Ottawa, 18 April 2000
It’s a great privilege to introduce Christian de Laet.
I first saw him standing in the back of the room at the Stockholm conference in 1972 at which time he was still the head of the secretariat of the Canadian Council of Resource and Environment Ministers. Some of you are familiar with that organisation which I believe was set up during the Diefenbaker government. Christian headed that organisation for nearly ten years: it really was the beginning of the creation of awareness, a national awareness that we not only had an environmental problem but that we were part of a global environmental problem.
I can remember how successful Christian was in creating awareness about that because by the time he had the huge conference at Montebello about the problem with participation from all over the country, the young people had sufficiently taken responsibility that they decided that he was part of the problem and he had a rough time at his own conference which was to me a great sign of progress. Christian went on to work with the United Nations in Papua New Guinea and the Mekong River Basin Authority to advise Maurice Strong on the development of the UN environment programs.
Later he was called by Sonny Ramphal, the then Commonwealth Secretary-General to become his Science Advisor and Secretary of the Commonwealth Science Council. I have many memories of that period but most of all driving with this wildman through the streets of London in a left-hand drive Renault 4 as tough the English were all on his hit-list.
Then he was called by the president of the University of Regina to research the previous hundred years of rapid rural modernisation of the Prairies, at the Great Plains Research Institute. So there he went from London where he had thought that he was either meant to be at the University of Brandon or the University of Regina: Regina got him first. And he had already had a very interesting time previously when I was called to help with the reorganisation of Notre-Dame College that many of you remember through Father Murray and his hockey team The Hounds of Notre-Dame. But when Father Murray passed away, the college began to decline and Mark Kenny asked me to help him in the redirection and I brought him Christian. I think it’s safe to say that Christian had by far the greatest influence on the redirection of that college and the fact that it is one of the most successful private colleges in the country right now in its redirection for "educating the whole person".
This man has continued to be a catalyst - I don’t know what else to call him other than that.
In any case, as I have said it before: Why this man, why this person on this subject at this time? I think I’ll let his presentation tell you that. Christian is speaking on the subject of "Humanity must find his humanity". At the moment Christian is an advisor and indeed one of the instigators of the Society for Development Alternatives out of New Delhi, an incredible organisation, as well as on the board of the Union of International Associations in Brussels, and many others.
Right now, with Sylvia Van Brabant, who’s here to tape his every word: Sylvia is one of the best documentary filmmakers that Canada has and they are working together on a film on water.
Enough said, welcome to the Club of Rome, Dr Christian de Laet, “Humanity must find its humanity”.
I must confess that having had to listen to the jokes of Wayne Kines for a number of hours this morning on top of last evening, I've had very little sleep and I don’t know if my voice level is capable of carrying sufficiently.
I chose the subject, a bit of a pretentious title, but then at my age I just felt it timely to find out how to put my life together and how to do what remains to be done with it. I basically feel immortal but towards the end there are a few frictional losses that sneak in and you never know how long it might work, or otherwise.
I certainly think that, and you'll recognise the French inheritance, it is time to go from science to conscience. we must all face that kind of bridge between science and responsibility. The problem with Humanity is that we never know which humanity we are talking about since we feel very comfortable about being the 20 per cent of the 20 per cent as Pareto would have in his 20/80 ratio. And whose humanity? We don’t see much display of humanity if we just cast a glance at the press headlines any day.
For someone who for a long time has stumbled over the inaugural speech of Truman in 1949 where the notion of Development (as we pretend to know it) was first mooted. Easy enough to achieve then in Europe because the Marshall Plan was only designed to spend money to replace the war-destroyed equipment. Europe had already a high level of technical maturity that could just simply manifest itself in transforming materials and energy into the kind of technical objects, equipment or products, which would reconstruct its economies. Not so simple in the Third World which was in its period of decolonisation but without an adequate manpower. There was a cognitive dissonance there, if that is the right term, and it couldn't be bridged by throwing money or equipment at it.
Generally speaking much of my earlier years in Canada in the 50’s were marked by the feeling that there was a gap between the rhetoric, public or otherwise, and the reality. This feeling owed much also to my own make-up and recent experiences in Belgium. Luckily I was very early, in the late 50's, involved in focusing on that kind of reality by traveling extensively throughout this country. Hopes of sustainable development were not, of course, meaningful then.
