World Water Day
by Rene Wadlow
The United Nations General Assembly has designated 22 March each year as World Water Day to highlight the universal need for water. In addition the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN, in Goal six calls “to strengthen support for national plans to achieve water and sanitation for all, and make sure resources are allocated in a transparent manner, and that services get to the poor and marginalized. Water, sanitation and hygienic policies should be integrated with other sectors, such as health and education.”
There are three dimensions to a world water policy:
1) Universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and adequate sanitation. This is particularly important in urban areas where now more than half of the world's population lives;
2) Adequate water for agricultural irrigation. This requires sustainable extraction and supply of fresh water, the protection of river and lake ecosystems, and sustainable use of underground aquifers that provide water.
3) The management of trans-frontier river systems. Many of the major river systems of the world are use by more than one State. If there is not good cooperation among the States using a river system, political disputes may arise. The world “rival” comes from a Latin term meaning “one on the opposite side of a stream” or “one who uses the same stream”. The possibilities of conflict over river systems or the creation of dams to control water flow are real. Thus the management of trans-frontier river systems should be a priority.
The world is desperately in need of a set of shared global values − common purposes grounded in ethical principles of justice and stewardship. As Citizens of the World, we have a unique opportunity to help define these values and priorities. The ecologically-sound use of water is such a common purpose on which we rededicate ourselves on World Water Day.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens
Environment and Climate Change: Building on the Momentum of the Paris Agreement
The Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Twenty-first session (COP21) came to an end in Paris, Saturday afternoon, 12 December 2015, a day longer than planned to allow for last moment compromises and an agreement with a few States, mainly Saudi Arabia and Venezuela so that they would not block a consensus agreement. All 195 States plus the European Union had to agree. A treaty is not something that can be created by a majority vote as can be done in a UN General Assembly resolution. On 22 April 2016, there will be a high-level signature ceremony. The Treaty must be ratified by 55 States and will come into force in 2020.
The Treaty arising from the COP 21 will replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new Treaty is relatively short and clear. However, it is the “Preamble” of 140 paragraphs – not legally binding but where all the analysis and aims are set out – that caused difficulties to reach consensus among States with diverse interpretations of “national interest”, of short and longer-range perspectives, and of differing access to national expertise.
The preamble has been under negotiations for the past two years. Although most points had been agreed upon well before the Paris start, some crucial aspects had to be negotiated during the two-week session among both heads of government who came at the start and teams of negotiators, often with a Foreign Minister present, during the rest of the time.
Although it was decided that there would be no mention of migration-refugee flows − not even of “climate refugees” nor of terrorism − the 13 November terrorist shootings in Paris required very tight security from the French police outside the conference center and from UN guards inside the building. Fear was a widely-spread emotion reflected in the first round of 6 December voting to the French regional assemblies. The National Front, a far-right, xenophobic party, received a larger-number-than-usual votes. Fortunately, in the 13 December, second round of voting, the National Front was defeated and will lead no regional assembly. Although delegates to UN meetings come with instructions from their government, all feel the atmosphere of the place in which they are meeting.
The Paris agreement can be an important step toward a great transformation towards a sustainable world society, especially when seen in the framework of the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals recently agreed upon by these same States. The effectiveness of the steps toward transformation will depend for an important part upon non-governmental efforts at the local and national level.
As could be expected, the agreement is a framework for “country-driven strategies” − not a UN-imposed plan of action. “Common but differentiated responsibilities” is the key concept, with “differentiated” being the key word. The emphasis is on “nationally-determined contributions”. However, after 2020, this “pledge” mechanism will have an international review mechanism to see to what extent the national “pledges” have been met and if the world situation requires new measures.
An important aspect of this review process is the emphasis on transparency so that there can be adequate monitoring and verification of emission reductions. This emphasis on transparency and public access to information gives legitimacy to strong NGO monitoring of climate change processes and NGO proposals for improvements. In addition, the Paris preamble recognized that there are many stakeholders in climate change issues beyond governments: the corporate sector, cities, and academic institutions all have important parts to play.
More than in the past, attention was placed on eco-systems rather than on just one factor at a time, such as forests and the dangers of deforestation. An eco-system approach requires looking at forests, soil and water protection, housing, transportation, technology and capacity-building for those working on climate and environmental issues.
The Paris COP 21 has been important in awareness-building and in providing encouragement to cooperation among UN agencies, national governments and NGOs. Our role as NGO representatives is to build on this positive momentum, to increase our expertise and to network more closely with groups in the most vulnerable zones. Paris was an example of dedication and foresight among all the actors. The road ahead to a sustainable world society with green technology may still be long, but the directions is set.
* Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens
Maurice Strong (29 Apr 1929 – 29 Nov 2015) – The UN Voice for Environmental Action
Rene Wadlow –
Just on the eve of the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) and the coming discussions on climate change and a sustainable world society, Maurice Strong died on 29 November 2015. Strong more than any other person in the United Nations system had been the driving force to put action on the environment on the “world agenda” for both government and non-governmental action. For Strong, to protect the Earth’s environment, its biodiversity and life-support system was a cause for cooperative action to transform society, a cause to which government and business leaders could rise above lesser concerns and act together to protect the planet.
In practice, but not in theory, there is only one major topic on the “world agenda” per decade. Thus for the 1960s, after the independence and entry into the UN of the African states, the terms of trade between developed and less developed countries was the issue on the world agenda. This concern was manifested in 1964 by the first UN Conference on Trade and Development, followed by the creation of a large UNCTAD secretariat in the UN to help developing countries on conditions of trade, prices of raw materials and the transfer of technology. These are still important issues but have become ‘routine’ and do not hold center stage. Trade and development may not have been central on everyone’s mind during the 1960s. I recall chatting with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in the halls of the Palais des Nations during the first UNCTAD when he was the Minister of Commerce of Cuba. While recognizing the importance of trade, he probably had other aims in mind.
The Honourable Maurice F. Strong, P.C., O.C., LL.D.
The 1970s was the decade of ecology, intellectually highlighted by Rene Dubos’ Only One Earth. (1)
The 1980s world agenda item was East-West nuclear policies in Europe, the end of the Berlin Wall and of Soviet power.
The 1990s focused on the violent rise of ethnic-based separatist movements, basically the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union — the nature and future of such movements, an agenda item which has carried over in the long 2000-2015 Decade in which ethnicity has combined with religious motivations.
Before a topic becomes the focus of the world agenda, there is a good deal of intellectual preparation needed, usually first outside of governments. During the 1960s, the framework of the ecological challenges was being put into place by a number of authors and the development of specialized non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was first published in the New Yorker in 1960 and as a book in 1962. The book focused on the impact of pesticides, especially DDT. Silent Spring brought to wide public attention a rich history of US writers and their efforts to build awareness of the need to develop harmony between humans and nature. There has been a strong ethical dimension to ecological thought in the US as seen in the writing of Aldo Leopold (1886-1948.) (2)
Kenneth Boulding, a Quaker, economist and peace researcher starting writing what is now called “ecological economics”. Boulding along with Buckminster Fuller and Barbara Ward developed the concept of ‘Spaceship Earth’ . Boulding stressed the need to modify education in light of the ecological realities. He wrote, “It is obvious today that we can no longer think in terms of single static entities — but only in terms of dynamic changing processes and series of interacting events. The content of our education requires restructuring into new understandable wholes that it may be imparted, even at the primary levels, in terms of whole systems. Thus the principal task of education in this day is to convey from one generation to the next, a rich image of the total earth, that is, the idea of the earth as a total system…What formal education has to do is to produce people who are fit to be inhabitants of the planet. This has become an urgent necessity because for the first time in human history we have reached the boundaries of our planet and found that it is a small one at that. This generation of young people have to be prepared to live in a very small and crowed spaceship. Otherwise they are going to get a terrible shock when they grow up and discover that we have taught them how to live in a world long gone. The nightmare of the educator is what Veblen called ‘trained incapacity’ and we have to be constantly on the watch that this does not become one of our main products.” (3)
The first step to having an impact on the UN conference was to draft a statement setting out in broad terms the challenges faced and some of the steps to be taken. The statement had to be drafted and signed by individuals who had some expertise in the ecology field which was then a relatively new field and largely related to biology and the study of wildlife. Six environmental scientists were gathered by Dai Dong at Menton, France, a summer resort, in May 1970. The Menton text is called “A Message to our 3.5 billion neighbors on Planet Earth.” Although we have now seven billion neighbors, the text is still worth reading. It was published in the UNESCO periodical Courier and co-signed by over two thousand biologists and others whose name carried weight on such issues such as Thor Heyerdahl and Margaret Mead.
Dai Dong representatives met a year later in May 1971 with UN Secretary-General U Thant, a Burmese Buddhist sensitive to the same vision of a delicate equilibrium between humans and nature.
