by Joshua H. Liberatore
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense, plainly written, and superbly functional primer for the top global issues facing our planet’s stewards, J. F. Rischard’s High Noon (2003) is obligatory reading. For anyone who cares about the proximate future of humanity, that is. We rejoice that climate change and renewable energy have finally made it into the “national conversation” (i.e. the presidential campaigns), but High Noon reminds us that these hot topics cannot be separated from the thornier matrix of interconnected phenomena in which we all have a stake, like it or not, as both certain cause and potential victim. Rischard draws on his experience as a vice president at the World Bank to great benefit, but offers an analysis that is rational without being technocratic, informed without overwhelming the reader with statistics and jargon, and serious without inviting instant depression. Best of all, in addition to providing a succinct summary of the world’s most pressing concerns – familiar blockbusters like global warming and poverty, of course, but also more frequently ignored problems like the deterioration of global fish stocks – the general thrust of the book is both optimistic and pragmatic.
High Noon starts from the simple premise that given the “two big forces” of a population explosion on the one hand and “the new world economy” on the other, honest and sober problem-solvers face “unprecedented challenges” but also “unprecedented opportunities.” The latter claim deserves special emphasis; Rischard has obviously taken pains to ensure that his book does not contribute to a mere pile-on of strident complaints without offering plausible remedies. On the contrary, his analysis is armed with a specific and rational strategy for achieving novel and near-term solutions to the crisis points he identifies. And as a career public servant, Rischard is candid enough to recognize that government alone cannot solve these problems, but must form meaningful partnerships with private enterprises and nongovernmental organizations. His tripartite scheme of integrated, horizontally-structured Global Issues Networks tailored to meet each problem with expertise, broad representation, and imagination, is the most innovative approach on record. And if you have a chance to hear him speak, as I was lucky enough to do at an education conference in Bangkok, March 2007, you will find that Rischard is also an excellent presenter, who enjoys answering questions and engaging in high-level debate. In his book, he gives welcome credence to the input he has received from readers and audiences alike, a posture we are not accustomed to observing in every expert of his stature.