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Reith 2007: Bursting at the Seams

Updated Tuesday, 10th April 2007

Dr Helen Yanacopulos responds to the 2007 Reith lecture by Jeffery Sachs on 'Bursting at the Seams'

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The first Jeffery Sachs 2007 Reith lecture was about the world 'bursting at the seams'. Sachs describes a world of extreme poverty, overpopulation and changing climate, outlining the primary challenge of our generation: that we are living in an increasingly crowded world, and the pressures on our human and physical environments are extreme and devastating.

Oddly, given such a topic, this lecture is full of optimism - of our choices, our potential and our responsibilities. Sachs outlines his approach, his answers, to these seemingly insurmountable problems, as being threefold. That through effective institutions, concrete and practical actions, and co-operation between governments and other groups, these problems can not only be mitigated but eliminated.

The argument is that fundamental change must occur – that we must let go the "us versus them" mentality and adopt one of "all of us versus the problems".

This is our opportunity to enter a new positive politics, a new way of doing things, of what he calls "open source leadership", where our connectivity will bring us tools and allow us to coalesce around shared goals in solving these twenty-first century problems. This includes not only governments, but business and civil society, as well as individuals. Sachs emphasises that we have choices: more choices, at a lower cost and higher efficacy than we realise.

With respect to his aims, it is difficult to disagree: how could anyone be against increased co-operation, the elimination of poverty, and the halting of climate change?

How we get there, though, is more problematic.

There are many questions to consider. For example, whilst everyone is for co-ordinated efforts, no one wants to be co-ordinated. Can countries work together internationally when national self interests are (and, arguably, will continue) driving the agenda?

Sachs has been accused of being optimistic in his view of human nature. Do you agree with Sachs’ view that we need a new way of ‘doing’ politics? What could this new way of doing politics look like? Is a new way of doing politics possible or even desirable?

Sachs has outlined the key problems facing the world at this time. These are overwhelming and the urge, frequently, is to look away. Is our knowing more about overwhelming problems enough to change them? What needs to be done – what ‘choices’ need to be made and who needs to make them?

We want to hear what you think - join in the debate with us

First broadcast: Wednesday 11 Apr 2007 on BBC Radio 4

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