The UN secretariat started its efforts for the Stockholm conference in Geneva in the Palais Wilson, the original League of Nations headquarters just across the street from my office in the Graduate Institute of Development Studies. Thus I often talked with the UN staff which would eat in our building since we had a cafeteria, and they did not. The head of the preparatory secretariat was Maurice Strong who became the Secretary General of the Conference itself. Strong was a Canadian who made a great deal of money early in his business life dealing with oil fields in Canada, and thus could spend the rest of his life in UN-related activities, not as a volunteer but paid much less than as head of a corporation. Strong was an intense, self-motivated person and the people who worked with him were driven by the same energy. There are, no doubt, people who did not appreciate Strong, but they faded from the scene, and those who were left with him would not be surprised to see Strong walking across Lake Geneva.
Since Strong came from the business world and not from the regular governmental diplomatic service, he had the respect for government representatives that is needed but not much more. Rather he has a high regard for ‘the people’ — at least those organized in non-governmental organizations and who are willing to try out new ideas and new methods of work. Thus, in Geneva, there was a group of us, UN Secretariat, university teachers and NGO representatives united by the desire to place ecological issues at the center of the ‘world agenda’ despite a rather timid response from national governments.
It was natural for Strong and his team to reach out to Alfred Hassler and the Dai Dong effort. Thus began what has become an institution with UN conferences: a parallel conference held a few days earlier in the same city with representatives of NGOs — now called ‘civil society ‘ — who write a statement of what governments should say if they had the intelligence and courage of NGOs. Now, the NGOs work on their statement and alternative plan of action for many months in advance. A good example is the statement and alternative plan of action developed for the Beijing conference on the Status of Women (1995).
In 1972, however, the process had not yet been so set out, and Hassler and Dai Dong organized a first parallel conference in Stockholm of 31 people. Dai Dong had already prepared the statement and as is often the case in such efforts, people unrelated to the original drafting process can object to certain paragraphs but can rarely propose new ideas. Thus at the Dai Dong- sponsored independent conference, the conflicts predictably arose over population issues. At all international meetings going back to the League of Nations debates, when population questions are mentioned, there are those who suspect family planning as being a way to limit the number of the poor (usually seen as being of a different color or ethnicity than the rest) or as a way of promoting teenage sex. Thus, ten persons among the 31 attending the Dai Dong conference wanted to take some distance from the short paragraph on population without presenting any alternative to unrestrained population growth.
Once the Dai Dong statement written, Alfred Hassler read the text to the governments assembled in the UN conference. In many ways, the Dai Dong “Independent Declaration on the Environment” is well worth the text of the governments — largely drafted by the UN Secretariat since expertise among government representatives was generally at a low level.
The 1972 Stockholm Conference led to the creation within many governments of a ‘Ministry of the Ecology’ or a sub-section of an existing ministry. The United Nations created the UN Environment Program (UNEP) of which Maurice Strong was the first Director.
Basically, Dai Dong’s work finished with the 1972 Stockholm conference. Ecology with a broad poverty-reduction, social justice, harmony with nature focus was on the world agenda. Strong, influenced by the idea of the importance of the ‘Third World’ pushed to have the UNEP headquarters in Kenya. However, Kenya had no other UN Specialized Agencies and so there was little informal cooperation with other UN Agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labour Office or the World Bank.
After his retirement from UNEP, Strong continued to be a strong voice for ecological action. He was asked by the UN to be Secretary General of the Rio Conference on 1992, often called the “Earth Summit” which started to popularize the idea of sustainable development. Maurice Strong is in many ways the model of the world citizen, deeply rooted in his Canadian experience and open to the world, an active agent at the world level for ecologically-sound development.
(1) Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos. Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet (New York: W.W.Norton, 1972)
(2) See: Victor B. Scheffer. The Shaping of Environmentalism in America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991). Robert C. Paehlke. Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
(3) For a good overview of Kenneth Boulding’s many interests and activities see Cynthia E. Kerman. Creative Tension: The Life and Thought of Kenneth Boulding (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, ) See Kenneth Boulding and Henry Clark. Human Values on the Spaceship Earth (New York: National Council of Churches, 1966). For others using the spaceship image see: Barbara Ward Spaceship Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966). Buckminster Fuller. An Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (New York: Pocket Books, 1970)
René Wadlow, is president and a U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives. .
Impact of Global Climate Change:
World Citizens Prepare for 2015 Paris Climate Conference
The government officials are meeting after the 21 September marches and activities of civil society and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which highlighted the need for action to defend the ecological dimensions of the planet.
Citizens of the World affirm that cooperation is an absolute necessity for the next steps in human evolution. People throughout the world are increasingly realizing that each of us is inter-connected with every other person through the air we breath and the systems of water and life in all its forms.
Citizens of the World believe that it is through our daily choices of action that we move towards what we envisage as a desirable tomorrow. Therefore, we need to develop ideas and values which promote cooperation to protect the planet. We are weaving a deeper and broader relationship with Mother Earth. This great work is going steadily forward, and our daily actions are steps on the path to a better world in love and trust.
