Toward TomorrowToward Tomorrow

The Common Agenda



Today, at an unprecedented pace, we in the United States are advancing the depletion and extinction of myriad species with which we share the planet. Through our occupation and destruction of habitats, our disposal of wastes, our contributions to climate change, and our global dissemination of toxics and invasive species, we threaten the diversity and integrity of our ecosystems.

fourwomenIn many parts of the world, failure to maintain and restore the health of ecosystems over the next generation not only threatens biodiversity but promises to deprive hundreds of millions of people of clean air, water, and healthy soil that are essential to human survival. In more industrialized countries such as the United States, loss of greenspace, environmental contaminants, and unhealthy individual behaviors accompany steep rises in rates of chronic diseases or conditions. These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, many cancers, and asthma.

Decisions by individuals contribute to environmental and human health problems, but higher level societal choices made by our governments, businesses and communities also play a critical role: choices about our sources and uses of energy; our food production systems; our transportation and building infrastructure; the chemicals in the products we buy; the kind of health care we deliver and pay for; the health and environmental policies we enact or fail to enact; the resources we devote to education; how we resolve problems with other nations.

long-term well-being for people and the planet

We have created these crises, and they are unfolding at a speed and level of intensity that has not been seen before. Yet, across the globe and in the United States, there are remarkable initiatives that do not deplete and destroy, but rather enhance health, protect the environment, and build prosperity. These are sustainable and just approaches to natural resource protection, production and consumption of materials, and reversing dangerous strife between peoples. They have succeeded because they take into account the interconnections between the health of people, ecosystems, and economies as well as the importance of just and equitable distribution of benefits and burdens. They demonstrate human ingenuity and commitment to long-term well-being for people and the planet, and they are fueling an emergence of a sense of responsibility as well as hope and opportunity.

However, these successful sustainability initiatives remain small in scale and disjointed. The world urgently needs thought and action to promote sustainability on a grand scale. It is this imperative that inspired our Common Agenda for Health and Environment: a statement of commitment to six ambitious cross-cutting Generational Goals—goals to be achieved within one generation—that will leave our children a healthy world full of hope and possibility.

Setting Generational Goals begins
with a statement of underlying principles

The most important principles that emerged from our process are:

  • We in the United States have a responsibility and an opportunity to move purposefully and boldly, understanding the interconnections between the well-being of the global environment, people, and fellow species.
  • Healthy people* and a healthy environment are achievable but require fundamental shifts in attitudes and practices.
  • Uncertainty about the science relevant to these topics is inherent, and while we must continue to advance understanding through science, we cannot allow uncertainty to prevent us from taking promising steps to reverse unintended consequences of past actions and to better anticipate and avoid problems in the future.
  • Racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in health status and environmental degradation are not acceptable.

We are confident that these principles, and the Generational Goals that flow from them, will resonate with many people. We encourage you to read on, paying attention to what moves you about this Common Agenda and which Generational Goals most inspire you. We ask you to consider how you might use the Common Agenda going forward—by finding new allies that haven’t yet engaged on these issues; convening discussions about local action steps that your community thinks will best advance the Generational Goals; advocating for a particular policy proposal, or in other ways we haven’t imagined. The essential purpose of the Common Agenda is to effect a shift in the way we tackle the environmental and health problems we have created, with the goal of leaving a safe, clean, healthy and peaceful
world for future generations. Welcome to the effort!


*As defined by the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.