Earth Day / Earth Day2013 /
I learned from a former protocol officer that it is appropriate to address the visitors of an informal gathering at the United Nations with "friends", no matter what title they bring with them. And we are still a very informal gathering here, as we celebrate the 43rd return of Earth Day, on this beautiful 20th of January 2013, at this very favourable noon time.
All of you know why we are doing this: it is because we want to express a longing, because we want to issue a statement. We are the ones that believe that the shere recognition of the fact that this beautiful planet is our home, that we are all living on one earth, should blow all our quarrels, cultural differences, economic games and political warfare away. We are the idealists. We are the people that think there is good in every man. We are the ones who enjoy thinking that we are all gifted with one common ground. We are the ones who want to think from this ground upwards.
And we are here because a true visionary had the idea. The idea was that people of all creeds and cultures have so many things in common that even their differences can be mastered and applied for the best good of all. And we can not start this Earth Day celebration without commemorating the fact that John Mc Connell, the founder of Earth Day, was blessed to see his idea manifest 42 times, even though in his last years he lost sight. On October 20th last year, however, he passed away, having reached the age of 97 years. I have copied a beautiful article by his biographer Robert Weir, that I want to share with you, so even those who did not know this great man keep up his memory.
Now, I would like to stress a comparison from biology to describe Earth Day. Earth Day is a pioneer plant. John never wanted that we just think of Earth one day, he planned for weeks and months dedicated to the care and preservation of the wonderful web of life that sustains us. He wanted to establish truthful symbols to remind us every day of the incredible fact of existence or creation, however you name it, the highly improbable, delicate thin layer of life-supporting conditions on the crust of this globe. He created the Earth Flag, the Earth Charter, the notion of Earth trusteeship, and he strongly believed that the very existence of a forum like the United Nations that would see the Earth as a commons was a step forward.
You all know what the fate of pioneer plants is; when the ground they have secured is loosened and prepared, other plants will come in masses to inhabit this ground. Earth Day very soon split into April 22nd versus Equinox, and then many more days of international commemoration appeared. For example, 5th of June Became World Environment day. The UN, who proclaimed the Equinoix Earth Day in 1970 even forgot almost completely about it, and we are glad that we still can keep up the memory. But guess what - new days keep emerging, and our beautiful spring date is now framed by International Day of Happiness and World Water Day.
If you look at this without any disappointment or contempt, you could really say: there is a whole garden now where there once was one pioneer plant! So many days to commemorate the commons and commonalities of mankind, population day, teachers day, book day, thinking day, social justice day, health day, womens day, childrens day, youth day, ocean day, refugee day, music day, kindness day, gratitude and peace day, heart day, animal day, habitat day, food day, egg day - there is even a left handers day and I left out another hundred.
Of course this garden blooms in specialties, and we know that our pioneer day is so special because it has no specialties. But we also see that it is also odd to keep the general apart from the special.
So we are here now also on World Happiness day. And I think that is one of the finest coincidences that could have been invented. because, after all, happiness is exactly the message that Earth Day was meant to spread. The message of happiness day is by no means a superficial one; it is a sharp critique to old paradigms, that measured human happiness and wellbeing in terms of money and possession. As the dabate about sustainable development has tought us, monetary income does not tell us anything about the effect on human wellbeing. You can make millions and billions by producing and selling bombs, which will hardly contribute to anybodies wellbeing. Yet this was and still is the official indicator of economy. Human progress and development was not measured properly in a world where as John used to say we spend billions on bombs and pennies on peace.
Many philosophers have come to many different concepts what happiness is; and until very recently it was a very subjective concept, happiness meaning different things to different people. But science has taught us that human beings are not entirely secluded to themselves; they feel each others happiness. We have mirror neurons that enable us to emphasize with each other, support each other. Experiments with very young children have shown that at the very depth of the human being there is a natural tendency towards cooperation that gradually gets narrowed down or extinguished by bad example and education.
We can say in general that the concept of happiness day, the fact that we seek to bring this basic dimension of human life, mirrors the fact that in our happiness we are positively dependent on one another. We will seek to explore this relations in the years to come. I am very happy that we have representatives of the Austrian Bhutanese society with us, and we invite everyone to join us in the effort to create a delightful scheme which enables meaningful encounters in the future.
For today, please let me end with a message of hope. It is exactly 10 years that we celebrated Earth Day here in 2003. It was at night time and we had a celebration at a former military compound nearby. I remember that at that night the bombe fell on Iraq and the TV screens in the lobby were transmitting the "shock and awe" show at nighttime. It seemed hopeless what we were doing, even ridicolous. We still rang the bell, and by accident even one of the chains that hold the clapper of the peace bell broke. We had to fix it with the belt of one participant. It truly felt like the end of the world - and look where we are now! The world has not ended, it has revealed truths. Many truths. War did not hold its promises, it created endless misery, and even those who dreamt that it would solve all problems with one stroke and create democracy and prosperity have to acknowledge today that it did not make this world safer. So we can maybe expect that a truly well thought out message of peace - which will really contribute to happiness - will find open ears more than before.
The solution is in each one of us. We have altered the tradition to let only the most honorable persons ring the peace bell. We introduced the symbolic gesture that everyone in this celebration rings the peace bell. This means also, that everyone can contribute a very special part to the message of peace and happiness. Thank you - and lets ring the bell!
(Please ring the bell in pairs, and try to do it with one gentle stroke. Please be gentle so the chain wont break. Please be powerful enough the sound will be heard!)