Dec 21 Humanities Greatest Achievements day?
Fifty years ago today three human beings left earth and traveled three days to the moon, circled it and returned safely back to earth. Centuries of human study and application of science and technology merged in one nation with the resources, fear*, and vision blended together to achieve the first truly monumental human goal — space travel.
By Chuck Woolery, Former Chair, United Nation’s Association Council of Organizations
It wasn’t the only great human goal achieved, but it was the first. And if a person understands the profoundly extraordinary courage, exactness, genius, and inherent risk involved in this human effort, tears of joy and pride might be the appropriate response. Especially for those three who saw Earth for the first time for what it really is, our home planet, alone in the vast cold darkness of space.
Few people consider the fact that Earth has an expiration date. It is so distant (we hope) that we don’t waste time thinking about it. But we should. As several NASA directors and astronauts have stated ‘in the long run, no single plant species will survive.”
In the short term (the next 20-50 years), we should devote our planets best scientists and engineers to preserving earth’s natural systems and structures that we all depend on for our immediate health, security (clean air, clean water, adequate food and shelter….) and prosperity. This would include the climate systems and even the human made systems and structures of governments that are growing in power but lacking the same values that were used to reach the moon and return safely.
Unfortunately, today, too many governments have devoted the rigorous application of the same science and technology and vast amounts of money to maximize the destruction of other governments and the deaths of human beings within them. Humanity hasn’t lost its vision of a sustainable world at peace where all people have equal opportunity to be healthy, wealthy and wise. But we have lost touch with, or never understood, the power we do have in influencing our government’s priorities.
Most Americans today see the United States as a place of American blood and soil to be protected by a powerful military. Some think a wall will help. But John McCain’s farewell letter this summer offered the true genius of our nation. He called the US “a nation of ideals, not blood and soil”. And those ideals are universal. The most profound being the primary mission of any legitimate government — to protect the inalienable human rights of “liberty and justice for all”.
I assert that the second greatest human achievement in all of history was achieved a decade after the moon shot. It was the confirmed global eradication of Smallpox in 1980. This viral disease killed humans for thousands of years and killed more people in just 80 years of the last century (over 300 million) than all the wars, revolutions, and genocides combined (about 250 million) in that full century. But it would never have happened unless every nation and village in the world had participated.
It was the first disease ever eradicated. And so far, the only one. Polio eradication was targeted for the year 2000 but failed because of wars and a lack of political will to reduce the worst aspects of global poverty. It remains with us today…and could mutate as all pathogens do and return with a vengeance. Every aspect of humanities bio security requires a comprehensive global effort.
Arguably the next great human achievement (and perhaps the most urgent and important) will be meeting each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals on or before 2030. World governments have already agreed they are a priority but lack the political will to insure enough funding will be invested in time. These goals are affordable and achievable with existing technology and financial resources even if governments offered zero existing government financing. But they would need to ensure that sufficient money comes from other sources. There are four potential sources. Millions of voluntary private donations, generous global corporations, a Robinhood tax on global financial transactions, or freezing and then seizing some of the illegitimate earnings in offshore accounts stashed there by kleptocrats, criminal syndicates, tax avoiding capitalists. This estimated stash of $32 trillion seems like the most likely target for success.
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But it would require a ‘Movement of Movements’ (MoM) acting together to pass legislation in the US and other powerful developed nations to make it happen. The biggest barrier in the US to mobilizing such a MoM here is the resistance within the leadership of organizations that remain focused on their own movement (environmental, peace, or social/economic justice) instead of the comprehensive approach that the 17 SDGs offer. The silo effect between (and even within) each of these movements prevents the collective action essential to comprehensively achieving the 17 goals. Each movement (and organizations within each movement) remain focused on their individual missions (continuing to compete with one another for limited private, corporate and government funding) instead of the united effort needed to acquire adequate funding for all.
