The Founding speech of Green Cross
by President Mikhail Gorbachev, Kyoto, Japan, April 20, 1993
Distinguished members of the Presidium and distinguished delegates to The Global Forum:
I would like to welcome all of you who have gathered here in the wonderful city of Kyoto, a city that is now in bloom. The cherry blossoms are a reminder to all of us that we have met at a time when people are inspired by new hopes — when they are thinking about a better tomorrow. I am sure that from Kyoto will be heard not only the voice of wisdom and the voice of concern but also the voice of hope.
I thank you for all your words of welcome and greetings addressed to me, and also to the members of the Board of Trustees who have gathered, responding to your appeal, in order to launch here at The Global Forum, after long preparation, a new global organization — the International Green Cross. As you can see, the baby was born on time, in term, exactly nine months after you called last June for the creation of this organization. I thank you for your congratulations, and I hope we will be working together, hand in hand, thinking about our common future and looking for answers to the most difficult questions that we must face.
The theme of my speech today is the values and the imperatives of the philosophy of survival.
Today, everyone seems to agree that mankind is at a watershed in its history. The present-day global landscape is one of profound crisis, which could end either in the death of humankind or in the breakthrough to a new civilization. The one that has existed for many centuries is close to exhausting its potential, unable to sustain and manage life on planet Earth.
It is true that a crisis of civilization was announced many times in the past. But today’s crisis is qualitatively different. This time, we are speaking not just about something that causes widespread malaise or about people’s protest against inhuman conditions of their existence, but about a threat — for the first time ever — to the very existence of the human race.
Of late, tensions between man and nature have degenerated into an outright conflict between them. A real threat has emerged that the very foundations of human existence could be undermined, threatening life on earth. Technogenic progress based on perfecting the technology of civilization, far from having alleviated the conflict between man and nature, has in fact aggravated that conflict.
For the first time in human history, signs have appeared of a breakdown in the stability of the biosphere. I am referring to the greenhouse effect, which is the biosphere?s reaction to the alarming increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in it, currently exceeding 17 per cent. It is too soon to draw far-reaching conclusions from this fact, but it is an indication that the biosphere may be losing its stability and that changes in it are becoming irreversible.
Let me speak about another indicator of a possible catastrophe, which is often neglected by the media and the scientific community. I am referring to nature’s fundamental inability to increase its productivity indefinitely, without constraints.
The gap between demands and capabilities is widening at an accelerating pace and could assume the character of a planetary catastrophe within the lifetime of the generation born in the 20th century. We have to recognize responsibly and honestly, and say it publicly, that with ~e current levels – of consumption, standards of living and technologies, the biosphere may one day fail to withstand such anthropogenic pressure.
In saying so, I do not forget that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who are hungry or undernourished. Nevertheless, mankind cannot build its civilization on an insatiable passion for consumption, on a thoughtless attitude towards nature.
The current crisis of civilization is, above all, the crisis of the naive belief in the omnipotence of man, a belief that there is no limit to his abilities and his pretensions over nature. We are paying the price of human pride. Industrial progress has not always led to a growth of freedom and human happiness. As Dr. Thor Heyerdal said so aptly at our meeting yesterday, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to define the criteria for and the concept of people’s happiness.
I am focusing on these global threats to human existence because as a rule the environmental movement concentrates its efforts on local problems.
The time has come to understand that the sum of individual efforts and even a general ecological literacy, though they are absolutely essential, are not enough to solve the problem of humankind’s survival. Something qualitatively greater is necessary.
It is necessary, first of all, to declare this problem of human survival and of saving planet Earth to be the main issue today, one that has priority among the problems facing mankind; to understand that in order to solve this problem we need a totally different notion of man’s place in the biosphere. The time has come to understand that mankind, like any other living species, is just one of the component in the biosphere, and that it cannot live outside of it.
As for the biosphere itself, it existed for billions of years without man, and will continue to exist even if the human race is no longer there one day. It is time we understood that mankind lives within the laws of the biosphere’s development, interacting with it as a part of an integrated whole.