There is no point spending time on a necrology. It was however evident for all to see in the language traps which struck as bizarre if not misleading: they struck me simply as institutionalised hypocrisy, particularly in international circles. Still now when we listen to what the pundits have to say about development in Zimbabwe, or in the Sudan or elsewhere, I can’t believe that English is such an inaccurate language that people could fool with it to that extent. We must know very well that at the end of the pipeline, there is not much positive to say. Even on the BBC this morning a particular failure was reported as “a pipeline problem”. The inference was that governments are good, institutions are sound, the public finances are healthy, it’s just the stupid plumbing that doesn’t connect properly. I think that indeed we have to go upstream from the action and check the decision-making process.
We may have to go further up and check the planning process. We can't afford to be counterproductive not even counter-intuitive anymore. We now know very well that nature, nor human nature, cannot be held to a bad bargain indefinitely. Nobody knows for sure where the crestline is when things are going to unravel except we suspect that they have already started to unravel for a long time (Was it 1973 and the energy crisis?).
The past 50 years for me have been bench-marked by a series of steps, meaningful in retrospect. Wayne Kines has alluded to some of them in terms of change of direction and of professional lifestyle; also of personal lifestyle since personal reasons tend to run deep. 1967 was for me a pivotal year and for external reasons as well: there was the National Conference on Pollution and our Environment and it was at the beginning of the Development Dialog efforts of the Swedish Hammarsjoeld Foundation, questioning the nature and the direction of development and development aid.
It was a very lively period keeping brain cells whirring and in good company which to me was essential. After the Stockholm conference on the Human Environment in 72, many hopes were set back as world leaders failed to set the bar high and firm enough for institutions to follow. Came Stockholm plus 5 (when I went to the Commonwealth Secretariat), then plus 10 (with an opportunity to review progress in regional collaboration among and between 50 countries) and the Rio Conference at plus 20. We have had a Rio plus five, and now, what next?: how long can we keep on deferring the inescapable deadlines? I suppose I’ve become softer in my old days but not of lesser resolve: I still have concerns about globalisation and but I have decided that there were enough winds of change around that hunkering down listening to platitudes was not what as rewarding as sailing the winds in the real world. And this what I was going to tell you about.
It comes in a tryptich where one panel is info-learning what is, in my opinion, a manual for the "métiers" of tomorrow (This follows Robert Jungk's ideas). With a bit of "edu-tainement" since it is more fun to learn & play. The young people that I meet today are keen on discovering for themselves a vocational métier: something like the old Companions du Devoir in France An approximation is found in the guilds of yesteryear where the children were taught at a very early age the purpose and the pursuit of craft as an "oeuvre". In doing so, they learned to devise the tools which inevitably carried the culture which had given rise to them, and to create a Chef-d’Oeuvre of which society was proud.
This type of loop between the artisan, his tools and his production has been mainly blown apart mainly by the social pressures characteristic of Europe's mid-1800's. These loops which were breeders of creativity, inventiveness and teamwork were really the source of a nation's wealth. That was also a time of social unrest in trying to get out of the middle ages. The State developped significant “projets de société” such as the Suez and Panama Canals, the Eiffel Tower, the Crystal Palace, all showcases of where technical education could lead. This is not to say that it was an unalloyed success as the present day can attest but we can learn from the experience of the last 150 years.
As Ashok Khosla, President of Development Alternatives and VP of the Club of Rome is won't to say, it takes that long, about six generations, for development change to root....except that we no longer have 150 years of slack evene if we make no mistakes. We are at the threshold of a new jumpshift if we want to make 2100. This time horizon is that of Thierry Gaudin, formerly the head of the innovation policy sector in the central administration of France for about twenty years. He has established a Foundation called Prospective 2100 which has developed twelve pathways to converge successfully in the window 2020-2060, with all the "I's" in play such as intelligence, innovation, institutions, and probably intuition as well. So far, in policy circles, intelligence is rather of the military type (as Clemenceau once compared with music!).
