Spanning centuries, disciplines, and history—even that of the flush toilet—Serageldin gave a sober analysis of the threats to life facing the planet. He focused on three: climate change, hunger and health.
He challenged the prevailing view that climate scientists have been alarmist and said they have been conservative and modest in their analysis when we look at what is actually happening in places such as the Nile delta and glacier melt. He pointed out the irony and unfairness that those who suffer the most from climate change—the developing world—contributed to it the least.
Serageldin explained that the one of the reasons for increasing climate change scepticism was the exponential increase in the number of industry lobbyists in Washington, D.C.: ten times more than environmental ones.
On hunger, Serageldin defended the use of genetically-modified products and lamented the use of biofuels: “Switching to corn was a poor choice,” he said. “It is wrong to burn the food of the poor to power the cars of the rich.” Serageldin fears another spike in world food prices in the near future which could lead to the social unrest seen in 2008.
Addressing health issues, Serageldin called sanitation “one the best health investments in the world” although that did not necessarily mean that toilets have to be the water-borne type.
Serageldin outlined a range of reforms that, if pursued, provides the basis for a hopeful future. In the area of water, he maintained that an integrated approach to water resources management with regional water cooperation provided the best framework for reducing poverty. More generally, Serageldin called for strengthening the role of women, public education, behavioural change, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, the use of new technologies, and increased dialogue and cooperation. “I put my hopes on new technologies, young people, and new opportunities,” he said.
Serageldin pointed to the increase in political support for environmental causes after years of advocacy, including increasing numbers of people attending water-related forums. Drawing on inspiration from the civil rights movement, he pointed to Martin Luther King’s dream of 1963 and the election of an African-American president in 2008. “With Your help, it can be done”, he concluded.