Mikhail Gorbachev: We must change today to protect tomorrow

22 May 2012

Change is the one true constant. This is what I have lived by anyway. I have witnessed greatchange in my lifetime, which now spans over 80 years.

Some change could be seen immediately as truly positive: the fall of the Berlin Wall – that stark, concrete symbol of a world divided into hostile camps – is such an event. It brought incredible hope and opportunity to people everywhere, and provided the 1980s with a trulyjubilant finale.
 
In 1989, incredible changes occurred that, just a few years earlier, were deemed impossible. But this was no accident. The changes reflected the hopes of that time, and leaders duly responded. We brought down the Berlin Wall in the belief that future generations would beable to solve challenges together. But today, looking at the cavernous gulf between rich and poor, the irresponsibility that caused the global financial crisis, and the weak and divided responses to climate change, I am not so sure. In fact, I feel bitter.
 
There is an ominous lack of vision and ever growing political paralysis today. This is particularly concerning considering the great shifts our world is experiencing. Vision and action isneeded on many fronts. But politics remains locked in an “iron cage” of demands and dogmas of neoliberal economics,turned obslolete and counterproductive.
 
Despite these obvious threats, too little “value” change is occurring among politicians andbusiness leaders, who have grown accustomed to patterns and dynamics that characterize our modern world, the most concerning of which to me is our over-consumption of natural resources. This dilemma is one where Green Cross International is able to demonstrate its relevance.
 
Our role is to promote alternatives to conventional wisdom, whether recalibrating our economicsystem so it is less focussed on consumption, to railing against the need for nuclear technology in all forms, including military and energy.
 
Such change is possible. We have witnessed this across North Africa and the Middle East through the Arab Spring. These movements for great part were based on brave, just ideals. Fears continue that these gains could be eroded if civil society is not allowed to play a real role in preserving and building upon these changes. I have endless praise for people who, for decades were passive and had no voice, have now boldly entered the arena of history. These vital gains must be preserved.
 
Similarly, I look at the change that has occurred in the Sudan, where South Sudan came into being in 2011, a moment that followed long periods of struggle by its people, who wanted a homeland where its multiple beliefs, cultures and traditions could flourish, and be recognizedby the world. This birth is a fragile one as peace still needs to be fostered and protected here.
 
These are further examples that illustrates the Green Cross mission. We promote peace between people and respect for our planet. Without such respect, peace can’t be achieved. The dwindling stocks of fresh water, exploration of fossil fuels, development of nuclear technology, decimation of our forests and pollution of our atmosphere: these environmental travesties, if allowed to continue, will delay, and even derail, efforts for true peace. 
 
Water – or lack and control of – will act as a catalyst for conflict. Consumption-driven, unsustainablemodels of business and economy will continue to commit two great evils: destroy our planet and widen the gap between rich and poor. This “bomb” is ticking ever more loudly. 
 
A Green Cross Australia colleague recently told of the reaction students today still give when they watch the impassioned call by the then13-year-old Severn Suzuki to first Rio Earth Summit in 1992. She does not tell the children that Severn’s words were spoken 20 years ago; she leaves that to the end. After the gobsmacked pupils finish watching Severn’s crystal clear, eternal and urgent call to political leaders to act to save our Earth, most students ask “when did she say this?” On hearing “1992” is the answer, they shriek: “What? 20 years ago. And we have done nothing about it yet?” I can understand this sentiment. 
 
Yes, much more can be done to defuse the “bomb”, to change our ways and set our planet onto a path of sustainability so to provide a healthy future for it, our children and generations to come. Mighty efforts are being made, by civil society, by some decision-makers, by enlightened members of the business community. Opportunities exist, many low-cost, to find alternative energy sources that end our reliance on fossil fuels or nuclear power. We know our freshwater supply is limited and, also, we know that sustainable systems exist to ensure all people are able to achieve that basic Human Right for Access to Water and Sanitation, something that came into force only in 2010.
 
The call made during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to create a “Red Cross for the environment” translated into the creation of Green Cross International. We have in turn started to shine the light on the need to protect our environment. Twenty years later, we return to Brazil for another global event, that being the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. This event in great part tackles the very same problems we confronted in 1992. Therefore, we cannot expect one meeting to offer the silver bullet to achieve the changes we need. 
 
But we cannot let another 20 years pass before we start changing our ways. We need to urgently embrace change now, following the examples of millions of Egyptian, Tunisian, Syrian, Burmese and other people who have shown, through peaceful action, that change is possible. And we, as a global community, have a clear reason to join forces in change: so to protect our planet and our future generations.
 
German philosopher George Lichtenberg noted: “I cannot say with certainty whether things will get better when they change. However, I can say that things have to change in order to become better.” We need change in order to make the world better. Change of attitudes, values and practices.Change in the awareness that our planet is not ours to waste today, but to preserve for tomorrow. Change that gives people the means to develop their lives, aspire for better, and guarantee peace and potential for their children and grand children.
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