Moving Forward Together

Speech delivered by Anwar Fazal at the Asia-Europe Conference at Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, on 27 May 1999.

Gaia (pronounced ‘ga-yah’) is the Greek word for mother earth, a living, complex sphere. Gaia we are told is 4,600 million years’ old. If we condense this mind-boggling figure into something we can understand and assume that Gaia is 46 years of age, we are told:

·         Nothing is known to us about the first seven years of Gaia’s life.

·         Nothing much is known about Gaia as a teenager or young adult.

·         Only at age 42, did Gaia begin to flower.

·         Dinosaurs and the great reptiles appeared only a year ago when Gaia was 45.

·         The ice age enveloped Gaia only last weekend.

·         Modern humankind has been around for four hours.

·         During the last hour, we discovered agriculture; and

·         The industrial revolution began one minute ago.

During the minute, those 60 seconds, we have ransacked the planet in the name of development, sometimes for need, very often for greed! We have caused the extinction of some 500 species of animals. We have accumulated such deadly weapons that can kill us many times over. We have also generated much happiness, creativity, beauty. But it is a constant struggle.

It is as if Gaia, mother earth, is itself suffering from AIDS. Her immune systems are being devastated as:

·         Her circulation systems - the water, and air, are being poisoned.

·         The lungs, the forests - are being wantonly destroyed.

·         Her skin a the ozone layer and soil, are being seared and scraped

All this devastation may go down paths from which there may be no return.

Can we do something to reverse this madness? Can we create a new paradigm of development and happiness that enables peace with ourselves, peace with other people, and peace with mother earth? As citizens, as community leaders, we can and we must!

Six Ways To Spend Us$25 Billion

One of the best examples of the perverted state of global priorities was stated powerfully in a recent United Nations report.

The 1993 State of the World Children’s Report by UNICEF states that US$25 billion extra a year is what it would take to meet the most basic needs of all the world’s children by the end of this decade, and yet what goes on instead:

·         Smoke and Drink: $25 billion is less than what America spends on cigarettes every six months and what Western Europe spends on alcohol every three months.

·         Aid for Russia: $25 billion is a little more than the 1992 support package for Russia agreed to by the group of seven rich nations

·         An airport for Hong Kong: $25 billion is a little more than the estimated cost of Hong Kong’s new airport.

·         Wages of war: $25 billion is about as much as the developing world spends every six months to pay the wages of its soldiers.

·         A new road for Japan: $25 billion is less than what the government of Japan has allocated, in 1992, to the building of a new road from Tokyo to Kobe.

It makes you think about the so-called development.

Towards a Caring and Just Society

We live today in a world that is dominated by three terrible technologies:

·         The technology of violence - both of the structural kind that through neglect of provision of essential services, causes death and misery, and the technological kind emanating from products, processes and wastes that maim and kill. An example is the irresponsible use of pesticides which are associated with over one million deaths in the Third World.

·         The technology of manipulation - both from the machines of bureaucratic propaganda and behaviour control exercised by unbridled advertising techniques. These can prevent the free and informed expression of people’s participation. Vicious forms of hidden advertising like ‘product placement’ in feature movies and children’s programmes that are designed to create a consumer craving to buy and buy are becoming rampant.

·         The technology of waste -garbage has become a good measure of mal-development. Greenpeace estimates that some 3.2 million tons of wastes are exported to developing countries which are playing a role as the world’s garbage dumps. About 1.2 million of the worlds 5.5 billion people are over consumers and are responsible for 70 percent of the damage to the environment.

The world is fast moving to becoming a global supermarket as well as a super dump. We do not want to end up as a dustbin as its prisoner or its victim.

Towards a New Vision

We should seek a new vision which embodies these three caring cultures:

·         a culture of balance and harmony, representing the cycles and systems so well established by the laws of nature.

·         a culture of trusteeship and stewardship, as we are only guardians of this earth.

·         a culture of accountability, not only in the political sense but also to the future, and to God Almighty.

The Responsibilities of Citizens

It is easy to talk about citizen’s rights. For the future, even more important are going to be citizens responsibilities. Rights are the trunks and branches, responsibilities the roots and the soil.

I like to share with you five principles which I have found useful which provides a framework for action as responsible citizens. We can call them the “panchasila” of responsible citizenship.

·         Critical Awareness - we must be awakened to be more questioning about the goods and services we consume. “Why” should we consume should be as important as “what” and “which.”