But the deadline that comes before that is the next generation of 25 years. At least that’s the one which my expected lifespan can hopefully encompass. So "Info-learning", a computer-based exploration of practical knowledge, material and otherwise, in search for the right kinds of metiers to pass on to youngsters who will literally spend the best of their lives in a kind of Third World, or even Fourth World. Europe has about 500 thousand villages they don't know what to do with because they can never fit in the technical conurbations of the new world. There are some amusing horror stories of this in the corridors of the EC in Brussels, such as putting up a new, high technology plant to be staffed by locals who are used to their interpretation of communal life. To assemble electronics or whatever wouldn't leave them with enough socialising time, ritual time, or leisure time building a neighbor's barn. Two cultures clashing. Dissonance there too, in the heart of Europe, not just in the Balkans!.
The second panel of the tryptich is "Getting a Life in the Field". I have been living in the Mount Sutton range of the Eastern Townships of Quebec for over 45 years off and on . Now there are land ( and cultural) pressures because of retiring baby boomers and of periodic holiday makers with Montreal only 90 minutes away. The landscape has changed significantly for a wide variety of reasons, all leading some of us to think of eco-touristic opportunities with the conversion clearcut wood lots to multi-purpose eco-forestry gardens. There is very little organised scientific and technical knowledge about relatively small private woodlots.
How do you measure basic biomass productivity over a few hundred acres and find out what its potential carrying capacity is good for? How to optimise or select between competing ecological, environmental, economic, social cultural opportunities. How to bring the subject for discussion with local authorities? How do you cope with institutional inertia, with entrepreneurial resistance, with low public rationality?
Yet I wanted to leave institutional life behind!. But how to measure the water flow of small streams with their seasonal(or shorter) variations; where do we plan the growing seasons of certain kinds of herbs and plants, and at which location so as to maximise the overall productivity?, of what and against which criteria? It is fascinating but time shrinks fast in the face of all that needs be done Many people, usually of the ecolo-granola type want to get into an Eco-village yeah yeah. Just like consultants landing in a third world country they don't realise the amount of métier needed to blend traditional and modern knowledge into coherent practical operating systems. There is a revival of interest in nature: that's good!
There is great difficulty, however, in enlisting associates willing to work in relatively modest lifestyles, even if the needed technical knowledge has been husbanded and harnessed. Who else is going to contribute unless it is designed in their interest to do so. And that goes for "Sustainable Development" as a whole! My professional experience and my personal values add up to some sort of a legacy which I want to leave locally but replicably: how do we acquire technical, social and political maturity fast, in order to create wealth instead of just making money, by whatever means. That the state is anorexic is a good signpost to benchmark the road ahead: another is that contrary to Gresham's law, good money must be made to drive bad money away. This takes team vigilance.
The third panel of the tryptich has to do with communication. With many of my friends such as in Development Alternatives in India and Union of International Associations in Brussels, as well as Prospective 2100 in France and the World Media Institute here, the effort is in communicating what is.
Data is not information. Information is meaningless unless it is related to a given objective. It is not just a matter of information technologies, it is having an adequate set of values to benchmark the desirable progress, in the perceptual interpretative inter-linkages that can be established between bundles of data which otherwise mean nothing. We have lots of data but we don’t have coherent and consistent information. And we don’t use whatever information we have to inform others. To misinform, certainly, to deform, likely. To train people into senseless, robotic technical tasks, yes. To make them come out of themselves and become whole people? Difficult. At my stage of life, I’m not writing books, nor writing manuals, nor even comics nor tragics!
What I have been doing is team up with a younger generation person, Sylvie the film-maker who is here as you have heard. I’m lucky that we are doing a film on water, an inherently complex subject which, perhaps for that reason, has been deferred too long: after all, we are water rich!!
We have selected the subject to a very simple pattern of meanings but a very complex team of young adults. Their age group is going to be the decision makers in 2025; they will have then the knowledge and the sense to tell the "old dodos" where to leave them the battlefields of tomorrow. Roman arenas will be Victorian tea parties by comparison. They'll force us to move out and to live off our decadent myths in retirement. They will not accept implausible sacred cows nor vested interests. Fifty-meter dams (with whose money?); flooded gardens explained as an error in watering our seeds, etc. etc.. The youngsters, intelligent and sensitive as they are, will be on a personal and collective quest about water. We can go around the world to any number of places where I have witnessed development successes and failures, all yielding useful lessons.
