Apr 26

Every Day is Earth Day

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 04/26/2022 6:00AM | Quote of the Week | Human Rights


Our Quote of the Week stresses the importance of collaboration in ensuring the protection of our environment—and warns of the risks of not acting together on this life-and-death issue. Earth Day 2022 may have come and gone, but the protection of our environment remains one of the most urgent issues of our time.

In 1975, Sargent Shriver gave a public address in Novosibirsk, Russia, entitled Toward an International Ethic of Science. It is an address that we at SSPI return to again and again, because it demonstrates the importance Shriver places on collaboration, and of protecting the well-being of all human beings. 

Using his typical combination of warmth and strength, Shriver asserts that to truly resolve the complex problems of the modern world, we must move beyond the notion "détente" (or easing of tensions between two countries, in this case, the US and the USSR) and to fully embrace a notion of “common existence”. In other words, we must move beyond our political differences to preserve the welfare of our people. He stresses: "Common existence recognizes that even coexistence by itself is not enough – that even though there are proper areas of competition, there are inescapable and increasing imperatives of cooperation."

Shriver’s description of the earth as vulnerable and self-contained is poignant, even, poetic: “[O]urs is indeed a ‘spaceship earth,’ a frail vehicle with finite resources of nourishment and regeneration, with no airlocks for anyone against another’s fouling of the atmosphere, no watertight compartments to prevent flooding from a polluted ocean; a world whose physical frontiers have been reached, and, in many ways, exceeded.”

It is notable that Shriver speaks about science and the environment in ways that seem remarkably prescient today, particularly in his inclusion of what he refers to as “inadvertent weather modification from all sources,” or what we would refer to today as climate change. Among other things, his words underline the fact the risks of human-induced climate change have been, in fact, known for a very long time.

The health, safety, and well-being of populations around the world, particularly those who are already most vulnerable to poverty and conflict, rely on our collaboration and collective action. As the planet continues to warm, we will face increasing food shortages, more severe weather events, dirtier air, higher mortality and extinction rates, rising sea levels, and increasing acid levels in our oceans.

It is vital to remember that, whatever differences and ongoing competition there may be between us as nations, there is no way to diminish the threats posed by climate change and by the pollution of our air, land, and water, unless we work together. As a species, we currently hold the power to save or destroy millions of lives. Operating in isolation, escalating conflicts rather than defusing them, will only increase the likelihood of mutually-assured destruction. This is not a path we must follow.

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