For Earth Week: Solving “the problems of human poverty and misery”

“We are coming to be aware that if we are to lick the problems of human poverty and misery, the problems caused by increasing urbanization, the problems of inadequate education, of pollution of the air and water and the destruction of our natural resources, we must do it together.”
Sargent Shriver |Paris, France| October 10, 1968

Earth Day is on our mind as we consider our Quote of the Week, which includes a prompt for us to work together to tackle the challenges of preserving our natural resources and our environment.

During his tenure as US Ambassador to France, Sargent Shriver gave this Address to the Association of Diplomatic Press in Paris. He was new to the role of ambassador at the time, but he was already comfortable with diplomacy and with addressing international issues, having successfully grown and led the Peace Corps in the first half of the 1960s.

In the speech, Shriver stresses the importance of international collaboration, a theme that recurs in his speeches through the decades. He believed that people were capable of effecting positive change when they worked together, and he knew how to focus people toward a common cause.

When citing the biggest challenges of humankind, the ones most responsible for “human poverty and misery,” Shriver includes poverty, urbanization, lack of education, and the destruction of the environment. Of these, environmental issues are arguably the most intractable and the most damaging. Pollution and extreme weather events caused by climate change kill and displace people, create food shortages, destroy ecosystems, poison the oceans, and spread diseases, among other issues. And the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities are disproportionally affected by these environmental causes. Addressing the damage we have done to the environment, therefore, is a question of human rights and of justice, and we can address it effectively only if we address it together, as a global human family.

As we look forward to Earth Day this coming Monday, April 20, we take to heart this year’s theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” and join in the call to reduce the production of plastic worldwide by 60%. You can learn more about the risks associated with plastics, and browse through the many events planned for Earth Day, here.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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