So these young adults will be doing a lot of questioning among themselves as well, in an interactive mode. Their questioning about water will be analogous: Where do they come from? What use can they be? How to keep going, relatively healthy and happy. Not an easy program but Sylvie has the mastery of her art with a large number of very successful films. Now this info-learning initiative is a matter of learning about nature but more particularly of learning about human nature.
Most of the failures among communities have occurred not by lack of money or of physical resources, not through the lack of materials and energy to put through various high or low performance mills; the great culprit is the orientation of the people, their mind set and how they view themselves as part of a community. And many fragmented individuals have been locked up in a technical endo-skeleton mole which makes it impossible to release their wants and their desires and observe critically. So how do you open the door to that? How do you make them yield to the risk of knowing their neighbours? And doing something with them jointly, not to best them, but to achieve something together. Very complex, and soul-searching, and time-consuming. This is why the title "Humanity must find its humanity". No one of us has a private 1-800 line to truth and righteousness. But if we want to make the 2025 benchmark in relatively safe waters, now is the time to get started. Resolve, like a tide will lift all boats, large or small. There are no large boats to do the job for the smaller ones.
There is no biomass without water. Many if not most of the mining reserves of the world have already been pre-empted and spoiled for generations by the metropolitan overlords who set them up in the first place. So everything we can manage on the planet's thin biosphere, itself no thicker than the condensation of our breath on a football, is precious little but it is all we have. Sobering thoughts, but who does it sober up? Nobody seems to get sobered up, hacking away at the forest and mining the fish and the rest of it. We praise democracy but often as an excuse not to practice it. We don't want dictators, nor even enlightened autocrats (they are around anyway, their disguise covering what they lack in enlightenment) Paradoxes and contradictions! The largest failure of modern society (to paraphrase Khrushchov) is its inability to create selfless men. Very difficult dead end which applies widely.
So how do we get to make people understand that biomass is something to be really taken care of, trans-culturally, translocally, transgenerationally, trans...?
This query has led us to the global issue of water which cannot be denied. Water, the "giver of Life" manifests itself in all life forms it helps create...asnd it stays with its creation throughout our whole life. It is more than 70% of our body mass; for some other species, up to 95% (like paper pulp!) So we agreed that it was the real nerve end to twitch if there is one. Public outcries start to become heard everywhere, however ill-informed the public maybe: it is not rationality which impels them, it is their gut feelings and instincts. This anxiety must be managed to avoid grave social disruptions. Yet, there are no quick fixes, certainly not while governments toy with privatisation schemes. Their heavy hand is not designed to handle a fluid like water, nor is the private sectore concerned with anything else but bottling and selling. Who then? Groups like ATTAC can possibly delay or defuse explosive situations while our proposed documentary brings out desirable action strategies for the mid-term. Like the Club of Rome world-wide, we must think of Limits to Poverty
This is indeed a fantastic opportunity. But multi-purpose forestry gardening and the monitoring of the requisite planetary biodiversity requires entirely different mindsets than those which have organised the maldevelopment of the earth, particularly over the past fifty years, five hundred if you wish, if not five thousand: we are all acquainted with the related exponential curves.
The other concern touched upon earlier is to delve deep into the human nature and tie our prospects to the hidden awareness we all have of our atavistic past. I don't trust much the eco-granola-primitives that are commandeering a lot of attention while, in fact, sometimes make corporate moguls look more acceptable. What is fundamentally wrong is the way the modern systems of government have tended to fragment humans, basically herd animals, into individual units (is it just for fiscal and electoral purposes), and to set them up competitively against each other. In some countries, like in India, a family is still able to choose whether they are going to live under the umbrella of an undivided family corporation or to belong to the more modern model imposed by the British Raj.
Many of my colleagues in India have chosen the undivided family corporation model. It suits them as busy professionals and their analysis shows that there is an overall and individual saving in time and other resources, apart from the soul-destroying exercise of dealing with bureaucracies. In many places in the world people have never really abandoned some kind of communal structure in spite of blandishments from institutional and financial circles. Even from the stand of imperfect knowledge, "the other model" has so many benficial features that unless you are in the centre of that mind set you cannot perceive them. The current mindset of the hyper technical western Judeo-Christian culture has become near overwhelming, notwithstanding closed communities such as religious groups.
