Former President Barack Obama addressed the Goalkeepers gathering in New York City on Wednesday and shared the message of relentless optimism for tackling big world problems that is championed by the event’s hosts, Bill and Melinda Gates.
In opening remarks about climate change, Obama said that despite the fact that the federal government is currently not as engaged as he’d like in working to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S., progress continues because of people like Bill Gates and a host of entrepreneurs and universities and cities and states.
“You tend to believe that when Bill says we can do something, we can do it,” Obama said. “And when all of you stand up and say, ‘This is something we can do,’ that spirit is infectious. And it’s exactly what we need right now.”
Obama holds true to the belief that by just about any measure, America and the world are better than they were 50 or 30 or even 10 years ago, despite the steady stream of bad news that people are fed from television and Twitter. It’s a belief that Gates himself shared in a blog post on Monday.
Obama admitted that seeing today’s attempts to undo the hard work of achieving universal health care in the U.S. is “aggravating” and it’s “frustrating” to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep leaders from inflicting what he called real human suffering on constituents.
“But typically that’s how progress is won and how progress is maintained on every issue,” Obama said. “We have to stand up for each other, recognize that progress is never inevitable, that it often can be fragile, it’s in need of constant renewal, and our individual progress and our collective progress depends on our willingness to roll up our sleeves and work.”
After his prepared remarks, Obama sat with the Gateses for a question and answer session.
Bill Gates asked Obama how to get the word out on progress, and to let people know that much is being achieved despite setbacks in whatever field being the thing that often makes news.
“Look, you’re talking to somebody who for seven years tried to get the word out that things were going pretty good … at least about 40 percent of the country didn’t believe me,” Obama said to laughter. “Until I was gone and then suddenly they believed it and said, ‘Things are great.'”
Obama said that people often get frustrated that change is not as impactful or immediate as they had pictured it in their minds, and he referenced the Microsoft co-founder’s previous life.
‘I assume occasionally there was a bug in the software, Bill,” Obama said. “‘Every once in a while, ‘Ahh! We gotta patch it again? This is annoying.'”
“I wasn’t known for my patience,” Gates said to audience laughter.
The Goalkeepers conference is aimed at calling attention to “17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development” that were agreed to by 193 world leaders in September 2015.
If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Our governments have a plan to save our planet…it’s our job to make sure they stick to it. The Global Goals are only going to work if we fight for them and you can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what they are. We believe the Goals are only going to be completed if we can make them famous.