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.