The point of view we have lightly sketched here merely reflects the conviction that, if there is an urgency in rebuilding our interactive tools with Nature, equity and ethics must play their part if "democracy" is to have any meaning at all. The further insight is that, without neglecting the global, the local must have its place if true wealth be a guide: environmental values can only be factored in there is a risk in their breach. Timely and adequate remedies do not percolate down: they rise in the conviction of local tradi-practitioners, no longer in the spurious behaviour of urban "intelligentsias" divorced from the stark realities which affect the Pareto's 80% wherever they may be located, north or south. We simply have to develop fast adequately trained sets of "gens de métier". Just like with the oriental "Tao", each cluster of the political and of the civil society must become a willing ally of the other, no longer fighting over senseless divides. Again, water gives us at the same time process and content to remedy many of our ills. If not, what is the proposed alternative?
In sum, the approach used for the wood lots serves as profitable guide to sustainable development while instilling meaning and purpose in development from the ground up. Retiring Baby Boomers, like all of us, have a conscience of sorts. They want peace and quiet and the opportunity to maintain ifot upgrade their capital investment in often substantial woodlots. A basic 15-year contract with a pre-commercial gardening every five years makes sense. This gives us the right to open the woods to four seasons trails (with adequate liability insurance packages) and to manage the watershed so as to insure sustainable multi-purpose use for utilitarian and leasure activities. The list of cross-over ways and means of achieving this is near endless. To be sure, it takes a systems approach throughout. The complexity of interpreting the potential for a particular location and a particular culture is indeed complex but fun: with the rapid rise of information technologies we have no excuse not to do it, except our own narrow perspectives or our blind belief in robotised institutions.
In partial conclusion here, we can assert that the future is already here (if our exponential curves are any guide, notwithstanding hypothetical and largely decried technological fixes) and that we probably should have been concerned with it yesterday. The future, if there is to be one in which we can be meaningfully included, must start today. Our evolution as a species is at the price of blending our kneejerk opportunistic tactics of individual survival with overarc-ing strategies in the common good.
There must be verifiable linkages to insure that our developement projects are at human scale. The alternative is that we run a two-tier economy whereby some hypothetical state stands by our basic garantees
New currencies should probably be devised to act as collective brakes to runaway infections of unmanageable cancerous viruses, material or otherwise. Political will is a notoriously short-supply item if we only consider the processes of their accession to power. If they are gred only in the corridors of power, they are not likely to have "done" enough at human scale and have no conceptual understanding of what is meant by an independent third sector representing the Common Good rather than the Public Good (Res Publica), and the Good of No-One in particular (the Res Nullius of our planet's life support systems) rather than the Private Good inequitably accessible. Our friend Tony Judge, the architect of UIA's Encyclopedia of World Problems, Human Potential and Action Strategies refers to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as Necessary to Governance Organisations. But where is the political will to share the podium as long as there is the slightest marginal advantage left to pick. Right now, political and civil societies lives as the two hemispheres of a "brain" after a commisurectomy, and no cheating with each other!
If an industry can set aside 1% of its gross annual revenue for the continuing education or training of its staff, why could'nt they similarly participate in environmentally useful initiatives. Governing authorities at all levels could likewise permit local initiatives to proceed with the product of a percentage of tariffs, of levies, of fines. This, while not imposing on the receiving body to spend a superior amount in making its claim. The overarching systems principle here would be that money for innovative and imaginative programs could, in particular, be entrusted to be trusted to children (of their employees) to do the best they can to show results out of seeds that carry the salvation of tomorrow.
We have to find the analog of nature in ourselves in terms of what might be called psycho-neuro-immunology: Do we have the value systems necessary to maintain our planetary life support systems in condition? Have we got the right information processing brain to do it? Finally, have we at least garanteed that the system will not fail to failsafe. The totally unmanaged and unprincipled way we have to manage nature is of the same order as that of our management of humanity as a whole. Surely we can see that, if all else fails, the rich people will not feed off their own thousand dollar banknotes. So what are the opportunities and constraints that come stumbling down to stare us in the face as soon as we go beyond a blind surface effect?
