Speech by Olav Kjorven, Jurong: October 2008
"There is a lot that can be learned from the
Daoist tradition that would help us in the work of
the United Nations today", Olav Kjorven, UN.
The United Nations is 60 years old – and Daoism is
thousands of years old. And I think there is a lot that
can be learned from the Daoist tradition that would help
us in the work of the United Nations today.
But I want to start in a different place. I
want to take you back to my childhood and my experience,
as I grew up, of learning some very fundamental things
from my grandfather that I think you will recognise.
grandfather was a farmer, and by Norwegian standards he
had quite a large farm. He had about 20 cows, about 10
pigs and exactly 8 children. He was quite successful: he
grew crops, and he had streams and forests on his land
as well. And when he grew older he started to take care
of his grandchildren like me. And he would take me out
in the fields and he would explain to me how one could
get more out of the land, increase one's crops, get more
milk out of the cows and so on.
But he would
also explain to me how everything in his agricultural
productivity depended on nature and on the gifts that
nature gave in the form of clean water, the forests and
the wildlife and he explained to me that if we didn't
take care of nature, we wouldn't have a future as
And he would often sit down
with me on a tree trunk and then he would open the holy
book in my religious tradition – the Bible – and he
would read something from the Bible that taught us about
the importance of taking care of creation, and our
responsibility to one another as well as to nature. So
for my grandfather the work that he did and the worship
that he did, and the stewardship of nature were one and
Over the past couple of days I’ve
had a chance to learn a bit from your tradition although
I have to humbly say that I’m only scratching the
surface. I have visited the White Cloud Temple in
Beijing and yesterday I went to Mao Shan Temple here in
this area. And I have learned that in your tradition as
well, our duty as humanity is to restore balance, and to
care for and respect nature - and that human wellbeing
fundamentally depends on maintaining this balance.
me quote from one of your holy books: Chapter 42 of the
Dao De Jing.
“The Tao gives birth to the
The origin gives birth to the two –
yin and yang.
The two gives birth to the
three – heaven, earth and humanity.
three gives birth to all creation, all of nature.”
is very important teaching for our world today. I’m sure
that many of you have heard of the common challenge we
are facing around the world: that of climate change.
of the way we utilize energy and organize our economies
around the world we are in danger of severely disrupting
the balance of the climate, which conditions everything
But what is climate change in its
most simplistic scientific sense? It is all about the
balance of carbon – a very important component in our
natural system which makes life possible as we know it.
It is about the balance of the carbon that exists in the
air, in the clouds, in the atmosphere that surrounds us
on the one hand and the carbon in the earth on the
other, including in living things. And what we have been
busily doing as humanity – particularly in the rich
countries, but also increasingly in other countries
around the world including China – is to disrupt that
balance and move a lot of carbon out of the earth and
into the clouds. This is familiar to you, I think
because if this is anything at all it is the disruption
of the balance between the yin and the yang.
I think that your tradition as Daoists in China – your
expression of the yin and the yang and how it relates to
our existence as human beings – expresses better than
any other religious tradition that I know of the
challenge that we are facing when it comes to
environmental degradation and climate change. Not even
my grandfather could have come up with such a powerful
But all religions can teach us
something and I’m very grateful for the tradition that
was passed on to me by my grandfather.
what is the relevance of the United Nations in all of
this? The United Nations plays a very important role.
Our role is to promote peace in the world; to help
nations share responsibilities rather than fighting over
resources and power; to find ways of cooperating and
also to promote something that we call sustainable
development. Sustainable development is something very
similar to what you are talking about when you are
talking about the yin and the yang and our
responsibility to maintain balance.
humanity we are now faced with a big test and it is
within the context of the United Nations that
governments of the world must come to some kind of
agreement on this most complex of issues – namely
climate change and how to deal with it in a way that is
just and equitable for all people around the world.
So a lot of pressure is now on our
governments around the world because they are the ones
that have to come up with the necessary actions that
need to be taken in each and every country but under a
And I can tell you that
they won’t be able to do this on their own. They will
need support and they will need a lot of engagement by
all good forces in society to be able to reach these
difficult agreements – and in this context you, and all
the other religions of the world, can and must have a
role to play.
In fact, unless we all draw
from the richness of our religious traditions, and their
wisdom, I do not think we will make it. I do not think
we will have the wherewithal, the power, or the
political will, to do what is necessary.
also need and depend on your staying power, because as I
said, unlike the United Nations, which has been around
for sixty years, you have been around for a few thousand
years and it is that wisdom that we need more than
anything else today to secure a long term future for our
children, our grandchildren, and their children.
is why I am so delighted that this is taking place. And
that you are not on your own. Similar things are
happening in all the major faiths in the world today…
and I am delighted that the United Nations is able to
provide some support to this tremendous movement among
all the religious traditions in the world, in
partnership with the Alliance of Religions and
Conservation led by Martin Palmer.
UN we are honoured to provide a little bit of modest
support for this – but I don’t think of this as us
giving support to you. I see it as a joint venture,
something that we are doing together because as you well
know we all need each other and depend on each other and
it’s all one world which we must learn to share and
enjoy together in peace.
Thank you for your
attention and for this unique opportunity.
for news of the Third Daoist Ecology Forum which opened
on 27 October 2008 in Jurong, near Nanjing in Jiangsu
to read the Mao Shan Declaration in Chinese and
for details of Martin Palmer's introductory talk at the
Daoist Ecology Forum in Jurong.
for details of Martin Palmer's response at the Third
Daoist Ecology Forum in Jurong.
*** And link
to read an article on Daoism and climate change written
by Olav Kjorven.
for details of Chinese Daoists' Eight Year Ecology
for more Daoist eco-news.