Post World War II the United Nations proposed thirty rights that were universal necessities for every human around the world. In an effort to prevent the same cleansing actions that had been orchestrated by Hitler, the members tried to ensure that no matter which country of origin, all people could have quality of life. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Even during WWII the Allies had adopted the Four Freedoms-freedom of speech, religion, from fear, and from want. So, why in 2016, even in the United States, a country that claims to be the most progressive, most democratic, most accommodating country in the world, do we still have to talk about fair treatment and opportunity for all?
February 15th 2008 the U.S. National Academy of Engineering announced the challenges for 21st century engineers. Experts from around the world met and revealed a list of improvements that could vastly improve the way the entire global community lives. These grand challenges follow: make solar energy economical; provide energy from fusion; develop carbon sequestration methods; manage the nitrogen cycle; provide access to clean water; restore and improve urban infrastructure; advance health informatics; engineer better medicine; reverse-engineer the brain; prevent nuclear terror secure cyberspace; enhance virtual reality; advance personalized learning; and engineer the tools of scientific discovery.
It is doubtful that the American representatives to the engineering conference could have predicted that within 8 years, the citizens of Flint, Michigan would need their help as badly as any developing country in the world. 100,000 people and their offspring have been made irrelevant for a few dollar’s savings. They have been exposed to lead poison because a decision was made to stop purchasing water from Detroit. There was documentation available indicating that the Flint River had 19 times the recommended level of lead presence. Three people have been indicted, with a promise of the attorney general that more people will be named. It is doubtful that watching these people go to trial is a real consolation to families who are worried about the future of their relatives.
These stories of greed and disregard for welfare of communities have been in the news before. By 1962, when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, we knew that contaminating our water led to disastrous results. Erin Brockovich , was based on a real situation that was investigated in the early 90s. It was not just a movie starring Julia Roberts. There is a reason we don’t use lead based paints any more, and asbestos is used with great caution.
One quote from the engineering academy reports, sums up what I have been trying to say. It states, “A world divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and hunger, cannot long remain a stable place for civilization to thrive.” If we are not altruistically driven to make the world more comfortable for the masses because it is a righteous thing to do, perhaps our personal survival and the lives of our own families might provide the impetus to challenge decision makers to not support any actions they would not deem safe and productive for their own children. Will we again allow a few people at the middle and lower rungs of the hierarchy to take the blame when the welfare of an entire community of 100,000 has been compromised? What happened to the buck stops here, Rick Snyder, and all the others in leadership positions?