Our education system, our communication system, our media, must recognise that unless we are individuals where by our spirit, our heart, our head and our body are not divisible, there are just one, one set, one system and anybody who tears it apart for selfish purposes should be dismissed from civilised society. If we take on the task of considering the humanity as one, so we have to keep people as one not only within themselves but as well with their community outside. This means that it’s important to see the film opportunity as a unique, thus important experiment in social cohesion. One of my weaknesses is hereby revealed in that I just don’t have the skills to write a linear book: to do that kind of alignment and then discover that nobody’s reading it. Statistics on social science research in universities show that the average number of readers for technical papers is one and a half, including the author. A film may well turn out to be my medium and I am ever grateful to have the opportunity to test out this hypothesis.
The questioning that we must ask of ourselves is similar in what concerns water. Where do we come from? What are we good for? How do we keep in play as long as we can? What does the sustainability of development mean for us ? What development? Who is trying do develop me? The first answer must that I am going to develop my own self first.
I find more and more people who are happy to invest in that kind of adventure. So, the mantra is "There is no biomass without water". I have had lots of opportunities to travel and store myriad memories but what's left of my recall is going to be invested in that proposed film. After all, a book about it might be a serendipitous outcome. My confidence has been strenghtened because the idea for a film has germinated in each of us, the artist and the artisan, for a long time. What is planned now with the information technologies available has come up at the right time, that is the core of our confidence: Nothing that we envisage now could of been done five or ten years ago.
As an example, 50 years of archives can now be squeezed to a few percentage points of their volume and draw most of their substance. Even if 95% of the holdings can be dismissed, there would be no meaningful way previously to extract the interpretative material they contain to understand what we’re about and what we’re supposed to do within the next few years. Thierry Gaudin has made the proof that we should move more persuasively from the materials and energy transforms axis of our cross, (very expensive and polluting as they are) to the other axis leading us to an understanding of all life forms and of time (both cosmic and technical).
We have already done so, but again with our former questionable habits of greed and graft instead of creed and craft. Here, life forms have meant genetically modified organisms and time has meant accelerating optical computers to a femtosecond, 1,000 times faster than the capacity of our brain's cells to record polarity change. Will we be in a state of permanent hallucination?. Will we be able to rise above the tuggings of our primitive brain?. We can talk about humanity but sometimes it seems as if there were more of it in a troop of dolphins than there is in denatured humans. And life forms are essential to us. We can not survive without them. Even hydroponics need water.
But those who are going to be the decision makers of 2025 are among those children and grandchildren. We feel confident that we can help trigger in them this Socratic emergence of the self? Modern-day maïeutics are called for! How do we help them bring forth the best of their own potential? First of all, to bring out of them what they already know deep inside their long-term cultural memories: that which has been shut out or dismissed, or marginalised if not criminalised by the prevailing societal organisation of life as we live it. There are guides to show us the way: I mentioned earlier Thierry Gaudin who wrote "2100, Odyssey of the Species". He ventures to list the result of over fifteen years of work in back- and forecasting the key turning points of 1900, 1940, 1980 etc. right into 2100.
What does it matter if it turns out to be true or not? It spurs us to think and keep our brain cells alive. After all, he didn’t call it a “scientific report on the future”, his original book is called “tale from the future” because to the extent that science does apply to his research method, it certainly doesn’t extend to bringing back from the future what is not yet . But what he collects in terms of the imagination and sophistication of around five of six thousand scientists from around the world is remarkable. His Foundation has sorted out this large volume of documentation and has established the twelve major channels of opportunities for significant projects that have to be dealt with in that window 2020-2060 noted previously. My position here makes me eminently qualified to speak about anything within limits but the competence to do so in justice to the work is beyond me. I can only commend it to your attention since it is cognate with CACOR's own Global Issues Project.
Last year I was at one of 2100's major meetings, called “Planetary Gardens” in Chambery, France. It was very remarkable to see how some participants, normally institutionally blasés, take sudden life at the rich texture of the discussions, blown by the storms of change to come. Within the three full days of technical meetings, many shifted their positions. Many of them were near retirement and then decided not to die as institutional debris but to become statesmen. They were taking the risk of being believed and they came forth. A healthy environment will also do wonders and this is the kind of mutation that I would wish to witness more often here in Canada. Where is the College High Table where you are invited by the Master having left your uniforms and your titles at the cloakroom. Where is the genius of the place to encourage a Good Discourse.
It is with this slightly mournful coda that I thank you for having asked me here, and for being so patient.