(Host) As thousands of the young at heart flock to Vermont for the Phish farewell concert, commentator Nils Daulaire reflects on youth in today’s world.
(Daulaire) The most important event of the early 21st century may have already happened. In fact, it happened 20 years ago. We Americans remember how the post-World War II Baby Boom transformed our society, from culture and politics to marketing and economics. Since then, American birth rates have declined, and it’s still the aging Baby Boomers who define the key issues of our day – such as retirement security and health care.
But during the 1980s, in countries such as India, Nigeria, and Brazil, a phenomenon took place that dwarfed our American Baby Boom. The largest generation of babies ever born in the history of the world started out in life. And, with family planning now gradually reaching the furthest corners of the globe, it is likely that we will never again see a generation this large.
Over the following two decades, the vast majority of them grew up in conditions that most of us would consider desperately harsh. Now, one billion young people around the world are about to make the leap to adulthood, with another billion younger sisters and brothers in line right behind them.
The essence of youth is hope. Every generation embodies an impulse toward change, a belief that anything is possible, and the energy to give even the impossible a try.
Imagine, then, the potential power of this greatest-ever generation’s dreams. What these billions of young people want and are willing to strive for will inevitably affect all humankind – hopefully, for the better. Yet all too many in this generation despair of finding work, decent housing, enough to eat – even safe drinking water. In fact, they face some of the greatest challenges to their health – to their very survival – of all time.
These challenges come from two directions: nature and greed. In addition to still-rampant threats such malaria, dysentery and tuberculosis, nature has evolved a nearly perfect killer: the AIDS virus. It exploits human sexuality, feeds on societal dysfunction and thrives on prejudice and denial. It targets young people, especially young women, who are today its principal victims.
Some ideologues contend that AIDS affects only the immoral. They’re wrong, and their ignorance only fuels the virus’s spread.
Morality – and the fight against AIDS and other preventable diseases – is about more than sex. It is, for example, about greed: the selfishness that denies millions of young workers a living wage; that markets tobacco to the young in the poorest countries; greed that denies people access to basic health care that would cost pennies.
Amazingly, the young people I’ve met in Bangkok, in New Delhi and Johannesburg dare to dream – not only of drinkable water and adequate housing – but of greater opportunities, of political equality – of access to health care, not just as charity, but as a basic human right.
When America’s Baby Boomers did their dreaming, many listened to Robert Kennedy, who said, “Some look at things that are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask ‘Why not?'”
Today, history’s most populous generation is asking all of us: “Why not?”
This is Nils Daulaire.
Dr. Nils Daulaire is President of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.