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.
My 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 farmers either.
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 the same.
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.
Let me quote from one of your holy books: Chapter 42 of the Dao De Jing.
“The Tao gives birth to the origin;
The origin gives birth to the two – yin and yang.
The two gives birth to the three – heaven, earth and humanity.
The three gives birth to all creation, all of nature.”
This 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.
Because 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 around us.
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.
And 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 expression.
But all religions can teach us something and I’m very grateful for the tradition that was passed on to me by my grandfather.
Now 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.
As 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 global agreement.
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.
We 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.
That 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.
From the 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.
*** Link here for news of the Third Daoist Ecology Forum which opened on 27 October 2008 in Jurong, near Nanjing in Jiangsu Province.
*** Link here to read the Mao Shan Declaration in Chinese and English.
*** Link here for details of Martin Palmer's introductory talk at the Daoist Ecology Forum in Jurong.
*** Link here for details of Martin Palmer's response at the Third Daoist Ecology Forum in Jurong.
*** And link
here to read an article on Daoism and climate change written by Olav Kjorven.
*** Link here for details of Chinese Daoists' Eight Year Ecology Protection Plan.
*** Link here for more Daoist eco-news.