April 29, 2005

Brundtland Lectures on Sustainability

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“Infection, disease, poverty: these are the threats to our common security,” declared Dr. Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and director general emeritus of the World Health Organization. She spoke yesterday in Kennedy Hall’s Call Auditorium in a talk entitled “The Global Significance of Sustainable Development.” Brundtland, also a member of the United Nations High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, highlighted poverty, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and gender inequality as the major challenges that hinder the world’s progress toward sustainable development.

Coined by Brundtland herself in the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development entitled “Our Common Future,” “sustainable development” involves cooperation between nations and their citizens who “must meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the future [and needs] of the next generation.”

It was the generations of the 1960s and 70s that began to recognize the need for environmental sustainability, and as Brundtland highlighted, limited resources only allow limited growth. Forced with the challenge of how to sustain and expand the world’s resource base, Brundtland believes that only if we solve “social and economic problems can [we] solve environmental problems.”

Global issues such as poverty, global warming and pollution are not exclusive to one part of the world’s population.

“Nobody, not even the richest, can hide from these global trends,” Brundtland said. A logical solution seems to lie in the distribution of the benefits of economic growth. 60 percent of the ecosystem’s resources are used unsustainably by the world’s underdeveloped nations. Brundtland said that citizens of these nations are forced to exploit their resources by overusing land for economic growth. In order to alleviate this, Brundtland emphasized the need for improved rules for global trade.

“The very future of our planet will be in danger,” she said, if we don’t worry about poverty.

Another cause for concern is the spread of disease, which “holds back development and weakens society,” according to Brundtland. If a concerted effort were made between nations to extend critical health services to those in need, Brundtland believes that lives could be saved, poverty could be reduced, economic growth would be initiated and global security would be promoted.

“We need to invest in people — in their health and education,” she said.

Specifically, Brundtland emphasized the spread of HIV/AIDS and its prevalence in women over men in various underdeveloped nations. Brundtland believes that this can be attributed to sexual abuse, rape, coercion and lack of education. Of the 900 million illiterate of the world’s population, women outnumber men two to one.

The reason for this large discrepancy, gender inequality, can be traced to the traditional cultural beliefs of some nations and their religions.

Brundtland highlighted the importance of education for young girls, arguing that “gender equality is critical to reach all other development goals.” Additionally, the link between poverty and gender inequality is startling: 70 percent of the world’s poor are women.

According to Brundtland, successes in health have been “unevenly distributed.” One fifth of the world’s population is unable to meet their daily nutritional needs, while one third of the world’s children are undernourished. In one of the worst cases, in Africa, 1 in 16 women die during pregnancy due to lack of adequate resources, while in North America and Europe this number is 1 in 4,000.

Most in attendance were inspired and in awe of the passion with which Brundtland spoke.

“I enjoyed how she spoke so long about women’s education,” said Allison Krasnow, a member of the Ithaca community.

Other community members, such as Colleen Boland, impressed with Brundtland’s fervor, expressed concerns that her words would be “lost on America.”

Threats to global security not only include terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Brundtland argued that the tragedy of a nuclear attack can be equated with the tragedy of a disease spreading in a nation that has no means by which to combat it.

“We cannot afford to pick and choose which threats are most urgent. We cannot only focus on terrorism and not on poverty,” Brundtland said. A solution, she said, can only be found through global cooperation and effort.

Archived article by Sanika Kulkarni
Sun Staff Writer