Presented at the International Daoism Forum, Hengyang City, Hunan Province, 2011
Observations by a visitor from Europe
As a visitor from Europe and a friend of the Dao, I feel very honoured to have been offered the opportunity to formulate some observations on the subject of sustainability and its relationship with Daoism. I am a great admirer and long-time student of Daoism, but I realise that I cannot claim any of the deep expertise and practice accumulated by the masters, scholars and other experts present at the International Daoism Forum. Nevertheless, I will take this opportunity to give you some of my views. My experience with sustainability and Daoism goes back to the early 1980s, when I frequently visited the island of Taiwan. Though at that time Taiwan was considered the ‘economic miracle of the Far East’, I was struck by the effects of decades of spectacular economic growth combined with a total neglect of the ecological factor. The air, the rivers and the soil were so polluted that you could smell and see the effects everywhere, whilst the record number of people suffering from hepatitis and the damage done to biodiversity were alarming. At the same time, as I visited many of the intact Temples on the island, I became aware of the culture of Daoism and started to read texts by Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi, both of whom emphasised the harmony between Heaven, Nature and Man or Heaven, Earth and Humanity.
These two contrasting encounters with the Chinese world were puzzling to me and I started studying in more detail what Daoism teaches us about the conservation of nature and what sustainability teaches us about that same subject. As a result, I was involved in a 3-year environmental study in Taiwan, which ultimately led to the publication of a report in 1989 called Taiwan 2000: Matching Economic Growth with Environmental Protection. Daoism was, however, not a major factor for the Chinese professionals participating in the study. I had to wait for 25 years to see that happen in China today. In the meantime, the United Nations report by the World Commission on Environment and Development — called Our Common Future — had been published in 1987. The People’s Republic of China was represented on the Commission by Ma Shijun. It was in this report that the concept of sustainability was defined for the first time.
Read the full speech from Op zoek here in pdf.The Nature of the Dao and Sustainable Development