·         Involvement or Action - we must assert ourselves and act to ensure that we get a fair deal. We can start with ourselves, then with those around us and move on to the community and the nation.

·         Social Responsibility -we must act with social responsibility, with concern and sensitivity to the impact of our actions on other citizens, in particular, in relation to disadvantaged groups in the community. Purchasing power is real power and the power to boycott is a powerful weapon. By voting with your purchasing power, you can for example, through selective purchases and non-purchases help to bring not just better products but a better world.

·         Ecological Responsibility - there must be heightened sensitivity to the impact of consumer decisions on the physical environment, which must be developed to a harmonious way, promoting conservation. We must fight against the degradation of the environment if we are to see improvements in the real quality of life for the present and future.

·         Solidarity -the best and most effective action is through cooperative efforts through the formation of citizens group; who together can have the strength and influence to ensure that adequate attention is given to the consumer interest.

You can start with these principles yourselves. You can learn from this saying: If the people are asleep, awaken them. If the people fear to act, give them courage by taking yourself the first step. And you must take that first step quickly.

In one city, not far from here, the umbilical cords of some two dozen babies born on one day in a leading hospital were tested for lead. Every one of the tests showed lead levels higher than those safely acceptable. Those babies were being born poisoned, retarded. In that same city, an international team studied air quality and found the air so unhealthy, they refused, for their own health, to return to that city for a follow-up monitoring exercise. That city recently won notoriety as the world’s most air polluted city. If we are not careful, our cities can end up with that kind of future, with poisoned wombs and poisoned babies.

Taking Action - the People Rising

We have seen a map of a cruel world. With globalisation it can be even more cruel. We have seen many creative strategies but in the end it is peoples’ action that will make the difference. I would like to share with you seven action areas that can help to develop our strength to make the transformation needed.

Firstly, think Power and Politics - understanding the nature and structure of power and politics in our society, know how decisions are reached and fully utilise the pressures that make politics work for you.

Secondly, think Multiplying Leadership -we have to create not just more followers but more leaders especially among women and youth.

Thirdly, think Lateral - link with other groups -mass media, women, ecology, youth and religious groups. Such alliances make powerful synergy.

Fourthly, think Everywhere - encourage the proliferation of autonomous self-reliant groups at all levels and all places. Little victories have a way of creeping up to become national revolutions.

Fifthly, think Action - there must be a constant stream of simple, high profile, do-able activities that must be specific and have visible targets.

Sixthly, think Structural - look at the root cause of the problems, not just at the symptoms.

There is a story I would like to share that helps us to remember this:

A man sees a baby drowning in a river. He jumps in and saves the baby. As he is bringing the baby ashore, he sees another baby floating down the river and rushes in to save the second one. And then he sees a third, a fourth, and a fifth. He is busy saving the drowning babies that he has no time to look up the river to see the person throwing the baby into the water.

Seventhly, think Long Term - social problems are not going to disappear easily or quickly. We have to build frameworks, institutions, resources and people who will ensure the stamina for a long struggle.


In conclusion, let me share with you a blessing that reminds us about Gaia, about mother earth, about being responsible citizens; it comes from one of the native peoples of the world - the Chinooks:


“We call upon the earth, our planet home, with its beautiful depths and soaring heights, its vitality and abundance of life, and together we ask that it

Teach us, and show us the Way.


We call upon the mountains, the Cascades and the Olympics, the high green valleys and meadows filled with wild flowers, the snows that never melt, the summits of intense silence, and we ask that they

Teach us, and show us the Way.


We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon co horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens and fields and we ask that they,

Teach us, and show us the Way


We call upon the land which grows our food, the nurturing soil, the fertile fields, the abundant gardens and orchards, and we ask that they

Teach us, and show us the Way


We call upon the forest, the great trees reaching strongly to the sky with earth in their roots and the heavens in their branches, the fir and the pine and the cedar, and we ask them to

Teach us, and show us the Way


We call upon the creatures of the fields and forests and the seas, our brothers and sisters the wolf and deer, the eagle and dove, the great whales and the dolphin, the beautiful Orca and salmon who share our Northwest home, and ask them to

Teach us, and show us the Way


We call upon all those who have lived on this earth, our ancestors and our friends, who dreamed the best for future generations, and upon whose lives our lives are built, and with thanksgiving, we call upon them to

Teach us, and show us the Way


And lastly, we call upon all that we hold most sacred, the presence and power of the Great Spirit of love and truth which flows through all the universe … to be with us to

Teach us, and show us the Way”.

Back to Speeches