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Choose wisely, for the sake of mankind


Recently I watched a clip from the 1940 classic film “The Great Dictator.” The short video portrays a brute played by Charlie Chaplin who, shocked by his own thoughts, takes the podium to renounce his throne, calling for people around the world to unite for preservation of humanity.

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed,” warns the protagonist. The speech is accompanied by brief clips that portray the horrors of environmental damage, poverty and war, juxtaposed with images of kindness and compassion.

This video, entitled “The Greatest Speech Ever Made” has received over seven million views on YouTube. Its original message should be regarded within the historical context of its time, but its recent popularity underscores an important discovery: People around the world are recognizing the need to rethink the way we live.

Many of us are graduating this May, and many more will continue their education at the University. But what we share in common is the pursuit of our dreams and our interests. There is no better time for our aspirations than now. Our generation is unlike any of its predecessors: We have been bestowed with opportunities unimaginable even a decade ago — opportunities for creative thought, for discovery, for connecting with individuals and sharing ideas all across our unique planet. Never before have the diversity and the beauty of this world been so apparent and so accessible to so many.

But despite our potential, we must also think critically about the future that we are facing. As our lives became more global, so have our problems. The issues that you have no doubt heard of before are not simply fodder for headlines and political speeches. They constitute nothing less than the greatest challenge of our time. Yet it is within the reach of our generation to tackle these problems, and we have a responsibility to do so. These issues are no longer a possibility of a comfortably distant future. They are our reality.

A 1972 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, supported by recent research, reports that we set a course so unsustainable that the current levels of resource depletion are going to cause a global economic collapse of an unprecedented scale. This cataclysmic event would be paired with a precipitous population decline accounting for millions of lives lost. According to researchers, we can expect this to occur by 2030 — less than two decades from today.

At present, we live in a world plagued by unfathomably prevalent misery. The earth is home to hundreds of millions of people facing hunger, where 16,000 children die every day due to the lack of sustenance, where 1.5 billion people live in extreme poverty. Here at the University, we are endowed with unbelievable opportunities. Most of the people elsewhere in the world are not.

We are living in an unprecedented epoch defined by one creature, the human being, which is so dominant that it can alter our planet on a geological scale. Over 26 billion tons of carbon dioxide are emitted in the atmosphere every year. The retreat of the Arctic Sea ice, the warming of the oceans, the rapid shrinking of glaciers, the accelerating loss and redistribution of species are some of the most perceptible results of our failed stewardship of the earth. Climate change is no longer a theory, it is a process that has been set in motion and is becoming more difficult to stop with every passing moment.

There are over 24,000 nuclear weapons around the world. If a single nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima took away the lives of some 90,000 people and an average nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal is approximately eight times more powerful than that, it is not difficult to imagine the magnitude of a nuclear disaster we may be facing one day.

These are only some of the imminent issues that surround us now: This list is not exhaustive, but rather constantly growing. It demands our immediate attention.

However, my goal in this address is not to elicit despair. Instead, it is to call for a response. In truth, most of this has been unknown to me until I began my university education. It is not possible to have an interest in an issue until you become both familiar and invested in the problem. I ask you to care, to begin learning about what is happening to our planet if you have yet to do so, and to continue your pursuit of knowledge if you have already stepped on this path. It is not until we are aware of the dangers we are facing and wise enough to recognize their consequences that we will be able to develop solutions.

Complacency is unacceptable. Resignation cannot be tolerated. We must recognize that our choices, large and small, do in fact matter. It might not be apparent at first, yet it is the decisions — not solely the decisions of abstract and distant governments or corporations, but the decisions of real individuals — made in the past that brought us here. The decisions we make today, mine as well as yours, will define our future. When aggregated, these are the decisions that have that magnificent world-changing potential.

What we choose to consume, what cars we choose to drive, what books we choose to read, what representatives we choose to elect, what thoughts we choose to have, what words we choose to speak — these are the choices that matter like never before. I am asking you to choose wisely, because our common destiny depends on this choice.

I will graduate from Rutgers in only a few weeks, and I hope to dedicate my life to international public service. I plan to work on achieving progress in resolution of some of these issues. Join me in this pursuit in your own way. Collectively and individually, we have the power to shape our global future.

I would like to thank Matt D’Elia and John Malchow for their help with this letter. I could not ask for friends more genius than you.

Dmitry Zhdankin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and political science.

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