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China’s pollution problem, everyone’s problem: Peggy Liu at TED2014

Originally posted on TED Blog:

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Peggy Liu. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“I am so happy to be here, because I can actually breathe the air,” says Peggy Liu, who lives in China, as she steps on the TED2014 stage. Her typical day begins not with checking the time, but by checking the air pollution levels on her phone to determine whether her children will need to wear face masks that day. In Brussels, Belgium, if the air quality index reaches 50, she says, traffic is stopped for the day. But in Shanghai, China, she says, it routinely goes to 500—the end of the scale—and beyond. 

“Pollution crosses borders. China’s problem is everyone’s problem,” says Liu. “What this means for all of us is that the decisions China makes in the next several years are going to affect the world for the next several thousand.”

China is urbanizing at an incredible pace. In 20 years, an estimated 350…

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“I was sitting in a slum outside Gurgaon just next to Delhi, one of the flashiest, brightest new cities popping up in India right now, and I was talking to workers who worked in garment sweatshops down the road, and I asked them what message they would like me to take to the brands. They didn’t say money. They said, “The people who employ us treat us like we are less than human, like we don’t exist. Please ask them to treat us like human beings.” That’s my simple understanding of human rights. That’s my simple proposition to you, my simple plea to every decision-maker in this room, everybody out there. We can all make a decision to come together and pick up the balls and run with the balls that governments have dropped. If we don’t do it, we’re abandoning hope, we’re abandoning our essential humanity, and I know that’s not a place we want to be, and we don’t have to be there. So I appeal to you. Join us, come into that safe space, and let’s start to make this happen.”

- Auret van Heerden


“Over 85 percent of abusers are men, and domestic abuse happens only in intimate, interdependent, long-term relationships, in other words, in families, the last place we would want or expect to find violence, which is one reason domestic abuse is so confusing.”

I was able to end my own crazy love story by breaking the silence. I’m still breaking the silence today. It’s my way of helping other victims, and it’s my final request of you. Talk about what you heard here. Abuse thrives only in silence. You have the power to end domestic violence simply by shining a spotlight on it. We victims need everyone. We need every one of you to understand the secrets of domestic violence. Show abuse the light of day by talking about it with your children, your coworkers, your friends and family. Recast survivors as wonderful, lovable people with full futures. Recognize the early signs of violence and conscientiously intervene, deescalate it, show victims a safe way out. Together we can make our beds, our dinner tables and our families the safe and peaceful oases they should be.

- Leslie Morgan Steiner

Successful innovation is not a single breakthrough. It is not a sprint. It is not an event for the solo runner. Successful innovation is a team sport, it’s a relay race. It requires one team for the breakthrough and another team to get the breakthrough accepted and adopted. And this takes the long-term steady courage of the day-in day-out struggle to educate, to persuade and to win acceptance. And that is the light that I want to shine on health and medicine today.”

- Quyen Nguyen

“Can we grow organs instead of transplanting them?” asks surgeon Anthony Atala. He demonstrates an early-stage experiment that could someday solve the organ-donor problem: a 3D printer that uses living cells to output a transplantable kidney. Using similar technology, Dr. Atala’s young patient Luke Massella received an engineered bladder 10 years ago; we meet him onstage.

In this talk, Dr. Alexandre Marchac shows how innovations in plastic and reconstructive surgery can make a difference in people’s life. Way to go Sacha! – I haven’t been that moved for ages.

“We live in the dusk of an era. Meta-narratives that make universal claims failed us in the 20th century and are failing us in the 21st. Meta-narrative is the cancer that is killing democracy from the inside. Now, I want to clarify something. I’m not here to make an indictment of democracy. On the contrary, I think democracy contributed to the rise of the West and the creation of the modern world. It is the universal claim that many Western elites are making about their political system, the hubris, that is at the heart of the West’s current ills. If they would spend just a little less time on trying to force their way onto others, and a little bit more on political reform at home, they might give their democracy a better chance. China’s political model will never supplant electoral democracy, because unlike the latter, it doesn’t pretend to be universal. It cannot be exported. But that is the point precisely. The significance of China’s example is not that it provides an alternative, but the demonstration that alternatives exist. Let us draw to a close this era of meta-narratives. Communism and democracy may both be laudable ideals, but the era of their dogmatic universalism is over. Let us stop telling people and our children there’s only one way to govern ourselves and a singular future towards which all societies must evolve. It is wrong. It is irresponsible. And worst of all, it is boring. Let universality make way for plurality. Perhaps a more interesting age is upon us. Are we brave enough to welcome it?”
- Eric X. Li

In this talk, Iwan Baan shows how communities all over the world, manage to adapt to their environment, come up with all sorts of solutions in response to their various needs, and create homes in an organic and intuitive way.

‘Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many of the great international architects, documenting their work and observing how their designs have the capacity to influence the cities in which they sit. [•••] But what I find really fascinating is what happens when architects and planners leave and these places become appropriated by people…’

‘In all these places I’ve talked about today, what I do find fascinating is that there’s really no such thing as normal, and it proves that people are able to adapt to any kind of situation.’

‘Today, you see these large residential development projects which offer cookie-cutter housing solutions to massive amounts of people. From China to Brazil, these projects attempt to provide as many houses as possible, but they’re completely generic and simply do not work as an answer to the individual needs of the people.’

- Iwan Baan.