As Citizens of the Wold, we point out that a great challenge of our time is to build and nurture ecologically-sound communities − social, cultural, and physical environments in which we can fulfill our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations. An ecologically-sound community is designed in such a way that its businesses, economy, physical structures and technologies do not interfere with Nature's ability to sustain life.
In the coming months, NGOs in consultative status with the UN must prepare their position papers and proposals for the Paris meeting. However, governments develop their positions at least six months prior to such world conferences. Thus as World Citizens we must develop by early January 2015 policy proposals which we can present to national governments which are preparing their national policies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the chief institution for the preparation of policy proposals for intergovernmental conferences. However, for such a conference on climate and environmental issues, other ministries are involved: agriculture, environment etc. Thus it is useful to see which ministries can be involved so that we may send policy statements to each ministry involved in the preparations.
These are important tasks for World Citizens, and I am sure that many will wish to be deeply involved.
Mr. Ying-chi Ngan
Representative to the United N
|World Environment Day: A World of Great Togetherness Which We Must Protect Together
by Rene Wadlow
5 June has been designated by the UN General Assembly as "World Environment Day" with a focus this year on climate change in preparation for the climate conference to be held in Paris at the end of the year.In practice, but not in theory, there is only one major topic on the "world agenda" per decade. Thus for the 1960s, after the independence and entry into the UN of the African states, the terms of trade between developed and less developed countries was the issue on the world agenda. This concern was manifested in 1964 by the first UN Conference on Trade and Development, (UNCTAD) followed by the creation of a large UNCTAD secretariat in the UN to help developing countries on conditions of trade, prices of raw materials and the transfer of technology. These are still important issues but they have become 'routine' and do not hold centre stage. Trade and development may not have been central on everyone's mind during the 1960s. I recall chatting with Ernesto 'Che' Guevara in the halls of the Palais des Nations during the first UNCTAD when he was the Minister of Commerce of Cuba. While recognizing the importance of trade, he probably had other aims in mind.
The 1970s was the decade of ecology intellectually highlighted by Rene Dubos' Only One Earth. (1).
The 1980s agenda was East-West nuclear policies in Europe, the end of the Berlin Wall and of Soviet power.
The 1990s focused on the violent rise of ethnic-based separatist movements, basically the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union - the nature and future of such movements.
The 2001-2011 Decade: The US hoped that the focus would be on the "War on Terror" and the rise of violent Islamic groups. In practice, these issues were of interest only to a small number of countries which were directly involved. However with the US focused on the War on Terror and Russia on re-shaping its own economy, no group of states could propose an alternative decade-long focus. The UN tried to provide a focus with the "Millennium Development Goals" agreed to in a 2000 UN summit conference. However, the Millennium Goals are a 'grab-bag' of diverse development issues. While each is important, there are too many to provide a clear 'vision' on which governments and non-governmental organizations could cooperate.
In the mid-1960s in the USA and parts of Europe, there was the start of broad ecological thinking highlighted by writers such as Kenneth Boulding, a Quaker, economist and peace researcher. Boulding along with Buckminster Fuller and Barbara Ward developed the concept of 'Spaceship Earth'. Boulding stressed the need to modify education in light of the ecological realities. He wrote "It is obvious today that we can no longer think in terms of single static entities - but only in terms of dynamic changing processes and series of interacting events. The content of our education requires restructuring into new understandable wholes that it may be imparted, even at the primary levels, in terms of whole systems. Thus the principal task of education in this day is to convey from one generation to the next, a rich image of the total earth, that is, the idea of the earth as a total system...What formal education has to do is to produce people who are fit to be inhabitants of the planet. This has become an urgent necessity because for the first time in human history we have reached the boundaries of our planet and found that it is a small one at that. This generation of young people have to be prepared to live in a very small and crowed spaceship. Otherwise they are going to get a terrible shock when they grow up and discover that we have taught them how to live in a world long gone. The nightmare of the educator is what Veblen called 'trained incapacity' and we have to be constantly on the watch that this does not become one of our main products."(2)
Ecological concerns grew and entered the thinking of enough governments so that the UN General Assembly decided to hold a special conference on ecology in 1972. The UN secretariat started its efforts for the Stockholm conference in Geneva in offices just across the street from my office in the Graduate Institute for Development Studies. Thus I often talked with the UN staff which would eat in our building since we had a cafeteria, and they did not. The head of the preparatory secretariat was Maurice Strong who became the Secretary General of the Conference itself. Strong is a Canadian who made a great deal of money early in his business life, and thus could spend the rest of his life in UN-related activities, not as a volunteer but paid much less than as head of a corporation. Strong is an intense, self-motivated person and the people who work with him are driven by the same energy. There are, no doubt, people who do not appreciate Strong, but they fade from the scene, and those who are left with him would not be surprised to see Strong walking across Lake Geneva
Since Strong came from the business world and not from the regular governmental diplomatic service, he has the respect for government representatives that is needed but not much more. Rather he has a high regard for 'the people' - at least those organized in non-governmental organizations and who are willing to try out new ideas and new methods of work. Thus, in Geneva, there was a group of us, UN Secretariat, university teachers and NGO representatives united by the desire to place ecological issues at the centre of the 'world agenda' despite a rather timid response from national governments.