The environmental movement certainly has the most momentum and the best motivational point with even the US military agreeing that global warming is a national security issue. The peace movement refuses to admit they continue to push the weakest motivation – ‘world peace’. With the world facing more threats of nation state violence and aggression combined with the unprecedented proliferation of WMD and increases in weapon sales and nationalism, there is little chance governments will stop spending ‘defense funds’ to fund humanitarian goals. Many within the peace movement believe this is the only way to fund humanitarian goals and resist the reality that funding the human humanitarian goals is the best way for all the world’s governments to improve their national security. The so called “peace and justice” community puts more attention to disarmament and cutting defense budgets expecting it to achieve peace (and fund humanitarian goals) instead of recognizing that peace and security is NOT a function of disarmament or armaments. Peace and most forms of security are a function of justice.
The so called ‘social/economic justice movement’ correctly believes that their individual, national and global goals are essential to protecting the environment and the root of peace and security, but largely remain hesitant in using the context of national security to push their humanitarian agenda. Even the Peace movement shies away from this accurate perception of reality claiming that the US government entities (DOD, CIA, AID and State Dept) use a ‘humanitarian’ mission to hide its true goal of world domination.
What each of these movements fail to grasp is the value of a comprehensive approach needed to achieve anyone of their primary missions. What would happen to the global effort to reduced carbon emissions if a ‘Spanish flu’ like pandemic or weaponized small pox attack were suddenly killing millions, even billions of people worldwide in a very short time. Or an EMP event (solar or human caused) brought the US to it’s knees by crippling our electrical grid for months or even years…resulting in tens of millions of dead Americans and the end of our society as we know it, in the chaos that follows?
“Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” President Kennedy’s inaugural address.
We continue to look at the past to predict the future. This is a very bad idea for two reasons. First, it appears the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. If we did, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would have been made enforceable or fully funded by now given the horrors of World War II with the creation and first use of nuclear weapons. Second, the future will not be like the past given the evolution of weapons and war since then, primarily driven by the advances in science and technology that now yield unprecedented killing capacity to clever individuals, extremist groups, and rogue nations alike at affordable costs. Imagine drone delivery of bioweapons or cyber intrusions or attacks on a nation’s critical infrastructures.
What ‘we the people’ lack, is an understanding of the growing variety, velocity and volume of threats we face and the actual power we have to influence our elected government policy makers. Yes, democracy rarely yields ‘liberty and justice for all’, but it can. Our U.S. Constitution’s first amendment gave us the enormous power to petition our government 365 days a year. Not just the extremely anemic civic power to vote once every 2, 4 or 6 years.
In the 1960s our nation’s leaders made reaching the moon a top government priority. Fear of the Soviets reaching the moon first was a legitimate national security concern motivating them. Achieving the 17 SDGs before the year 2030 should be motivated as much by our own national security concerns as our national spirit and flag pledge of “liberty and justice for all”.
About the Author
Chuck’s professional grassroots organizing and advocacy successes on global health issues led to his elected position on the respected Action Board of the American Public Health Association (membership of 120,000 US Health Professionals). Later he was then elected by his peers to Chair the United Nation’s Association Council of Organizations (over 110 US based NGOs representing a collective membership of over 25 million Americans). His focus has been connecting local and global issues to US national security interests and using non-partisan fundamental principles to advance public thinking and US policy on vital systems and structures essential to forming a more perfect union.
Chuck credits much of his successes to his mother’s love and his background in Biology and wrestling. He qualified for the Olympic Trials only to find out he was seriously not qualified – but was honored to make it that far coming from a childhood of obesity and sloth. “We are all”, he says “always wrestling with issues and concerns our entire lives. Or we should be — given the persistent changes in our bodies and the world.” “Loving persistence” and “ruthless compassion” are two qualities his mentors offered him. Perhaps to his detriment he usually offers what people need to hear instead of what they want to hear. Chuck is an avid quote collector… one of his many favorites — “Science is my passion, politics my duty.” Thomas Jefferson