to the desired actions. There is a surfeit of politicians who tell us what to do, when, how etcetc…we live in a weird democracy which gives us the ability to chose those who govern us but once elected these people turn into 2nd rate dictators – conclusion is that we are stunningly awful at chosing our government.
    It isn’t really politicians we should be attempting to convert – its all the people. There is enormous untapped power in the general populace. Trashing our environment needs to become socially unacceptable behaviour – whether its a government department, a business or an individual doing the trashing. It would be good to cease driving children towards ‘economic development’ through the education system – they mostly leave school with one enormous $ sign in their heads and devote their lives to the god Money. This is the wrong maths lesson – they need to learn the real cost to the planet of their existance.
    Rather than wait for the big speeches, the endless talking, and procrastination we could all do one positive thing a day towards saving the planet. Just simple things like don’t throw away edible food, recycle, cut out one car journey a week, throw the dishwasher out, don’t replace white goods until they break, think about food miles, think about the habitats that are destroyed to provide exotic food, try to eat organic food to reduce pesticide use…the list is endless. Its only when we start thinking about what we do that we become aware of the ramifications of our livestyles. People kid themselves who think that their bit of trashing won’t be noticed or won’t make a difference.

    1. Stella – excellent points, with which i largely agree. But getting global action might be easier through an existing global leader rather than through simultaneous grassroots campaigns in every country.

      But thank you for your comment which is very thought-provoking.

    1. Sian – welcome to this blog, and thank you. But we are all in charge, a bit. Let’s do what we can together.

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