1972 Stockholm saw the creation of what has now become an "institution" −a parallel conference held a few days earlier in the same city with representatives of NGOs - now called 'civil society ' - who write a statement of what governments should say if they had the intelligence and courage of NGOs. Now, the NGOs work on their statement and alternative plan of action for many months in advance.
At the Stockholm NGO conference the conflicts predictably arose over population issues. At all international meetings going back to the League of Nations debates, when population questions are mentioned, there are those who suspect family planning as being a way to limit the number of the poor (usually seen as being of a different colour or ethnicity than the rest) or as a way of promoting teenage sex.
The 1972 Stockholm Conference led to the creation within many governments of a 'Ministry of the Ecology' or a sub-section of an existing ministry. The United Nations created the UN Environment Program (UNEP) of which Maurice Strong was the first Director. Strong, influenced by the idea of the importance of the 'Third World' pushed to have the UNEP headquarters in Kenya. He was the first Director and both he and UNEP then disappeared from the scene for the rest of the decade as unlike the other UN cities − New York, Geneva, and Vienna, − no one just stops by in Kenya, and there is no informal interaction with people from other UN agencies or NGOs.
Today, there is a certain revival of ecological thinking. Many of us believe that there needs to be a new UN Agency or greatly reinvigorated UN Environment Program with "high visibility" to be able to discuss as an equal with the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Labour Organization. Such a UN Environment Agency needs to have the drive and the outreach to be able to associate the large number of non-governmental organizations involved with ecological issues. There needs to be visible leadership so that people know where to turn for advice, help and support.
We need coordination and leadership to meet the challenges facing the human family as we develop positive forms of cooperation between humans and Nature.
Rene Wadlow, President and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens.
May your heart be like a lake — with a calm still surface and great depths of kindness. 22 March: World Water Day: World Citizens propose “Adopt a Stream” Initiatives as a link between a global issue and local action. Since 1993, the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 22 March as World Day for Water. Each year one of the UN agencies involved in water issues takes the lead in promoting World Water Day with a specific focus and a theme. For 2012, it is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which is the lead agency with a focus on food security and the theme “The World is Thirsty Because We are Hungry.” From the June 2008 World Food Security Conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome, there has been an emphasis on cooperation among the UN family of agencies, national governments, non-governmental organizations, and the millions of food producers to overcome lack of food and malnutrition due to high food prices, inadequate distribution and situations of violence. The fluctuation in global agricultural markets is leading to higher food prices and is a threat to world food security. The impact falls heaviest on the poor who spend a high percentage — up to 70 percent — of their income on food. Often, the lack of dietary diversification aggravates the problem, as price increases in one staple cannot easily be compensated by switching to other foods. Attention must be given to local issues of food production, distribution, and food security. Attention also needs to be given to cultural factors such as the division of labour between women and men in agriculture and rural development, in marketing local food products, to the role of small farmers, to the role of landless agricultural labour and to land-holding patterns. There is also a need to focus on longer-range and structural issues of which the use — and misuse — of water is very important. Thus the theme of this year’s Water Day linking hunger and thirst. While it is important to develop a world food policy — a theme that world citizens have stressed since the creation of the FAO in 1946, there is also a need for local action in which many individuals, local associations and schools can cooperate. Thus world citizens have proposed a “Adopt a Stream” initiative. Adopt a Stream Nearly everyone lives in a river watershed area, and many of us live near a river or a stream. When rain is plentiful, creeks tumble down every slope. When rainfall is scarce, houses and towns cluster around the occasional watercourse or oasis. Farms water crops and livestock from nearby streams. Historically, important cities of economic and cultural life have developed on the edges of rivers. While the protection of larger rivers is a task for central governments and of often multi-State agencies, we as individuals can help restore, protect and enhance a stream at a local level. By discovering and then monitoring springs and streams that flow near our houses, farms and schools, we can discover the way that water impacts with all life around us, humans, animals, insects and plants. A stream and the vegetation bordering it form one of the richest and most fascinating of wildlife habitats. With some effort and patience, we are rewarded by glimpses into the working of Nature and the relatedness of all aspects of life. The physical forces that shape life in rushing waters are universal and help remind us of the unity of life. Thus, as human populations increase, it is important for us to realize that every drop of water that we use — or waste — is subtracted from our streams and the underground water table. Streams play vital roles in Nature. They serve as a source of water for nearby plants, wildlife, and aquatic animals. Over time, a stream can shape the landscape. The stream is also part