Last week I had the privilege of speaking to more than 3,000 eager high school students in Chicago’s Model Union conference at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
It was an enthusiastic and responsive crowd.
I told the students that their interest in global affairs is refreshing and urgently needed in the world today; especially when our political leaders are spouting nationalism and slogans like “America first,” and are turning away from negotiated agreements and UN diplomacy.
Our world needs the UN now more than ever, I emphasized. If the UN did not exist, we would have to invent it.
The world is becoming ever more globalized, whether we like it or not, and nations face challenges that no state can solve on its own, no matter how powerful it may be.
Our security depends upon cooperation with others. Our very survival depends on our ability to cooperate – nowhere is this more evident than in the global ecological crisis. The atmosphere knows no boundaries. The oceans have no borders. They belong to all and affect all. Both are being changed and threatened now as never before and must be protected.
The UN is leading the way by hosting global climate conferences, and helped to negotiate the landmark UN Paris Climate Agreement of 2016.
Despite its limitations, the Paris agreement is an important step forward and signifies global recognition of the need for lowering emissions.
It is shameful that the United States has withdrawn from the agreement, I told the students. “The United States should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and become the world leader in saving the planet!”
That line got loud applause, which made me smile.
I also talked about UN efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and promote disarmament, recalling the UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1982 and the accompanying giant rally to freeze and reverse the nuclear arms race that brought a million people to New York’s Central Park on June 12 of that year.
We need renewed attention to disarmament now, I argued. The U.S. should work with Russia to fix the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, not walk away from it.
“This business of shredding nuclear agreements has got to stop,” I said. “We need more agreements not less, and we need to uphold the ones that we have.”
It was a wonderful event. To see so many idealistic young people studying global affairs and supporting calls for cooperative solutions to the world’s problems gave me hope for the future.