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Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 2007
Members of the Foundation and the Jury,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to begin by thanking the people of Asturias for the wonderful way in which they have hosted all of us here. This beautiful land could have been the subject of the British poet, William Wordsworth, when he wrote "Two voices are there: one is of the sea, one of the mountains. Each a mighty voice".
My wife Tipper and I have enjoyed visiting this region with our daughters Karenna and Kristin and may I say personally what an honour it is to take part in this magnificent ceremony and to be on the same stage with my fellow laureates.
I wish to acknowledge the special debt that I owe to the journals Science and Nature. Those who saw my slideshow in Gijón yesterday may have noticed many of the footnotes giving the source of authority for many of the images that I displayed on screen were from Science and Nature, along with some other journals, but I wish to pay a special tribute to them.
It is also deeply moving on a personal basis to be on the stage with the representatives of Yad Vashem and with the survivors, who have been so appropriately recognised and honoured here. Because I´m on the stage with them I would like to say a few words about the subject of truth. One of the most authoritative sayings in my tradition is "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free". Not long ago I was visiting in a European city and asked to drive to one of the camps nearby. I was surprised, though I should not have been, when I realised upon arriving there that it was only fifteen minutes from the downtown area. It was in a suburb. And the truth of what was happening there at that time could not have been secret to very many. If we had been present in that city and if we had known the truth, would we have had the courage to act? Would it have set us free from our moral cowardice? We would all like to think that the answer is yes.
Mahatma Gandhi once wrote that the most powerful force in human affairs is satyagraha, which we call it, roughly translated, as truth force. He was an advocate of non violence, of course, and taught the world that truth force, non violently expressed, can move mountains, can free people and can change the world. The American writer Ian Scott Peck once defined the evil as the absence of truth. It is a specialised definition worthy of reflection. But there was an absence of truth in the saying that was written above the door, the gate to the camp that I visited. Work will set you free.
I have worked to deliver to the best of my ability a lay version of the truth that is now being presented by scientists all around the world about what is going on as a result of the collision between human civilization and the ecological system of the Earth. The scientists tell us that here in the Asturias region and in my native region of the United States, known as Tennessee, and everywhere on Earth, people are made up of molecules and chemical substances that appear in almost exactly the same ratio as those substances appear in the crust of this planet. We are of the Earth. We are part of Nature. When we do violence to Nature the truth is we tear out the fabric of life and threaten the future of Humankind itself.
We have multiplied by four times the population of people on this planet in less than one hundred years. We have magnified the power of the technologies that we commonly use in our everyday activities by more than one thousand times in less than fifty years. The net result is that we are colliding with the ecological fabric that supports life itself. We must absorb the truth that scientists are telling us. We must find the moral courage to act.
Yad Vashem raises our consciousness of what happened in the past. Scientists try to raise our consciousness of what could happen in the future. It is for us, here, now, in the present, to decide what we will do, to choose the future in which we and our children and all future generations will live. There is an African proverb that says If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We have to go far, quickly, which means we have to come to a level of agreement about the truth being delivered to us by the scientists, in time to elevate human consciousness about who we are, what our purpose is here in this life and what the consequences might be if we do not find the moral courage to act.
Here in Spain, at the end of a long and bitter era, when democracy itself was at stake, the people of Spain raised their consciousness of why freedom and democracy are more important than any kind of partisan conflict or ideological disagreement. Just as the King led that revolution in consciousness here in Spain, all of us, in the generation of human beings alive right now, have an obligation to lead the revolution of consciousness in our world, of the simple fact that we are one people, living in separate nations, but sharing a common future, facing a common threat. And we must bear the same moral obligation.
Years from now, the next generation will ask of us one of two questions. As they survey our actions, and our inactions they will either ask: What were you thinking? Why were you deaf, dumb and blind to the consequences of what was being done to the truth, of what was unfolding? Or they will ask a question, that I prefer them to ask and I truly believe they will ask. I want them to look back on 2007, at the beginning of this century, and ask about us: How did they find the moral courage to rise and face the crisis so many said was impossible to solve? How did they find the ability to raise their level of consciousness about the truth that was confronting our world? How did they find the courage to act?
We have everything we need now, to make certain that that second question is the one that our children ask. And as they attempt to answer it, I want them to say that we realised we had everything we needed, to save the ecological integrity of our planet, with the exception of political will. But then we realised that in democracies like Spain and the United States and nations throughout this world that are free, political will is a renewable resource.
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