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Archbishop Tutu writes: "For the sake of our planet, a conversation that needs to be heard is the one between generations, between elders and young people around the world - and those who are in between. I leave you with this Kenyan proverb a young activist from Dubai sent us: 'The world was not given to you by your parents; it was lent to you by your children.'"

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (photo: Showtime)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (photo: Showtime)

For the Future of Our Planet

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reader Supported News

09 June 12


he month of June is upon us and as Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, draws nearer, I find myself reflecting on the many great changes the past 20 years have brought, since that first Earth Summit, also in Rio, when the world met to announce a vision for its collective future.

Since then we have seen many more inspiring moments of humanity, when large numbers come together for the common good. It tells us change is possible.

But the biggest of dangers still loom large, and I share the frustration of millions, outraged at the indifference world leaders are demonstrating towards some of the toughest and most urgent challenges we face today. In the eyes of future generations, our failure to resolve these problems will overshadow everything else.

Escalating poverty is eating away at our social fabric, our dwindling ecosystems are crying out for protection, the grave threat of climate change is well-documented and yet so inadequately addressed, as though it's tomorrow's problem! Why is it that so many of our leaders - in rich and poor countries alike - tend to put these challenges right at the bottom of their agendas, as if tackling climate change and social injustice were some sort of luxury?

Along with a few of my colleagues from The Elders, I have been debating these matters with young activists: Esther from Nigeria, Sara from Sweden, Marvin from China and Pedro from Brazil.

Their positive vision and relentless energy fills me with hope. I want to believe that the next generation of leaders will be bolder, more global in their outlook and more committed to making decisions for the common good, rather than the short-sightedness and narrow interests we have witnessed in the last 20 years.

My fellow Elders, Mary Robinson, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Gro Harlem Brundtland and I have been inspired to hear in these Elders+Youngers dialogues from voices all over the world about what matters to people: What 'sustainable development' means, whether we can 'afford' it, whether GDP makes us happy - and if not, then why don't we also measure what does?


For an oldie like me, it is - there is no other word - awesome to hold a conversation like this one, which spans the planet, digitally, and bridges generations. This is what our shared humanity is about. People are chipping in, confiding their worries and sharing their vision for the future. The whole world can read them.

For Marvin, Pedro, Sara and Esther, 'sustainability' is not just a word, it is a system that will ensure the well-being and prosperity of the planet they will inherit. They are ambassadors for the three billion youth that account for half of the world. They see that we need to abide first by our common goals and shared responsibility.

So now we are faced with a choice. We can fall in a heap or we can go to Rio+20, or watch Rio+20 from wherever we are - and we can make a difference, exert our influence and hold leaders to account. As Mary Robinson said to Sara last week, "Make your voice heard. If necessary, interrupt!"

My fellow Elders have been expressing concern at the state of negotiations in the run-up to this summit and have urged world leaders gathering in Rio not to waste a rare and beautiful opportunity.

And we must continue to rally our global village - before the summit, at the summit and onwards.

For the sake of our planet, a conversation that needs to be heard is the one between generations, between elders and young people around the world - and those who are in between.

I leave you with this Kenyan proverb a young activist from Dubai sent us: "The world was not given to you by your parents; it was lent to you by your children."

The words are beautiful. Their global nature, in our digital age, is inspiring.

I hope you can join us too.

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+8 # pbbrodie 2012-06-10 06:10
Archbishop Tutu,
Our greatest challenge is protecting the last means of communications that is NOT controlled by the oligarchy, especially in the USA. It is ignorance that is holding back the world and this ignorance is primarily driven by the propaganda spread by the American "news media." If the powers that be, whether you call them the oligarchy or whatever, gain control of the last bastion of open communications, the Internet, I am afraid that all will be lost.
Actually, it is almost as important to break the corporate stranglehold on the American news media as it is to protect the Internet. Because of all the concentration of ownership of the American news media by just 5 or so corporations, the majority of Americans are fed a constant stream of misinformation and outright propaganda 24 hours a day. No wonder the people are so misinformed and vote against their own best interests. They don't have any idea who represents their best interests. It is imperative that these two things happen, protect the Internet and break up control of the American news media by the few corporations that own about 90% of it.
+6 # RMDC 2012-06-10 07:33
Desmond Tutu -- you are one of the great heroes of our world. You manage to remain optimistic even when things could not look worse. I guess you learned to do that in the long struggle against apartheid.

It is hard for someone living in the US to feel any optimism at all. The "global village" is increasingly dominated by "global capital and global war for natural resources." We are going backwards to 19th century colonialism.

It is clear that GDP does not make anyone happy. I doubt that the billionaires are even happy. They are just aggression all of the time. They like to win. That's what GDP is about. All of the GDP gains in the last 30 years have gone to a tiny group of bankers and capitalists. The vast majority of people of the world are getting poorer.

The US is militarizing the Asia Pacific and planning either war or containment of China. This may be the big one. The future looks only grim from here. Obama is a total failure. He allows himself to be the frontman for imperialism and ruthless capitalism.

Thanks for your spirit. I wish you were right.
+1 # futhark 2012-06-10 12:32
A lot more thought needs to be given to the evident oxymoron "sustainable growth". If this means finding more efficient ways to increase our security, prosperity, and happiness by using and abusing fewer resources, I'm all for it. Unfortunately, in the the minds of most people growth has the connotation of ever-increasing population and ever greater exploitation of resources, many of which are non-renewable. It is self-evident that this concept of growth is not compatible with the adjective sustainable.

We need articulate and courageous political and spiritual leadership to move our values away from forever seeking to concentrate economic and political power into the hands of fewer and fewer people and to find and realize a vision of human society that can exist in harmony with nature for millennia to come.
+3 # Kwelinyingi 2012-06-10 13:43
Desmond Tutu, ever the optimist, ever the humanist. A worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, unlike the warmonger Obama who puts the prize to shame and should never be mentioned along with the likes of Mandela and Tutu. They are in a different league. Altogether.
+2 # AlWight 2012-06-10 15:29
We need to imagine ourselves in the world of 2050. What will it be like? What kinds of problems have our grandparents' generation left for us? What would we like that generation to have done? What would we tell them if we could go back to 2012 and somehow get them to listen? The biggest problem we have now, in 2012, is that too many live in the present and aren't concerned about the future. What are we leaving for those who follow?
+1 # futhark 2012-06-10 17:34
Even better, try to imagine ourselves in the world in 2500 or 3000. Ain't gonna be any Big Guy coming down from the sky to save our asses before then, like some people fool themselves into thinking.

The way things are going now, before another ten millennia have passed, the Earth will be habitable only for microbes and cockroaches.

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