The global problems of climate change, population growth and severe poverty are so enormous that no one country can solve them alone, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said in one of the opening keynote addresses at a three-day student-organized conference on global poverty.
"We face enormous challenges that literally go to the survival of the planet," Edwards said, adding that the problems are "connected to each other, and connected to all the uncertainty, instability and danger in the world today.
"It is required, absolutely necessary, that we work in a cooperative, coordinated way," the former North Carolina senator added. "That's why we need visionary leadership."
Edwards was speaking at Kresge Auditorium at the Millennium Campus Conference, which brought together more than 1,400 students from around the country to discuss ways of fighting the problems of poverty in the world. The event was organized by MIT's Global Poverty Initiative, created just a year ago.
Specific things the nation should be doing to alleviate poverty, he said, include universal health care, an increase in the minimum wage, strengthening of the rights of unions, initiatives to help people build assets such as matching savings accounts, and better access to education. "Young people can play such a crucial role" in bringing about such changes, he said.
"We have to develop a political will to take action," he said. Asked by a student what the most important thing is that young people can do to help achieve these goals, he emphasized "advocacy, making your voice heard. Organize rallies, be part of the movement, support candidates" who are working to improve conditions.
At a news conference following his address, Edwards declined to comment when asked whether he supported Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. However, in his speech he signaled he had made some kind of decision on the matter, saying "I have a preference."
Edwards has urged all the remaining presidential candidates to create a new cabinet-level antipoverty position, he said, and both Clinton and Obama have agreed to the idea. Meanwhile, Edwards himself will continue to work with the new student group: Organizers announced that he has agreed to join the Global Poverty Initiative's board of advisors.
The other opening keynote was given by the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Henrietta Fore. She enthusiastically endorsed the new group's agenda, saying "you've launched a very promising endeavor. I consider this the beginning of a partnership."
USAID oversees a budget of almost $40 billion in development aid. "Economic growth is at the heart of any effort to alleviate global poverty," she said. "From the largest cities to the smallest farms, growth lifts families."
The student group, comprised of chapters on dozens of campuses, was formed to support the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include cutting world poverty in half by 2015. "America looks forward to the contributions you all will make," Fore told the students.