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I am calling for uniting the efforts of natural and social scientists in the cause of human survival, because the crisis of the interaction between man and nature is being aggravated by a crisis of social knowledge.
We should understand that humankind has difficulty adequately understanding its own interests. Too often, man errs and moves towards the truth through delusions and all kinds of myths. We have not yet found a way out of the ideological crisis that has become so apparent in recent years. The traditional forms of ideology, including its religious forms, have not always been capable of explaining what is happening, and have been even less capable of uniting the people together in order to look for a way out of the current crisis and to address the problems of the magnitude that we see today.
We must see that the current crisis of our civilization has been caused, to a large extent, by the crisis of our fundamental values. At the end of the 20th century, dramatic inherent conflicts have become apparent in the foundations of our knowledge about society and its progress.
Against the background of the increasing integration and internationalization of the economy, we are witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of nationalism and clear tendencies towards autarchy, separatism and ethnic and religious isolation. The most archaic syndromes are resurfacing, bringing to the fore hidden ethnic conflicts accompanied by violence and unprecedented cruelty.
We have so far failed to find ways of harmonizing the principles that form the basis of international relations. We have yet to develop mechanisms of harmonizing the democratic principle of state self-determination of nations and the fundamental principle of international relations, that of the inviolability of borders, of the integrity of existing states.
All too often, the idea of development, of progress, conflicts with the need to preserve our planet, to assure mankind’s survival. The idea of cooperation, of working together, often conflicts with the instinct of rivalry. Too often, modern nations, in pursuing their selfish aims, undermine the global conditions necessary for life on Earth – thus bringing closer their own destruction.
There is no doubt that the liberation from communist totalitarianism and the end of the Cold War were great blessings, for they have significantly reduced the threat of nuclear catastrophe. But we have to see that even this great event of the 20th century — the end of the Cold War — has not diminished conflicts and tensions in the world.
In Russia and in many countries of Eastern Europe, we can see an abrupt swing to the right in social attitudes, a growth of nationalistic sentiments, and increasing influence of fundamentalism in its various forms. Conflicts of one kind are being replaced by new conflicts, underscoring even more dramatically how little we know about society and about humankind.
It has now become clear that the death of totalitarianism, in and of itself, does not lead to democracy. People who fought against totalitarianism have not always proved capable of strengthening and nourishing democracy.
Political freedom is of the greatest value. But our experience has also shown that the growth of freedom, in and of itself, does not automatically result in a growth of morality, in ennobling the motives of people’s behavior. The world community must see, for example, that the breakup of the Soviet Union has resulted in the aggravation of crime-causing factors in CIS countries, in an explosion of crime and drug addiction in Russia. We have come face-to-face with phenomena whose nature we find it hard to understand.
Overall, we can say that the current crisis of the natural environment and of the entire human civilization is taking place against the background of the crisis of traditional methods of resolving social tensions. Social sciences and, even more, political thinking are still not free from ideological preferences and bias; we are still going around in a vicious circle based on attitudes of class, nation and state, and even partisan attitudes.
So what is the way out? What should we rely on in our efforts to assure the survival of mankind?
The first and the most important conclusion is obvious. Without an ecology of spirit and of human thinking, all such efforts would be pointless. When science and reason cannot help, there is only one thing that can save us — our conscience, our morality. There is a need for moral strengthening of the roots of the humanism of the 18th century, which provides most of the underpinnings of our contemporary civilization.
The survival of humankind will be impossible without solidifying and insisting on a simple thought: life as such is the greatest moral value which should underlie modern civilization. Today, it is not enough to say, ‘Thou shall not kill.’ Ecological education implies, above all, respect and love for every living being. It is here that ecological culture interfaces with religion.
Another important thought that was present during our meetings here is that the beauty and uniqueness of life have as their foundation unity in diversity. The self-identification of every individual and of the many different nations, ethnic groups and nationalities is the crucial condition for preserving life on Earth.
The philosophy of survival rests upon the philosophy of diversity. If life itself is the greatest value, then of no less value is the special character of every nation and every race as a unique creation of nature and of human history.
