The following is adapted from a speech I gave at the Rio+Social Summit presented by the UN Foundation, Mashable and the 92nd Street Y during Rio+20 on June 19, 2012.
My name is Fabien Cousteau and I believe in miracles.
As some of you may know, my grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau (JYC) was one of the original masters of storytelling through the most powerful medium of the time, television. He wove fantastic stories that spread to every corner of our planet reaching hundreds of millions of people long before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. The stories of his adventures entranced generations who fell in love with our ocean world as a result. He weaved these stories without the benefit of the Internet, email, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Twenty years ago, he had the opportunity to speak at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. In six decades of exploration, he witnessed drastic changes caused by one species. He also recognized the signs long ago and forewarned of the impending consequences that our fragile blue planet faced if we did nothing to change our habits; citing examples such as the results of overpopulation in the communities of Easter Island and Haiti.
Referring to Dr. Borlaug, Nobel Prize for his work on GMOs, JYC stated that such advances in food production would only delay the results of the "population monster." His speech went on for several pages with eye opening stories. JYCs conclusion was simple: The spread of equal universal education and knowledge was the key to avoiding the plummet off the edge of our future. Today his speech would be just as pertinent and I have posted it on the front page of my personal site fabiencousteau.org for anyone interested in reading it.
I had always known my grandfather to be a cautious optimist. But with time running out at the end of his life, I also saw the frustrations of a world renowned pioneer who felt he had a lot left to do. During the last two weeks, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend and participate in Rio+20. I joined thousands of government, business and NGO officials from around the world who descended on Rio De Janeiro with hope to change the track we have set for ourselves. Having been infected with the same passion and dedication of two previous generations of Cousteaus, my goal, was to continue the legacy of my family and be a voice for the oceans. As third generation ocean explorer, filmmaker, and founder of a non profit called Plant A Fish, I came to carry on the message, and to do all I could to spread a message of hope and one of action.
Being the eldest of four grandchildren, I had the unique opportunity to spend a lot of time on expeditions, including several long tours in the beautiful Amazon River basin, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Corsica, South Africa, the Arctic and more. I also was able to spend much time with my grandfather, my father and the rest of the Calypso crew. Doing so, educated me far beyond any university could teach and gave me a front-row view into the changes our planet was facing.
Human beings think we invented everything, but one look at the matriarchal society of Orcas communicating with intricate language patterns and dialects hundreds of miles from each other or the complex sign language of the octopus as it flashes its colors and textures, almost too fast for the camera to capture, are just evidence that our "inventions" simply mimic nature.
Before computers were commonplace in the household, I remember my grandfather saying he would only use one when they shrank to the size of his pen. JYC was a visionary and when I was a boy he bought me one of the first home computers, a Tandy TRS 80 Model 3 from Radio Shack, yes RS made computers then, and it even came complete with a cassette tape drive. He knew how important computers and technology would be for the coming generations.
In 1992, there were just over 5 billion people. Two decades have passed and now we are bursting at the seams with over 7 billion. We are facing the same challenges today, only they have increased proportionately with population growth. This may seem like sad story of failure, but we now have not-so-secret weapons: universal connectivity and the ready spread of knowledge.
According to the leading technology company, Ericsson, there are now over 5 billion mobile phone subscribers, twice that of people with computers. That means these citizens have a voice and can connect with people half way around the world instantly. Could you imagine what JYC would have been able to do with social media?
The year after the 1992 Summit, JYC drafted a long form document called the "Rights For Future Generations" which would be presented to world leaders. By the end of 1993 he had collected over 6 million physical signatures from concerned citizens around the world using the old-fashioned petition forms of their time. Imagine what would be possible to do today?
My little non profit, Plant A Fish, educates and engages local communities to restore their aquatic back yards. Using every tool at hand such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate, those communities can share their stories of challenges and success. So can social media platforms work to create a better world? I can only say this: In just one year, our small global community network of concerned citizens have planted over 34,000 mangroves, over 1 million oysters, and released over 230,000 endangered baby sea turtles... In my opinion, these are some great examples that people can create miracles if given the opportunity.
I would like to share with you a few excerpts from:
Remarks to the World Summit on Social Development, March 6-12. 1995
by Jacques-Yves Cousteau
"...I beg the leaders of the world to remember their promises at Rio...
I beg the leaders of the world not to negate the hope they ignited in 1992, for to do so, is to feed the cynicism and distrust of government that is already starting to poison the well of democracy.
Let this summit, perhaps our last chance in this decisive century, prove that the United Nations can truly catalyze global actions for global betterment. Let this summit generate results as if it were taking place in the very presence of the future generations whose interest it claims to protect.
And let this summit, finally, be truly the People's Summit, so that this decade may be remembered as the one that indeed rescued the world."
The road to success is often riddled with challenges and failures. No matter the outcomes that transpire at Rio+20, we must never give up the fight for the rights of future generations to be able to enjoy what we have taken for granted. Give people of the world a voice and they have power. Focus that human power and we can achieve anything.
My name is Fabien Cousteau, and I believe in miracles.