Achieving the Millennium Development Goals will be crucial to the success of creating a sustainable future. In particular, I think some of the biggest challenges that need to be focused on are eradicating poverty and hunger, and creating better educational information. Until people have their basic needs met, they are not going to worry about anything beyond where are they going to get their next meal, or where are they going to sleep tonight, or will they even wake up in the morning. The future for them is counted in hours, not years. To ensure that as a society we are doing our best to meet the needs of the neediest will greatly improve the chances of a sustainable future. Education is another key, and with that comes improving literacy and ensuring equal access to educational resources, regardless of class, gender, religion, race, income level, or any other characteristic so commonly used to divide rather than unite, to withhold rather than share, and ultimately to hold down certain portions of society.
As a country, we are doing a fairly good job of responding to international needs for assistance, yet we neglect the people in our own backyard, who are often just as needy as those we are assisting in other countries. Removing the inequalities among our citizens and putting everyone on an even playing field when it comes to opportunities and information is crucial. Yes, some will resist, simply because they do not want to be a part of the solution, but many are not a part of the solution simply as a result of circumstance. By overlooking these segments of society, we are overlooking our full potential. It is going to take the collaboration of all segments of society to design, implement, and maintain a sustainable future, not just those with access to the education, information, and resources.
Much of what we are trying to accomplish through the development of a sustainable future will be for nothing if much of the world is left trying to catch up to the developed nations. Resources will continue to be depleted, population growth will continue to explode, pollution and degradation will continue unchecked, and access to the essentials of life - clean water, adequate food resources, medicine, a renewable source of energy - all of these will cause the plan to fall apart if everyone is not included in the conversation.
I believe that for the United States, taking a leadership role in the global efforts is essential, we should be seen as helping to lead the way, not trying to catch-up depending on who the current political leaders are. Rely on sound science, economic models, and plain old ingenuity, not whichever way the political winds are currently blowing. All citizens need to be allowed to participate fully in the process, as whatever is decided at the top will most greatly affect those at the bottom. Inspiring change, not forcing change, will be a much easier way to bring about the needed changes and make sure that they become a permanent reality, and not just a passing fad. We need to be leaders in the search for alternative, renewable forms of energy, we need to provide adequate funding to the necessary research, and stop basing our decisions on who is better able to line our pockets. We need to create an educational system that fosters creativity and collaboration, not one that simply ensures that everyone gets a high enough score on standardized tests. We need to ensure equal access to information and resources to people from all walks of life, not just those who can best or most easily afford it. We need to lead the way to change, not let change happen without us.
For me personally, I think one of my biggest impacts can be on working towards the educational aspects, to help ensure the information is reaching everyone, that the messages being sent are consistent, and that the people who need to hear the message the most are actually able to listen. Combined with my background in environmental biology, my interest in environmental issues, particularly on a personal level, and what I will hopefully learn from and take from this program, I think that the opportunities for me to help make a difference will become much more of a reality. Yes, I can do my part in leading by example, making changes to my personal lifestyle, and applying what I know to how I live, but I think for me one of the things I want to do is help to make a difference by making sure that everyone realizes their connection to and role in the overall movement.
El-Ashry, M. et. al. (2002, September). The Challenge of Sustainability. Washington, DC: Global Environment Facility. Retrieved from http://www.thegef.org/gef/sites/thegef.org/files/publication/The.Challenge.of_.Sustainability.pdf