of a larger ecological system. Every drop of rain that falls reminds us that we are part of a universal system that covers the earth’s surface. The Earth is our Common Home. Therefore we must protect it together. We are developing a collective consensus based on solidarity, interdependence and respect for Nature about the quality of life that we want to have as a world society. The World Citizen initiative “Adopt a Stream” is an effort to create an awareness of the value of each spring and stream, and to understand how our individual and societal actions impact the stream. The costs — and benefits — of the protection of streams is personal as well as communal. We need to live in harmony with the streams and rivers near us. “Adopt a Stream” is doubly educational. We ourselves learn from participating and touch a broader public as well. Projects done with school children can influence and interest their parents. School projects are especially important as they help students to observe closely, to learn scientific principles, and to understand complex interrelationships with the aquatic environment. The value of a stream project can illustrate relationships and processes as no text book lessons on fishes, animal life cycles, or water quality can do. Information-gathering is the crucial first step. Where does the stream come from and where does it go? What appears to be the stream’s biological and physical limitations? What is the frequency of flooding or drying up? Thus, as we mark World Water Day, the “Adopt a Stream” initiative gives us also a longer-range focus, the importance of linking the local to the global and the value of learning the wise use of all the resources of Nature. * Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) Finding the Sacred Where We Live There is a sense of great opportunity and hope that a new world can be built in which social and economic progress, environmental protection and better standards of living can be realized through global solidarity and cooperation. Nowhere can these goals be better demonstrated than through the quality of living conditions in our settlements…We are committed to a political, economic, environmental, ethical and spiritual vision of human settlements based on the principles of equality, solidarity, partnership, human dignity, respect and cooperation…We believe that attaining these goals will promote a more stable and equitable world that is free from injustice and conflict and will contribute to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace. Thus proclaimed the representatives of governments at the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements — Habitat II — held in Istanbul, Turkey in June 1996. Yet these tasks do not depend upon governments alone, for the improvements of our homes, neighbourhoods and villages are activities in which all world citizens can be active. Much of the analysis of the positive potential of cities is due to the writings of the world citizen Lewis Mumford. Mumford was active in the late 1930s and with G.A. Borgese wrote a Declaration on World Democracy in 1940 warning of the dangers of fascism and aggressive nationalism. Mumford was already well-known for his work on the history and role of cities with a series of books such as Technics and Civilization (1934) and The Culture of Cities (1938). Mumford was a student and follower of the Scottish urbanist Patrick Geddes, author of Cities in Evolution (1915), a study of urban civilization and its relations to the State and forms of political power. In continuing to build on Geddes’ work, Mumford became aware of the importance of studying urban phenomenon not only in relation to technological evolution but above all in relation to political and economic institutions. For Mumford, the primary function of the city is to transform power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity. And these positive functions cannot be carried out without creating new institutions capable of controlling the immense energies at the disposal of modern man. When the Second World War began, he turned his attention to the dangers of authoritarian values and the related dangers of nihilism with a series of important books which combined his wide knowledge of history and his concern with humanistic values: Men Must Act (1939), Faith for Living (1940), The Condition of Man (1944), and Values for Survival (1946). As the Second World War ended with the destructive power of atomic bombs, he stressed the link between science, technology and destruction. Starting in 1946, he was very active in anti-nuclear-weapon campaigns and in favour of creating a world society that would provide for a real control of nuclear energy. Mumford was equally critical of US foreign policy and its reliance on anti-Soviet military alliances. He wrote “No purely military measures will give us the power to prevail over Russia’s ideas or to avoid a final collision with those ideas on a field of battle. If we continue to rely upon negative measures alone, we are headed straight for war, extermination, and the wholesale disintegration of modern civilization. The fact is that both the United States and Soviet Russia have misconceived their national interests, and have acted as if one side or the other would absolutely prevail. Both are wrong. There is no way out of the present impasse which will not require painful sacrifice by ourselves as well as the Russians; for unless we contrive an honourable method to meet each other halfway we cannot continue to live in the same world. If we are to live together politically, Russia will have to abandon its fascist methods, for they are hostile to all forces that enhance and develop human life. We, in our turn, will have to give up, not the institutions of democracy, but the notion that mammon and mechanism are the be all and end all of human existence. So the next question is on what basis, before it is too late, can the governments of both states retreat from suicidal course they have been following.” It is the rigidity of form — both