Ecology - the ultimate democracy

A report from the State of the World Forum

by Anita Coolidge
o those who have worked to clean up the environment, who recycle everything they can, who look for consumer products that are non-toxic, and who in countless ways act on their awareness of the importance and fragility of our natural environment, "Ecology, the ultimate democracy" is not a revolutionary idea. To the kitchen recycler and the leader of environmental movement alike, this sensibility is second- or perhaps first-nature.
But to hear it expressed by a global leader at a historic world forum convened to create guidelines for humanity's conscious evolution as we move into the 21st century is something else again.
The event was the State of the World Forum (Toward a New Civilization), organized by the Gorbachev Institute/USA and held in San Francisco from September 27 through October 1. It was a working forum to which 500 participants came from all over the world, people who occupy places of influence in their respective disciplines or geopolitical arenas. Their task: to discuss the future of humanity in seven basic areas of human concern: The New Architecture of Global Security, The Global Crisis of Spirit and the Search for Meaning, Economies in the 21st Century, The Emerging Civic Society, The Future of Science, The Environment, and Leadership in the 21st Century.
Over three days, participants discussed the many facets of each of the subject areas in roundtables closed to the press. A simultaneous meeting of youth gathered to discuss the same issues through their affiliation with the Association of Foreign Students. On the final day, Gorbachev reunited with two other architects of the thaw of the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher and George Bush, in a CNN-televised discussion led by Bernard Shaw. It was a meeting that fulfilled Gorbachev's vision of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, cross-generational communication which he deems as necessary if we are to create a better future.

But back to the environment.

The leader of the roundtable on the environment was Mahbub ul Haq, Special Advisor of the UN Development Program, who on successive days led discussions focused on "Facing the Planet's Carrying Capacity," "Sharing Global Resources," "Pricing Environmental Resources," and "Towards an Earth Charter in the 21st Century." His 10-point summary did not contain any surprises and expressed what any thoughtful person might come up with, given the state of the world today. This is not to say that all sectors of civilization would be equally accepting of the suggestions if all ten were implemented. For the record, here is a summary:
  1. Implement population control tactics determined last year in Cairo.
  2. Adjust patterns of consumption, which would mean instituting reporting of not only production but consumption as well.
  3. Remove subsidies on nonrenewable resources, pesticide production, and other environment-degrading activities.
  4. Environmental costs must be factored into the costs of doing business, and polluters must pay.
  5. Laws should be pragmatic, especially in distribution of food.
  6. A global balance sheet should include estimates of national health.
  7. Unbridled consumption should be curtailed; the past is unsustainable, we must leave it behind.
  8. Protection of the environment must have both an ethical and legal basis globally.
  9. Strengthen the institutions in the United Nations and pay attention to our natural environment.
  10. Care must be taken to produce global sustainability with global justice.
Mr. ul Haq concluded his remarks with a quote from his predecessor in the U.N., Barbara Ward, who, he said, found real hope in the idea that "our only choice, whatever our dogma, is to protect the earth. This is our common progress or our common ruin. There is nothing in between."
While "the environment" was one distinctly separate discussion theme of the Forum, a sensitivity to environmental issues was woven throughout the sessions. Central in the Economic round-table, for instance, led by futurist and economist, Hazel Henderson, was the idea that the impacts on our natural environment cannot be separated from the indices of economic activity, that if we don't include environmental costs in indices of growth, we are kidding ourselves. Additionally, we need to begin including "natural" capital along with "produced assets," "human capital," and "social capital" in any index of a nation's wealth.
Sam Keen, author and visionary, led the discussions on "The Global Crisis of Spirit and the Search for Meaning." In his summary, he alluded to our natural environment and how we must put our human activities into perspective by ending the "tyranny of the urban imagination." "63% of the world's population is still rural and indigenous and in daily contact with growing things," he said. Rather than any concrete suggestions as to the treatment of the environment, he instead suggested we consider the point of view that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" as religion teaches us, and from that vision will follow the ethic.
The Native American contingent of Indigenous Peoples, led by Chief Oren Lyons, chose the perfect moment to introduce their main message. The "cocktail party" setting was truly mind altering to begin with: two giant video screens had been set up at one end of the room as a demonstration of new multi media techniques. A computer linked a live video camera and a digitized imaging system for superimposed images that continually moved and changed on the screens. Two small altars containing fetishes and found objects were located between the screens, with burning candles adding to the palpable vortex created there.
Music was played by a group of three or four musicians on instruments looking more like pieces of iron art than anything musical I've ever seen, with a distinctly harmonious, even celestial, result. As the group in business suits mingled and mixed and plied themselves with champagne, Oren Lyons and others stepped forward to address them. A hush fell as a statement was read, a sincere plea to be firm with major corporations to do business in ways that do not harm the environment, to save our environment for our children and our children's children.
Moved by her own commitment to the environment and her thirty-five years of communion with chimpanzees, Jane Goodall stepped forward from the crowd and added a few words of her own, urging the crowd to heed the message just delivered. And, without pausing, as easily as she had spoken the words, she emitted a "whoo-whoo-whoo" cry directly from the nation of chimps, startling sounds that surely galvanized the Natives' plea at the cellular level of all those present: to honor the earth and all the nations thereof.
But it was the Secretary General of Earth Summit '92, Maurice Strong, who, speaking as part of a panel on Democracy, earnestly communicated the fundamental idea that in the way we treat the environment, which ultimately affects someone else, we express our ideals.
He was eloquent in his presentation. "Nature has given us an effective democratic system. In nature we have ecological systems through which our actions are transmitted to other people.... These complex cause and effect relationships are really systems through which we demonstrate our commitment to democracy. When we benefit from actions which cause harm on others, we are demonstrating our stand on human rights.... Those who don't have the right or the opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect them are clearly not yet fully enfranchised. This I submit is a natural democratic system that we cannot avoid.... In most countries people can exercise their right not to vote, but nobody can escape nature's ballot box."
Further, he admitted that "none of us at governmental levels have translated the high principles of Rio. It will only happen to the degree the principles become an integral part of the culture and the value system." And to assist that process, he announced the formation of the Earth Charter, one of Gorbachev's primary goals, a Magna Carta mandated by a broad constituency to "carry Rio forward". It would outline principles of conduct to guide the behavior of individuals, companies, and nations, recognizing that it is behavior that impacts. The Charter will be developed to be ready to present at the 5th Annual Earth Summit in Rio in 1997, to be adopted by the year 2000. "We shouldn't wait until political democracy paves the way. We must act now."
The State of the World Forum will meet again October 2 through 6, 1996, in San Francisco. Until then, "think globally, act locally" still says it.
The results of this Forum? In the words of Arne Jernelov, Secretary General of the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination of Research in Stock-holm, "I started out naively believing that natural science and technology would lead to the solution of the problems... but it is not sufficient.... Mostly I will try to integrate for myself the mental [aspects], the lifestyle, the beliefs, the religious aspects."
If the human and spiritual considerations can find their way into the hearts and minds of those who make decisions on how we use our natural resources, that's a beginning. And it's about time.
For a catalogue of audio tapes of the State of the World Forum, write to Sounds True Recordings, 735 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO 80302 303.449.6229
The Gorbachev Institute/USA can be contacted at The Presidio, P.O. Box 29434, San Francisco, CA 94129, tel. 415.771.4567, fax 415.771.4443.

Peter Meisen, Director of Global Energy Network Internationa, San Diego, meets Mikhail Gorbachev at State of the World Forum. Seven San Diegans attended.

Anita Coolidge is a journalist, video producer, and spiritual counselor in San Diego. She can be reached at Earth Vision Productions, 619.232.4822.