The Opportunity of Our Lifetimes

January 23, 2008 · Print This Article

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width=300Our generation–those born in the 70s, 80s, and 90s–has a great opportunity ahead of ourselves. We have the ability for the first time in human history to eliminate extreme poverty within our lifetimes and ensure shared access to prosperity regardless of color, geography, or nationality. This possibility is worthy of a boisterous cheer.

By 2050, we’re projected to have 9.5B humans on this planet, however. Our planet will not allow a world of 9.5 billion humans living in the manner the average citizen of the Western world lives today, yet alone the 6.6 billion we have today.

Here inlies the great connection between sustainability and poverty. Unless we as a global society invest to develop the needed technologies to allow for humans to become sustainable in food, energy, and water production we will end up having less resources than are necessary for 9.5 billion people to live in a world without extreme poverty–let alone a world in which there is true shared prosperity, mutual security, and equality of opportunity. This is the greatest challenge of our lifetime as entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists, and public servants. We must have sustainability to end poverty.

As a friend of mine from high school recent wrote me, “We must work toward the creation of a world where the standard of living, human rights, basic freedoms, and sustainability are all compatible.”

The two billion people that Goldman Sachs projects will be added to the global middle class by 2030 may never make it if sufficient food, energy, and water resources don’t exist. Dominic Wilson and Raluca Dragusanu, showed in a Goldman Sachs Economic Research paper published on July 8 called “The Expanding Middle: The Exploding World Middle Class and Falling Global Inequality” that close to 70 million people a year are entering the global middle class. They define this range as those with per capital income $6,000 and $30,000, purchasing power parity adjusted. They foresee shifts such as:

  1. Changing spending patterns.
  2. Increased pressure and competition for resources
  3. Greater threat of environmental degradation
  4. Rising environmental consciousness
  5. Political and social changes

Through one lens, we could have resource wars, strife, famine, and terrible droughts, melting ice caps, biodiversity extinctions, and rising sea levels.

Through the other lens, we could have a world of growing prosperity, security through commerce, and gained respect among cultures and religion, a world of ubiquitous broadband, a world of communications technology that will enable humans to gain a common language and understanding, a world in which dictators can no longer use scare propaganda to wedge the false division of us vs. them, a world in which there is access to education, healthcare, nutrition, and opportunity for all, a world in which entrepreneurship thrives and technology drives improves food production, water access, and non-carbon based energies, a world in which our identity as human is so much more important than what divides us.

We have come to a turning point in history. This is both the challenge of our lifetime, and the great opportunity of our lifetime. How can we enable the great economic and creative potential for all humans while ensuring we leave a world of environmental stability to our grandchildren?

Will we invest in the creation of a new Apollo Plan for Energy? We will create the Global Bill of Rights that provides access to education, healthcare, and nutrition? Or will we fall into a once great society as the benefit of inexpensive petroleum leaves? Will Malthus finally get his way?

Is growing economic prosperity possible in a world of declining resources and increased commodity prices? Does our lifetime end up being marked in history as the time of resource wars, increased poverty, and environmental damage? Or does it end up being marked by global collaboration, shared prosperity, and sustainability. We have a choice.

This is the greatest opportunity of our lifetime, and our greatest challenge.


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