We must abandon the philosophy and the imperatives of man conquering nature, which nourished modern industrial civilization, in favor of a philosophy of limits, which makes us wake up and see the abyss of probable disaster. We need a philosophy that curbs man’s pride and passions. At present, it is not enough to insist on what is already obvious — the organic unity of mankind and nature. Today, we must make sure that Kant’s moral imperative is applied to man’s attitude toward life and nature. Even in his thoughts, man must not wish for nature what he does not wish for himself.
No man has the right to live and enjoy life at the expense of others. Man has no right to seek well-being at the expense of another human being. Prosperous nations must not seek well-being at the expense of poor, developing nations, or big nations at the expense of small ones. But the most important thing is that man must not live at the expense of nature, for when we plunder nature, we steal from ourselves.
The time has come to formulate the conditions of the ecological imperative — to draw a kind of line which mankind must not cross under any circumstances. If the human race proves capable of fulfilling these conditions, then it will have a chance to refashion its niche in the environment and to adjust its way of life to the needs of the environment.
The ecology of moral and spiritual health presupposes an absolute rejection of racism, chauvinism and national arrogance in any form.
Today, it is not enough to understand that man is an element of nature and that his destiny depends on a reasonable coexistence with nature. We must also understand that there are certain things that man cannot accomplish in principle. During our meetings, we spoke at length about the need to change motivation, to shift the emphasis from technological to spiritual progress. Another important goal is to improve our way of life so as to resist consumerism. But, at the same time, we have no right to demand the impossible — the slogan of changing human nature is no less destructive than the slogan of man conquering nature.
Today, a caring attitude towards nature implies, above all, a caring attitude towards man with all his contradictory passions, strengths and weaknesses. Yes, we must understand human nature in order to live in harmony with ourselves and improve ourselves. But we must not try to recast or remold it; we must not seek the impossible. The idea of man as a kind of deity is one of the most dangerous and fateful ideas.
I am quite sure that it is essential now to understand the limits of the elasticity of human nature, to understand that not only man but society’s life too is unique. It requires that we treat it prudently, taking into account the inherent laws of its development. It is true that without developing, society would die. But we should also realize that society has objective limits to its development, to how much it can be preferred. We in Russia value the experience of Japan precisely because it has been able to strike a balance between continuity and growth, to find forms of development that strengthen the most important foundations of Japanese culture. Japan is a nation of the 21st century primarily because it has been able to preserve tradition and to enliven it with new content.
The philosophy of survival presupposes a more serious attitude towards tradition, to what has been tested through centuries.
The old assumption — that the most radical and revolutionary actions assure lasting change and progress — was quite wrong. Today, we can say that evolutionary development, the path of gradual reform consistent with the nature of mankind and of society, is more effective than the revolutionary way.
Coordination of all that coexists (interaction and cooperation) is much more productive than the mutually destructive struggle of the opposites. Struggles and conflicts burn out the diversity of life, leaving a social wasteland in their wake. The revolutionary way does not guarantee constructive development but inevitably results in sacrifice and destruction.
The civilization of the future can only be planetary. However, the current processes of the globalization of human existence do not mean, nor will they ever mean, a general leveling of man’s thinking and action, for this is contrary to human nature. The civilization of the future will certainly be characterized by a high degree of diversity, preserving the authenticity of different cultures and guaranteeing their full self-expression. But its main focus, always and everywhere, will be on man.
The 21st century will be either a century of the extreme aggravation of the deadly crisis or one when mankind will begin its recovery, its revival.
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In conclusion, let me refer to some organizational aspects of our work. First of all, it is quite clear from what I have just said that we need a purposeful program of studies that would enable us to define much more fully and precisely a set of values and imperatives underlying the philosophy of survival. We have to be aware from the outset of the unique complexity of this task. Research of this kind should be of interest and concern not only to scientists but also to policymakers.
We need to identify value goals relevant not only to the environmental movements but also to policymakers and international organizations. We cannot lay claim to the role of world government. But it is our duty to clarify for.mankind the evolving environmental situation and to reveal the zones that are off-limits to human activity.
