April 2008 RI President Wilf's Message

April 2008 - The Challenges Before Us

Dear fellow Rotarians,

Rotary is uniquely privileged to be a well-established, religiously and politically neutral organization with no governmental ties or obligations. We are known and respected as a group of men and women who simply come to help – by bringing clean water and food, teaching literacy and numeracy, providing assistance after a disaster, ending polio.

When there is a need, a crisis, or an emergency, Rotary is there. We know that, as Rotarians, part of our role in any crisis is to bring people together, rather than drive them apart. It is our role and also our responsibility.

Today, we are faced globally with a new crisis: the changing environment and the changing climate. It’s a frightening situation that will affect everyone but will hurt the poor and the weak far more than the wealthy and the strong. The days of wondering and considering and hoping are at an end, as it has become ever clearer that we are on a course that can be slowed but not stopped.

This past summer, the Arctic ice cap melted at a pace that exceeded even the most pessimistic expectations. The rate of melting and warming is accelerating in what seems to be a cycle of ever-increasing speed, and we cannot pretend that it will not affect us. It already has. In the American West, water is becoming more and more scarce as less snow falls every winter to refill lakes and streams.

From my window in Evanston, I can see Lake Michigan, whose water level, like the other Great Lakes, is near or already at a record low. And as the supply of fresh water diminishes, the sea levels are rising, putting low-lying nations – many of them poor and developing – at increasing risk.

We know that in the years and decades to come, there will be crises, and there will be challenges. Will we let them drive us apart, or will we use them to bring us together? Will we be fragmented, or will we come together to address the universal needs of all people? Will we choose to address the desires of the rich over the needs of the poor, or will we do what is best for everyone on our planet?

The greatest challenges lie before us, now and in the years to come.

Wilfrid J. (Wilf) Wilkinson
President, Rotary International

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