Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Larry Brilliant: The World's 4 Major Problem Areas and Challenges

larry brilliant gave an invited lecture at berkeley yesterday. the title of the talk was the health of humanity. larry has done many amazing: he was a leader with the WHO's smallpox eradication program, founded the WELL online community, started Seva, an international health nonprofit, a TED prize winner, and now, the director of Google.org, the charitable-wing of google. an interesting, if somewhat dated, article about larry can be found here.

at the very beginning of his talk, larry gave the WHO's definition of health:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (Link)
it's a great definition and was really the launching point for larry's talk. (aside: first larry stated this definition, but when he restated it, he added "spirtual" to "physical, mental and social".. i thought that was interesting. in fact, he peppered his whole talk with mentions of the spirtual and religion. i didn't particularly care for this but it was clear that some sort of spirituality stokes him)

larry outlined what he thought the 4 major problems facing the world are:
  1. Global Warming
  2. Diseases of Animals
  3. Poverty and Injustice
  4. Religious and Sectarian Violence
and then he stated some thoughts on each.

before giving notes on what he said, i'll first say that larry ended his talk by saying that everyone in the audience, esp. berkeley students, should strive to work in one of these areas and really make a difference for the world. that resonated with me. i've been trying to learn a lot about various aspects of world development on the fronts outlined above and my next step is to figure out how i want and can contribute... but that's for another blog post.

Now the 4 topics:

1. Global Warming
Larry said at first he didn't think it was a problem up there with the rest of the world's major problems, but he has since reconsidered. he pointed out one scary thought which quickly showed the negative effects of global warming. the grameen bank, in bangladesh, has given out billions of dollars and helped millions of people out of poverty. it has been an amazing success story. however, as larry said, the bank and its successes are on a "collision course with global warming." bangladesh is not much above sea level, and as the water rises, the hopes and success of many might wash away.

2. Diseases of Animals: the overpopulation of protein providers
larry pointed out that about 35 years ago there were 15 million chickens in china. today, there are about 15 billion. the growth of the chicken population has dwarfed the human population growth. this has increased the liklihood of diseases jumping from animals to humans. in fact, most of our most deadly diseases have had this jumping characteristic, which is made easier because of our encroachment into all areas of the planet, and our international transportation networks which quickly move all kinds of animals and diseases around the world.

the key take away from this point, however, was how this problem was a problem for all of humanity, the poor, the middle class, the rich and the ultra-rich. larry spoke of a slide he uses in presentations that shows 200 emperors, empresses and kings and queens killed by awful pandemics of the past. "we're all in this together!"

3. Poverty and Injustice
honestly, i was less interested in what larry said on these points so my notes are less copious. i noted the oft-stated fact that about 3 billion people in this world live on less than US$2 a day (the bottom, or base, of the pyramid, as the group is often called). larry went on to say that this group used to love america back in kennedy's time, because in some ways america stood for what could be achieved, but now it's unlikely that much of this group loves america, given the current administration's policies. i don't recall being very interested in what he was saying here, or the strange logic he was following...

4. Religious and Sectarian Violence
larry spoke of a civilization that lived in historic afghanistan that actually praised all religions, and took great strides to make people of all faiths feel welcome. they had coins depicting gods from all kinds of religions, and were stewards of many religious icons (like the giant buddha statues that were recently destroyed by the taliban).

anyway, i think larry's point was that this is the kind of model we need today, and it's even worse that we don't have such an acceptance today because the damage fanatics can do today trivializes anything that could've been done thousands of years ago, or even hundreds of years ago. today it isn't too difficult to create awful diseases, or weapons of horrible destructive power. angry and bad decisions can have huge repercussions!

i'm hoping that they'll post larry's talk at the webcasts site soon.


twm said...

Wow! I can't really comment much on the content of your post right now, but all I can say is that school sounds like so much fun! Wish I was in school again!!

omar said...

hehehe i didn't say what i was doing in school right now! it's the end of the semester, random projects, running about with all kinds of things to do, most of which will just disappear into nothingness once they are submitted.

ah school :)

what's weird is that i was just looking at your blog when you commented!

twm said...

haha! i know! weird!

but about school - i think that's the charm of school - all this randomness results in learnedness! wow!