A Global Village

07/23/2010 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Lance Simmens Author, The Evolution of a Revolution, and Fracktured

Every summer a hundred or so young entrepreneurs from around the world meet in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and spend six weeks at Lehigh University learning and networking on important issues of business management, leadership, and strategic thinking as they prepare to assume careers in the international community. It is all part of the Iacocca Institute's Global Village program and I have been honored to participate as a visiting Executive over the past four years.

While the bulk of the program is concentrated on the business of business, I have been afforded the opportunity to bring a public policy perspective to the discussions, with a particular focus on the issue of global climate change. For the better part of the day yesterday I was engaged in intensive and interactive dialogue with sixty students representing more than 50 countries from around the world about the role of political leadership and governance in general and more specifically about the economic opportunities inherent in a shift from a fossil-fuel global economy to one powered by alternative energy.

It is a fascinating look into a world few of us ever get to see: namely, a chance to get fresh perspectives of how we are viewed as a country from extraordinarily intelligent young minds from Palestine to Bangladesh, the former Soviet republics to Australia, and all points in between. Since my professional dedication and personal passion over the past two decades has been the environment and more to the point what we humans are doing to it, it is always interesting to listen to the views of those who see us through different lens.

At the very moment I was trying to explain to them how we in the United States are attempting to confront the serious issues of climate change by enacting legislation to curb carbon emissions, it was being announced in Washington, DC that our Congress is hopelessly enmeshed in such a dysfunctional state that comprehensive energy policy would indeed be sacrificed this year. Now I am enough of a political realist to understand why this issue, as important and far-reaching in its potential consequences as it is, has found itself slipping on the must-do list of national priorities as we struggle with the multi-pronged disasters left by the misguided governance during the Bush years. I also understand that while the last Administration contributed greatly to this current miasma, the inability of the controlling party in the Senate to corral sufficient votes for such an important responsibility also plays a critical role here. So there is enough blame to go around, and shame on you, all of you who would play politics with this issue.

I saw Jane Goodall on television a couple of months ago and she made a statement that I found particularly insightful and disturbing. With respect to climate change and the intergenerational injustice we are perpetrating she made reference to the Native American proverb that "we do not inherit the land from our fathers, rather we borrow it from our children" and added that currently we are stealing it from them.

As these international students engaged me in discussion two things penetrated the dialogue with precise clarity: first, they are still in awe of what the United States has accomplished and stands for; second, they are deeply perplexed as to how we can continue to ignore the role we have in addressing the issue of climate change, particularly since we are looked upon as the world's most egregious contributor to greenhouse gas accumulation.

While we continue to squander the opportunities to create a better world for our children, and while we continue to ignore the most basic premise of sustainability, namely that we ought to leave this world in at least as good a shape as we found it, our inability to step up and set a standard for the world to follow, our inability to set a course upon which others will feel compelled to travel, sends a signal to all of the world's children that we simply do not care. Can there be any doubt whatsoever that signals such as these contribute mightily to the perception among our youth that our elected officials and institutions are the problem and not the solution?

Over the past several years I have travelled widely drawing attention to this issue as a Climate Change messenger trained by Al Gore and The Climate Project to effectuate a grass roots education and advocacy campaign, delivering over 92 presentations mostly to college and high school aged youth, and resoundingly the message is the same: What are you guys doing?

The message from these international students is the same: What are you guys doing? And fifty years from now people are going to ask: What did you do?

Here we are facing an issue that involves no less than survival of the planet and despite the technological capability to solve the problem we are squabbling over the political implications of pushing this agenda. It is not that we do not either understand the problem or know how to solve it, we do. What is lacking, unfortunately, is the political will. And this is just unforgivable and we will be judged harshly by those to whom we saddle with our own impotence.

To walk away from this issue at this point in time is unconscionable and both the Administration and Congress must be convinced that this is an issue which must be tackled effectively, NOW. It is simply unacceptable to look into the eyes of our youth, regardless from which part of the globe they come from, and tell them we are not up to the task of protecting their future. Who among us would do that to our own children? Well, they are all our children.