People in the U.S. and the world are facing an enormous challenge unlike any other in history, says Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned economist and special advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General, who will speak at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, Virginia, on Thursday.

It is a challenge of sustainability, and the well-being of the world is at stake. 

“By virtue of this massive world economy, we are destroying nature at a such an alarming rate (and) we are putting ourselves and the world at incredible peril,” Sachs recently said in a January interview with The Openist podcast.

“I believe sustainable development is the most important agenda for the world today — it means our economies are not only rich, but fair and environmentally sustainable,” Sachs said. “We have so much wealth in the world today, and so much technology, but the big winnings are going to the top, people are suffering, and we are destroying our environment at the same time — so what’s the good of all of this wealth if it isn’t leading to well-being?”

The answer lies in understanding the danger and developing clear objectives to enhance the American people and the world, according to Sachs, who will discuss his work at the research institute’s Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. 

His free public presentation, “Achieving Sustainable Development in the United States and throughout the World,” will take place at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke, Virginia.

“Dr. Sachs is a passionate leader who champions new ideas to improve the health and well-being of people around the world,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s Vice President for Health Affairs. “He has been the special advisor to the three top leaders of the United Nations of this century, and his work on ending poverty, promoting economic growth, and fighting hunger and disease has taken him to more than 125 countries.

“The research institute, through the gift of longtime area resident Maury Strauss, is privileged to provide area residents and the Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic community with access to brilliant, thought-provoking people such as Dr. Sachs,” Friedlander said. “This will be a talk that no one will soon forget.”

Sachs is widely recognized for bold strategies to address complex challenges including debt crises, hyperinflations, the transition from central planning to market economies, the control of AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, the escape from extreme poverty, and the battle against human-induced climate change. 

He directs the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is a commissioner of the U.N. Broadband Commission for Development, and is a Sustainable Development Goals Advocate for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

From 2001 to 2018, Sachs served as Special Advisor to the U.N. Secretary General, including Kofi Annan from 2001 to 2007, Ban Ki-moon from 2008 to 2016, and Guterres from 2017 to 2018.

Sachs was the co-recipient of the 2015 Blue Planet Prize, the leading global prize for environmental leadership. He was twice named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders and has received 28 honorary degrees.  

The New York Times called Sachs “probably the most important economist in the world,” and Time magazine called Sachs “the world’s best-known economist.” A survey by The Economist ranked Sachs as among the three most influential living economists.

Sachs is a University Professor at Columbia University, the university’s highest academic rank. He serves as the director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and was director of the Earth Institute from 2002 to 2016. 

He has authored and edited numerous books, including three New York Times bestsellers, "The End of Poverty," "Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet," and "The Price of Civilization." Other books include "To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace," "The Age of Sustainable Development," "Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair & Sustainable," and most recently "A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism."

For more than 30 years, Sachs has advised dozens of heads of state and governments on economic strategy, in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He was among the outside advisors to Pope John Paul II on the encyclical "Centesimus Annus" and in recent years has worked closely with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on the issues of sustainable development, especially in the context of Pope Francis’ encyclical "Laudato Si" on environment and human ecology.

Prior to joining Columbia, Sachs spent more than 20 years as a professor at Harvard University, most recently as the Galen L. Stone Professor of International Trade. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Sachs received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at Harvard University.

The lecture will also be webcast on the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute website.

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