by David McCarthy
You have likely heard the saying, “Think globally; act locally.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that. We have a strong localist movement here in the Hudson Valley, and I’m proud to be part of it. The Hudson Valley Current is doing that work—along with many other great organizations—and there’s a lot of it to be done. So what about the “think globally” part? One thing to consider in that regard is that many of the great ideas that many of us endorse actually make no sense outside of a global perspective. I’m thinking of ideas like sustainability, or a recent term that’s come into vogue, “regenerative”. There is really no such thing as a sustainable business or a sustainable lifestyle. We can each make a contribution, and we should, but sustainability is a whole system quality, and the system in question is Planet Earth. We can also undertake regenerative practices locally, starting with literally our own backyards. Still, it’s a good thing to shift our attention to the global level, which is why it was so refreshing and inspiring to attend an informative event on the United Nation’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The event took place April 6 at Lifebridge Sanctuary, a wonderful retreat and conference center in Rosendale. The Sanctuary is operated by Lifebridge Foundation, a nonprofit that has the stated goal of “promoting the concept of the interconnectedness of all life and one humanity.” I have known Lifebridge founder Barbara Valocore and her husband Steve Nation for many years, and yes, this is what they’re really about. They have a deep connection with the United Nations, and arranged for a brilliant Guatemalan diplomat named Jimena Leiva-Roesch to come to Rosendale and share the story of the Sustainable Development Goals. The event was co-sponsored by two other local nonprofits, Mohonk Consultations and RiverTides.
The story of the SDGs turned out to be quite a personal one, because Ms. Leiva-Roesch was the lead negotiator in the multi-year process of achieving the remarkable result of having the 17 goals ratified unanimously by the member states of the UN. The people who believed in, and worked for, the SDGs initially believed that only a small minority of nations would ever agree to them. But gradually, through a process of persistent and patient discussions, more and more countries wanted to participate. In the end, all 193 member states signed on to the ratification in September of last year. That fact in itself is strong testimony, not just to the skill and dedication of the leaders who moved the process ahead, but also to the fact that, in the end, the wish to do the right thing runs very deep in all of us.
As an article co-authored by Ms. Leiva-Roesch, along with Steve Nation and Youssef Mahmoud, puts it:
“Setting goals for all of humanity is a relatively new experiment. In 2000, the General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration, from which the UN Secretariat extracted eight millennium development goals (MDGs), designed to help developing countries meet their basic needs. The MDGs had a powerful impact: for the first time, the entire UN system and governments shared one single agenda. Now, with the SDGs, the United Nations and its member states are setting a much broader agenda encompassing global priorities that are universally applicable, and incorporating issues that previously remained outside traditional development thinking, such as the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies and the transition to sustainable patterns of consumption and production.”
You can find detailed info about the goals and on the detailed targets associated with each goal on the website globalgoals.org—which is, by the way, absolutely excellent and inspiring; it is really well done in terms of visual and information design.
We all have a cynical side, and perhaps seeing the list of goals might bring it out. We may ask if this isn’t just idealistic posturing by elites who are more committed to business as usual than anything else. To that thought, I would ask the counter question: isn’t our cynicism about such things actually an avoidance of our own power and responsibility to be part of achieving the goals? In other words, first we offload the responsibility onto “others” (governments and big NGOs for example) and then we say, “Well, they probably won’t do much.” Isn’t that tidy! Guess we can go back to our own business as usual.
The antidote to that level of thinking is to turn it upside down and think about ordinary individuals, starting with ourselves. Whether or not we think globally is pretty much an individual choice. We can do it, and we can inspire others to do it. And then when we think globally, we can take action. We can organize ourselves, and we can hold leaders responsible. In fact, we can become leaders. There are a couple of historical developments that support those possibilities. One of them is the global communications revolution, specifically the Internet and social media. The other is the knowledge explosion—and what I would hope could be a wisdom explosion—around the implications of global interconnectedness. We are finally in a position to see the universality of our dependence on the global ecosystem, for example. And at a spiritual level, the rawness of our unavoidable exposure to human suffering could lead us naturally to a sense a compassion, and with it, the notion of universal responsibility—which comes down to personal responsibility.
All of this brings us full circle to the local, in the sense that local is about the actions we ourselves take and what we communicate in our immediate networks. It is inspiring to see that taking the most all-encompassing, inclusive, and compassionate view actually helps us find ways to work together and make change. Building on the synergy of that inspiration is how we can activate the real vitality and potential of the Sustainable Development Goals.
David McCarthy is:
Author of Civil Endowment — The Transformation of Economic Power
Co-founder and Board Member of The Hudson Valley Current: Our local currency system
Organizer of the Hudson Valley New Economy Meetup
The Sustainable Development Goals
- No Poverty
- Zero Hunger
- Good Health and Well-Being
- Quality Education
- Gender Equality
- Clean Water and Sanitation
- Affordable and Clean Energy
- Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
- Reduced Inequalities
- Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Responsible Consumption and Production
- Climate Action
- Life Below Water
- Life on Land
- Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
- Partnerships for the Goals