As Crises Loom Former President Clinton Highlights Dangers of Inaction

May 4, 2007
Robert O'Neill

The world is faced with enormous challenges– ranging from climate change to epidemics to the failure of health care systems – but not enough is being done to address them, former President Bill Clinton told attendees at a Kennedy School conference on looming crises.

Clinton was the keynote speaker for a weekend conference, titled “The Looming Crises: Can We Act in Time?”

The Acting in Time Initiative, launched by Dean David T. Ellwood, aims to study why certain important public problems are not addressed even when the consequences of inaction will likely be disastrous. The interdisciplinary approach is designed to help explain the lack of action and to foster ideas to move solutions forward.

The two-day conference will include projects studied as part of the initiative: real-time response to large-scale natural disasters; the structural challenges presented by distant risks, like global warming; efforts to end pandemics that threaten public health in developing countries; and the looming crisis in long-term health care.

President Festus Mogae will address the conference Saturday.

Clinton discussed a host of major problems that are being in large part ignored, such as possible future energy crises, an epidemic of obesity and the problem of nuclear proliferation. He also discussed booming population growth and problems with the productivity of agricultural land.

“When you put climate change in there, it’s a powerful mix,” Clinton told the hundreds of attendees.
In suggesting how leaders could address these problems Clinton highlighted the importance of cooperation and even only incremental progress when substantial progress was not possible.

“In dealing with emergencies, politics should never be substituted for competence,” Clinton said. He also advised never to “let your political ideology obscure the evidence.”

“Don’t confuse the uncertainty of near-term adverse developments with the certainty of long term disaster,” he concluded.

He said that in most cases, there was even widespread agreement on how to confront these problems.
“Its just a matter of figuring out how we can get governments to act,” he said.

Read the Harvard University Gazette story about the conference and research initiative -
Heading Disaster Off at the Pass

Photo: Martha Stewart

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Former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at Kennedy School conference, “The Looming Crises: Can We Act in Time?”