Great social change occurs in several ways. A technological breakthrough – the steam engine, computers, the Internet – may play a leading role. Visionaries, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela, may inspire a demand for justice. Political leaders may lead a broad reform movement, as with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
Our own generation urgently needs to spur another era of great social change. This time, we must act to save the planet from a human-induced environmental catastrophe.
Each of us senses this challenge almost daily. Heat waves, droughts, floods, forest fires, retreating glaciers, polluted rivers, and extreme storms buffet the planet at a dramatically rising rate, owing to human activities. Our $70-trillion-per-year global economy is putting unprecedented pressures on the natural environment. We will need new technologies, behaviors, and ethics, supported by solid evidence, to reconcile further economic development with environmental sustainability.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is taking on this unprecedented challenge from his unique position at the crossroads of global politics and society. At the political level, the UN is the meeting place for 193 member states to negotiate and create international law, as in the important treaty on climate change adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. At the level of global society, the UN represents the world’s citizenry, “we the peoples,” as it says in the UN Charter. At the societal level, the UN is about the rights and responsibilities of all of us, including future generations.
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