mental and physical — that Mumford attacks. “Once modern man understands the need for continuity and selective modification, in terms of his own capacities and purposes, instead of blind conformity to either nature or his own technology, he will have many fresh choices before him…The new age will begin when a sufficient number of men and women in every land and culture take upon themselves the burden men once sought to transfer to an Emperor, a Messiah, a dictator, a single God-like man. That is the ultimate lesson of democracy: the burden cannot be shifted. But if each one of us, in his own full degree, accepts this desperate condition for survival, that which seemed a threat to man’s future development will be transformed into a dynamic opportunity.” For Mumford, there is a need for a shift from a highly mechanized system to an organic one. This is a human, not a technical problem, and it admits only a human solution. He writes “The great revolution needed to save mankind from the projected assults against life by the controllers of the mega-machine demands first of all a displacement of the mechanical world picture with an organic world picture, in the center of which stands man himself. “If we are to prevent megatechnics from further controlling and deforming every aspect of human culture, we shall be able to do so only with the aid of a radically different model derived directly, not from machines, but from living organisms and organic complexes (ecosystems)…This benign transformation can happen only on one condition, and that is a hard one: namely that the life-negating ideals and methods of the power system be renounced, and that in every kind of community, to live not for the sake of exalting power but for reclaiming the planet, for life through mutual aid, loving association, and biotechnic cultivation.” Rene Wadlow
Hsuan Tsang: Symbol of 17 June: World Day on Desertification Rene Wadlow* God created lands filled with water as a place for man to live; and the desert so that he can discover his soul. Hsuan Tsang (623-664) is the symbol of 17 June, the UN-proclaimed Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. Hsuan Tsang crossed the harshest deserts, in particular the Takla Mahan, and the tallest mountains on his quest for the innermost heart of Reality. He travelled from China to India to spend two years at the Nalanda Monestary-University in what is now the Bihar State in northern India to study and translate into Chinese certain important Buddhist sutras. He also studied the inner lives of the people he met, showing an openness to the cultures of others, especially those living on the edge of the desert regions he crossed. In this way, he serves as the symbol of the World Day on Desertification which highlights the ways of life of those living in deserts and on their edge. The Day of Desertification has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly . The Day marks the efforts begun in 1977 with the United Nations Conference on Desertification held in Nairobi. The desertification conference was convened by the UN General Assembly in the midst of a series of catastrophic droughts in the Sudano-Sahelian region of Africa. The conference was designed to be the centrepiece of a massive worldwide attack to arrest the spread of deserts or desert-like conditions not only in Africa south of the Sahara but wherever such conditions encroached on the livelihood of those who lived in the desert or in their destructive path. The history of the conference is vividly recalled by James Walls in his book Land, Men and Sand (New York: Macmillan, 1980). At the conference, there was a call for the mobilization of human and financial resources to hold and then push back the advancing desert. “Attack” may have been the wrong word and “mobilization” too military a metaphor for the very inadequate measures taken later in the Sudano-Sahelian area. Today, there are still real possibilities of famine in West and East Africa on the edges of the desert. Niger and Mali and parts of Senegal and Chad in the Sahel belt are facing the consequences of serious drought as are parts of northern Kenya and Somalia. The most dramatic case is that of Darfur, Sudan which partakes of the Sahel drought but which also faces a war in which the conflicts between pastoralists and settled agriculturalists have become politicized. It is estimated that 300,000 have been killed since the start of the war late in 2003. Some two and a half million people have been uprooted. The agricultural infrastructure of homes, barns and wells have been deliberately destroyed. It will be difficult and costly to repair this destruction. The Darfur conflict highlights the need for a broader approach to the analysis and interpretation of active and potential armed conflicts in the Sahel region. This analysis needs to take into consideration the impact of environmental scarcity and climate variation in complex situations. Earth is our common home, and therefore all, as world citizens, must organize to protect it. It is up to all of us concerned with ecologically-sound development to draw awareness to both the dangers and the promises of deserts. What is the core of the desertification process? The destruction of land that was once productive does not stem from mysterious and remorseless forces of nature but from the actions of humans. Desertification is a social phenomenon. Humans are both the despoiler and the victim of the process. Increasingly, populations are eking out a livelihood on a dwindling resource, hemmed in by encroaching plantations and sedentary agriculturalists, by towns and roads. Pressure of population upon resources leads to tensions which can burst into violence as we see in Darfur and which spilled over into eastern Chad. Desertification needs to be seen in a holistic way. If we see desertification only as aridity, we may miss areas of impact such as the humid tropics. We need to consider the special problems of water-logging, salinity or alkalinity of irrigation systems that destroy land each year. The value