Brokaw Calls for 'Economic Justice,' 'Mother Earth Taken Turn for the Worse'

During his Saturday, May 16, commencement speech at Fordham University, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw fretted that the "vital signs" of "Mother Earth" have "taken a turn for the worse," as he cited global warming as a problem this year's graduating class would need to help solve. He also used the term "economic justice," a term commonly invoked by the Left, as he called on graduates to "restore economic justice." Brokaw: "We need you to celebrate one another in a common cause of restoring economic justice and true value, advancing racial and religious tolerance, creating a healthier planet."

Early in his speech, Brokaw referred to the current economic problems that largely originated in the financial sector as he argued that "the economic model that has defined your lives was, in too many ways, a house of cards," and referred to "greed and avarice" in that sector, before he more optimistically praised America as a relatively more prosperous place than the rest of the world. Brokaw: "America remains a land of unparalleled economic opportunities with a standard of living that even in these constricted circumstances is well beyond the hope of hundreds of millions in less developed countries."

Update: Brokaw also spoke at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on May 17, and made similar comments.

After referring to national security threats such as nuclear proliferation, he moved to environmental and population growth concerns:

The vital signs of your mother – Mother Earth – have taken a turn for the worse and the prescribed treatment is complex and controversial. How we fuel our vast appetite for energy – for consumer, industrial and technological  electrical power, for vehicular power – without exacerbating global climate change is an urgent question for your time. In short, how we live on a smaller planet with many more people is a reality that will define your generation for the rest of your lives.

After pointing out that technology and the Internet will be useful tools for today's young people to work on the world's problems, he mentioned global warming again and made a brief reference to "making society more just," similar to the liberal term of "social justice" or "economic justice." Brokaw: "You’ll not solve global warming by hitting the delete button; you’ll not eliminate reckless avarice by hitting backspace; you’ll not make society more just by cutting and pasting."

As the former NBC News anchor neared the end of his speech, he called on the class to work toward "economic justice": "Most of all, remember this – you cannot get through this world alone. You need each other – and we need you to celebrate one another in a common cause of restoring economic justice and true value, advancing racial and religious tolerance, creating a healthier planet."

The complete text of Brokaw's May 16 speech at Fordham University can be found here. Portions of the speech appear below:

You are leaving this sanctuary of learning and innocence in a season of uncertainty and anxiety. Daily there are painful reminders that the economic model that has defined your lives was, in too many ways, a house of cards. Indeed, it is a shambles that will not be easily repaired, and even then, it will have a far different shape and evoke far different expectations.

We did, on too many occasions, lose our way and allowed greed and excess to become the twin pillars of too much of the financial culture. We became a society utterly absorbed in consumption and dismissive of moderation. A friend, a very successful businessman who nonetheless lives a temperate life, says appropriately we have to replace want with need. It’s not what we want that should rule our lives but what we need. And, it goes without saying, what we can afford.
  
Something fundamental has happened and there will be long term consequences when it comes to risk and debt and economic assumptions. That does not mean, however, that you will be consigned to a life of deprivation and struggle. America remains a land of unparalleled economic opportunities with a standard of living that even in these constricted circumstances is well beyond the hope of hundreds of millions in less developed countries.
 
It is not a perfect world well beyond the economic conditions, of course. America remains engaged in two wars with no tidy end in sight. Rogue nations with nuclear arms, or the potential for acquiring them, show no signs of good behavior. The vital signs of your mother – Mother Earth – have taken a turn for the worse and the prescribed treatment is complex and controversial.

How we fuel our vast appetite for energy – for consumer, industrial and technological  electrical power, for vehicular power –
without exacerbating global climate change is an urgent question for your time. In short, how we live on a smaller planet with many more people is a reality that will define your generation for the rest of your lives.

...

You’ll not solve global warming by hitting the delete button; you’ll not eliminate reckless avarice by hitting backspace; you’ll not make society more just by cutting and pasting. And do not surrender the essence of the human experience to 146 characters on a Twitter or a Facebook, however seductive the temptation.

...

In so many ways, President Obama is a child of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who when he was just a few years older than you began a historic moral crusade again racial injustice armed with eloquence and passion, courage and conviction. He moved this nation and liberated it, black and white and all colors, from the unconscionable weight of segregation. Somehow he managed without a cell phone or lap top, without a cell phone or web site, without a Facebook or MySpace.

In 1989 a lone and still anonymous Chinese student stood unarmed in front of a Chinese tank and gave the world an enduring image of  the determination of China’s young to change their nation. He didn’t text message the tank or share a YouTube. He put his feet on the ground and his life on the line.

In my travels in this country and abroad, to the inner cities and rural backwaters, to the worst neighborhoods in the most impoverished countries, to war zones and sites of natural disasters the most impressive people I meet are not the governors, and with all due respect, not the mayors, the warlords and prime ministers, the generals and ambassadors.

The people I remember are the idealistic young, the courageous and gifted members of your age group who are the foot soldiers in the long march to ease human suffering. They put their boots on the ground and their hands in the dirt; they spend their nights in scary places and they are never more alive than when they are doing this work not for riches or personal glory but because it is the right thing to do.
 
Those kinds of commitments need not consume your life but they will enrich it if you make a conscientious effort to dedicate some of your time on this precious planet to helping your fellow men and women who are not as fortunate.

...

Most of all, remember this – you cannot get through this world alone. You need each other – and we need you to celebrate one another in a common cause of restoring economic justice and true value, advancing racial and religious tolerance, creating a healthier planet. No remarks of mine or parental advice will be adequate substitute for your own determination and commitment to excellence. We’re not your GPS system; at best, as commentators and parents, we’re merely road signs. You must find your own way and I have little doubt you will.

On these occasions in the past I have said, “It’s easy to make a buck; it’s tough to make a difference.” Then a parent suggested a re-wording: “It’s tough to make a buck but if you make a lot of bucks, you can make a real difference.” So for a time I offered both observations as a final word.

This year and these times required still another revision: “It is a lot tougher to make a make a buck these days, but making a difference has its own rich reward.” So go forth from here and make sure that all the riches that you accumulate are rewarding to your heart and mind and to your fellow men and fellow women. I wish you good luck and Godspeed and thank you all very much.