This morning I watched Obama’s inauguration in a high school theater with several hundred young men. Everyone was captivated. As our 44th president delivered his speech, I kept thinking about the applicability of many of his words to the world and sustainability in its broadest sense. Here, how President Obama’s speech – originally written to encourage and inspire America in the face of crisis – can be expanded and applied to sustainability. Today, instead of tips, a call to action and pull of spirit.
A World in Crisis
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. . . Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
Environmental groups are criticized for their “doomsday” scenarios. Rainforests are dwindling, corals are dying, population is exploding, and global warming is ominously threatening.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Beyond America, there is a nagging fear that the earth’s decline is inevitable. Will fewer children have access to clean water? Will they starve? Will they know that polar bears and tigers once lived outside of zoos?
Meeting the Challenges
They [these challenges] will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
We cannot snap our fingers and restore the earth to balance. But we can take a step and trust that our healing march moves forward. We can choose to believe in a sustainable planet, put aside our differences, and unify towards that goal.
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
You and I deserve the chance. A tribesman in Ecuador, an Indian businessman, a refugee in Central Africa, an Iraqi mother all deserve the chance. You might even carry the idea a step further and include the toucan, elephant, and giant squid.
Changing the Dream
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For starting today, with America, we can shake ourselves out of our wasteful stupor and begin rebuilding our dream.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. . . We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.
Our dream doesn’t need to be harmful or wasteful to be big. We can work with Nature instead of against her.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.
In a sense, they may be right. But it is our current way of life and big plans that are strangling our planet. Our new ambitions, our new big plans, are to live more respectfully and follow our dreams in harmony with ourselves, each other, and the planet.
Building our Legacy Together
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to . . . roll back the specter of a warming planet.
For we all work together, all nations, all people, to create a more sustainable future. In keeping this legacy we see each other as family; our planet as our home.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
And through this change we will see that while “poor” nations lack material wealth they abound with spirit and vitality not commonly found in “rich” countries. Through this journey we will start thinking ahead, like in the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, and we will all carry forward a new vision for the planet in which our children have the freedom to live fully on this earth.
Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
What a lovely vision. Yes we can. Hallelujah.
Image Credit: Steve Rhodes at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
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