of a UN-designated Day is that the process of identifying major clusters of problems, bringing the best minds to bear on them so as to have a scientific and social substratum on which common political will can be found and from which action will follow. Desertification is a plague that upsets the traditional balance between people, their habitat, and the socio-economic systems by which they live. Because desertification disturbs a region’s natural resource base, it promotes insecurity. Insecurity leads to strife. If allowed to degenerate, strife results in inter-clan feuding, civil war, cross-border raiding and military confrontation. Only with a lessening of insecurity can cultivators and pastoralists living in or near deserts turn their attention to adapting traditional systems. There can be no reversion to purely traditional systems. But for insecurity to abate, a lengthy process of conciliation must begin and forms of conflict resolution strengthened. People must be encouraged to understand that diversity is a crucial element of ecologically-sound development. Judicious resource management breeds security and an improved quality of life for everyone. We can see what efforts can be made to encourage reforestation and to slow the unwanted advances of deserts. Deserts can also have a positive image. There is a significant role in the literature and mythology of spirituality — the 40 years in the desert before entering the “Promised Land” for the Jews, the 40 days in the desert before starting his mission for Jesus, the life in the desert of the early Christian church fathers. Today, there are an increasing number of spiritual retreats in the desert chosen for its silence and for the essential nature of the landscape. Thus the Day of Deserts can be a day during which we can learn more of the lives of people in and on the edge of the deserts. It is a Day in which we can all usefully participate. • Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
A New Awareness of Nature Rene Wadlow* Today there is growing agreement that all of humanity is undergoing a basic transformation of awareness, moving toward a different way of experiencing ourselves, our relation to history, to Nature, and to other people. These processes of coming into a healthy relationship with the natural world and of renewing human culture are going on at the same time and are closely related trends. However, we must not skirt the severity or the complexity of the problems facing humankind today. With a global human population of seven billion, with topsoil being swept away and thousands of species in danger of disappearing, we have gone about as far as we can go in the direction of imposing our human domination on Nature. Thus in order to re-establish a healthy equilibrium, we need a new awareness of humans as a part of Nature but with a special duty of care and respect for the earth’s interrelated life-support system. We have every reason to believe that it is possible for us to achieve a stable, sustainable, and fulfilling mode of life based on the enduring values of empathy and nurturance if we make the necessary efforts. Therefore, we need a revitalized sense of who we are as human beings — an image of humanity that is uplifting and inclusive. This renewal of our awareness of Nature will require that we get in touch with our deepest needs and that we find our own internal source of meaning. As we express more fully this inner source of meaning, we will develop a more health culture which connects people to one another and to the land. Thus a healthy culture is a sustainable culture going from generation to generation. Earth is Our Common Home. Therefore we must protect it together. *Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
Education for Biodiversity Rene Wadlow The life support systems and non-renewable resources on the Earth are being decimated by a burgeoning population which possesses unprecedented power born of science and technology. The impact of technology on the environment has in many ways been devastating. Yet science and technology have also been the greatest forces for beneficial social change in history and will continue to be needed to solve the economic and social problems of the future. The negative ecological trends are clear: the altering of the Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, the destruction of the protective ozone layer by man-made chemicals, the depletion of tropical rainforests, the extinction of plant and animal species, the spread of deserts, the acid poisoning of lakes and forests and the toxification of air, soil and water. These global challenges which deteriorate the quality of life are all interrelated. In varying degrees they are all the by-products of technology. Since the future lies in the hands of our youth, we must educate them to cope with the ecological issues. The damage already done is so great that all education and especially education in science must become imbued with an ecological ethic to reverse the present trends. The solution does not lie in adding environmental ethics courses to the existing science curriculum but in finding ways to allow ecological and environmental concerns to permeate existing courses and textbooks. The ecological ethic must guide all aspects of our lives and will also have to be taught by example outside of formal education. Formal education is good at transmitting information but not so good at generating attitudes. There is an important body of knowledge in the sciences upon which the right ecological decisions must be made. However, changes in attitude toward the Earth will probably come about in more subtle ways. Meeting the challenges of safeguarding biodiversity requires profound political, social and economic forces involving all major segments of human activity. Many facets of society, from politics and economics to cultural values and human rights need to be transformed. Such changes depend on creative education in the spirit of World Citizenship. Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens