Reasons to Hope

I have continued to appreciate, and reflect upon, two extraordinary events at the Ryan Center recently – and neither of these events involved basketball.  The first was Dr. Jane Goodall’s inspirational and moving lecture, presented at the University of Rhode Island on September 19.  The second was the energizing and entertaining interview, with questions from the audience, of Bill Nye, the Science Guy, on October 20.  Organizers estimated that over 4,000 people attended Dr. Goodall’s lecture, and approximately 3,000 came out to hear Bill Nye.  People from all across Rhode Island (and elsewhere) were at both events, but our students were especially well represented in the audiences.

Both Dr. Goodall and Bill Nye spoke eloquently and passionately about the challenges and threats facing our planet and all of humanity.  They both know exactly what we, and future generations, are up against: global, and increasingly catastrophic, consequences of climate change; infectious disease outbreaks where treatments are limited or no longer effective; population growth; deforestation; pollution; increasing shortages of fresh, clean water; species extinction; and, unfortunately, much more.

But both of them spoke eloquently of the hope they share for the future – that we can indeed overcome the enormous difficulties ahead, preserve our world, and build a sustainable and more equitable future. Dr. Goodall outlined five specific reasons for her hope. The first one was “young people” – and their passion, energy, and determination to make the world better.  The second was the intellectual capacity of humanity – our abilities to learn, innovate, and to create new technologies. Third, the amazing resiliency of nature – its capability to recover, regrow, and adapt.  Fourth, the tremendous, and unprecedented connectivity of our societies and peoples – the capacity to share knowledge, information, and ideas practically instantaneously.  And finally, the “indomitable human spirit”.

Bill Nye repeatedly emphasized that, despite the magnitude, and the unprecedented nature of the challenges of the 21st century (many of them of our own making) that “humanity is now in charge of the planet”. To me his point is that for better, or worse, no other species has ever possessed the capacity for planetary change, in either the physical or biological domains. Bill expressed confidence in our abilities to successfully overcome the very problems we have created; we need to, in his words “get it done.” Several times he made the point that one mechanism to achieve this goal was to vote. I agree. In the world’s greatest democracy, if we refuse to participate in the political processes that ultimately shape America’s priorities and goals we will not be able to provide the leadership, the knowledge, or the consistent dedication that is required to overcome both the present challenges, and those yet ahead.

Also, I could not agree more strongly than I do with Dr. Goodall’s faith in young people, their intellectual capacity, and their indomitable spirit. The students of the University of Rhode Island, in large measure, inspire and sustain my hope.  They turned out in force to hear both Dr. Goodall and Bill Nye.  Their enthusiasm and energy filled the Ryan Center.  They are excited by the opportunities to follow in the paths of Dr. Goodall and Bill Nye to make the world better and to create a brighter future for everyone and everything that shares the planet with us.  They are anxious to get out in the world, and to “get it done.”  The talented and dedicated faculty and staff of the University of Rhode Island will provide the students with the skills and knowledge to “think big” and succeed.