The scope of such research should go beyond purely academic interests. It should be similar to the kind of program that the international community is trying to implement in the area of disarmament, the elimination of nuclear weapons and nuclear safety.
Political leaders must begin to assume that the issues of the harmonious development of mankind and of the rest of the biosphere will become part of their duties. The environment will increasingly become a matter of the highest priority in foreign as well as domestic policies. The main efforts in the environmental area should be implemented at the international level. Many environmental problems can only be solved through joint efforts of all countries. Furthermore, states must bear moral, legal and financial responsibility depending on whether they understand the meaning of the ecological imperative and whether they are addressing local environmental problems in the context of the problems of overall human survival.
Our research must be largely independent of governments, whose actions inevitably carry the element of national selfishness. We need objective knowledge, objective information not affected by changing political winds. Those who pursue this knowledge should be independent of national, religious, geographic and other constraints. They must be responsible to humankind as a whole.
It is time to set up a special institute for the study of planetary environmental problems. It should become an independent research center coordinating the scholarly activities of national groups in the area of global ecology. It would be appropriate to create such an institute within the non-governmental organization of the Green Cross, but with financing provided by governments. Such a mixed governmental/non-governmental status would also make it possible for private donors and foundations to take part in this work of general human importance.
Research of this kind should be of a systemic nature. It would, therefore, be appropriate to use for this purpose the existing International Institute of Applied Systemic Analysis, located near Vienna The governments of a number of countries are already financing this institute.
To affirm a new morality, we have at our disposal some effective means of education and training. At their basis lies knowledge anchored in credible information and in the cultural context of our time. Mankind must find enough courage to change the way it educates young people, to instill new literacy, a new language for communicating with nature and new meanings of traditional concepts.
Here we will have to begin many things from scratch. We need promptly to launch a competition for a high school ecology textbook and to train teachers in the area. Another extremely important task is to create a global network linking the world’s environmental organizations.
Among the key problems of our civilization is that of developing a program and a strategy for the creation of noosphere. There are quite a few places in the world that are morally ready to become noospheric focal points. In Russia, such focal points could be found in areas surrounding old monasteries, such as Tikhonova Pustyn in the Kaluga Region. The Russian religious tradition is quite in harmony with the ideas of the co-evolution of man and the biosphere.
The emerging “environmentalization” of our civilization and the need for vigorous action in the interest of the entire global community will inevitably have multiple political consequences. Perhaps the most important one of them will be a gradual change in the status of the United Nations. Inevitably, it must assume some aspects of a world government. Indeed, such a process has already begun. One day, however, the entire structure of the organization will have to be reconsidered.
An advisory body will have to be established at the United Nations, for the work of this organization cannot be entrusted to politicians alone. Such a consultative council should bring together representatives of various professions, including both natural and social scientists, rather than those of nations. It should be a group of scholars with a known record of achievement and moral credibility, whose views have authority for all nations. Such a council could be called a Chamber of Professionals or a Cabinet of Eminent Persons. This group of people should be entrusted with the approval of research programs and plans for global educational activities. In the era of ecological crisis, when mankind acts as a single species, the transparency of information and access to it are of particular importance. Therefore, in addition to the development of a planetary strategy of reactions between humankind and the rest of the biosphere, the council should assume responsibility for creating and overseeing a global network of environmental information.
The 20th century has been, in effect, a century of warning. Due to the logic of historic development, its vocation was to caution mankind and to prepare it for the need to develop a new consciousness and new ways of living and acting. Has it fulfilled this role? No, at least not completely.
To repeat, the 20th century will become either a century of the extreme aggravation of the deadly crisis or one of mankind’s recovery and revival. At present, we are running a race against time. What will happen next — a critical escalation of global threats and the collapse of our civilization, or a critical growth of hope, of the willingness and ability of the international human community to develop new, truly humane ground rules of living together, capable of saving civilization through its renewal?
It is up to all of us who live today on this planet to answer this question