Exactly 50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy said it perhaps better than anyone else has before or since.
"For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."
American University, June 10, 1963
President Kennedy had gone to the campus of American University in Washington D.C. to give the commencement speech. The topic of his speech was not the environment. It was delivered a mere eight months after the Cuban missile crisis had threatened to engulf the planet in nuclear holocaust, and Kennedy had chosen to speak on "the most important topic on earth: world peace."
When you think about it, world peace and environmental health are closely entwined. It's hard to imagine having one without the other. While Kennedy's speech focused on peace, it is really not all that surprising that it presaged so much of what we now understand to be the environmental imperatives that we face to ensure a sustainable planet for our children.
Some notable excerpts:
"What kind of peace do I mean? ... I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, ... not merely peace in our time but peace for all time....
Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that ... mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control....
Our problems are manmade -- therefore, they can be solved by man.... For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
John F. Kennedy is remembered by many as a great statesman, a cold warrior and a peacemaker. On this day, the 50th anniversary of his American University commencement speech, let’s also remember him as a visionary for a global environmental ethic.