Former US president Barack Obama says that, despite “extraordinary challenges,” now is the time to embrace optimism
“If you had to choose any moment in history to be born, you’d choose right now,” Barack Obama told a conference in New York recently.
“The world has never been healthier, wealthier, or better educated, or in many ways more tolerant and less violent than it is today.”
The former US president’s speech at a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation event on 20 September acknowledged the “extraordinary challenges” the world faces, but called on the audience of innovators, activists, musicians, comedians and royalty to embrace optimism and reject the cynical narratives of divisive politics and mainstream media.
Good journalism matters – because the world isn’t all bad.
“By just about every measure, the world is better than it was 50 years ago, 30 years ago and even 10 years ago,” he said. “I know that statement doesn’t chime with the steady stream of bad news and the cynicism that we’re fed through television and Twitter, but since the 1950s, life expectancy has grown by more than 20 years. Since 1990 we have cut extreme poverty and childhood mortality in half. Since 2000 we’ve evolved from a world without marriage equality to one where it’s a reality in more than two dozen countries.”
The speech came just a day after his successor, Donald Trump, caused controversy in an address to the United Nations by saying that the US could be forced to “totally destroy North Korea”.
We have to reject the notion that we’re suddenly gripped by forces that we cannot control
Obama also raised concerns about the rise of “a politics that says it’s not ‘we’, but ‘us and them”. But he went on to say that “we have to reject the notion that we’re suddenly gripped by forces that we cannot control.”
He also referred to the ongoing problems of growing economic inequality, changing climate, terrorism, and mass migration, but said the progress he has witnessed during his lifetime shows that “despite the naysayers and the cynicism, change can happen. Individually and collectively we can make a difference, we can make things better.”
After ending his second term as US president in January, Obama said that his focus now is to train the next generation of leaders to change the world through his foundation, the Obama Foundation.
Despite the naysayers and the cynicism, change can happen. Individually and collectively we can make a difference
Obama’s speech took place at an event called Goalkeepers at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on initiatives that present practical solutions to the world’s problems. The two-day event brought together ‘determined thinkers, doers and givers’ to share ideas on achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN.
Image: Gage Skidmore