Connect with the World Wide Web of Life

Message of UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer
on the occasion of
World Environment Day
5 June 2001

Connect with the World Wide Web of Life

The new millennium confronts us with a puzzling combination of promise and threat. The riches of the information age are being felt by all of us -- from the Internet, the internationalization of trade, to the inconceivable breakthroughs in medical science. Is anything more exciting and hopeful than the promises of an interconnected world -- one where all nations have access to a free flow of ideas and products -- where electronic commerce creates a brisk growth in the world economy -- and where ignorance and sickness are banished from the globe?

But despite the profits and promise of globalization our old problems are enduring -- and urgent. We contemplate the looming threats of inequalities brought about by the forces of globalization, poverty, reduced food security, the intricate balance between population, resources and the environment, the challenge of sustainable development and the relationship of all these to the future of humanity and the environment.

This year's World Environment Day with its slogan "Connect with the World Wide Web of Life" is a reminder that the Earth with all its complex, interlocking ecosystems, is the foundation of our lives. It is our common heritage. The bounty of nature is one and indivisible. It knows no frontiers, no territorial borders. It does not recognize any North-South divide or East-West distinction. As in a family, every element in nature, however small, is part of a whole and contributes to the harmony of the whole and to its delicate overall balance. Every animal and plant species known or unknown - has its place, role and function, deserving of protection just as a family protects all its members. Stewardship in symbiosis with all life on earth. This is the role envisioned for us.

As our world views are continually challenged by new information, and as we become more aware of the consequences of our collective actions, it becomes harder for us to ignore the quality of our surrounding environment. How we obtain the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our shelter, our means of transportation, and education for our children takes on greater meaning.

Indigenous peoples recognized that the relationship between humans, plants, animals and all life forms was sacred. They lived within a community that nurtured relationships, strengthened communications and created bonds between people and the natural world. Globalization is not synonymous with uniformity. We learn from nature that diversity is a precondition for stability.

Human beings are a part of a vast web of interconnected species and systems that fit together in intricate ways, enabling the whole system to continue. There are limits to how much our population can grow, and how much we can alter our surrounding environment, without causing changes that will reverberate throughout that web and jeopardize our own future.

Technological fixes and single solutions for single problems are not enough. Instead, what is required is a fundamental change in the way we meet our needs and a reassessment of what those needs really are. Ultimately, the question of conserving and protecting the World Wide Web of Life depends on asking ourselves simple but fundamental questions: How should we live? How much is enough? What way of life human beings ought to pursue?

We have to develop the ecological, holistic world view which connects us with the rest of Nature - both materially and spiritually. Religious traditions emphasize this connection. Our task should be to retrieve these basic symbols and doctrines within each tradition and translate them into clear prescription for public policy and behavior.

It is the job of governments to protect their citizens. But governments cannot do the job alone. We need every individual citizen to help ensure strong environmental protection. Joining together is not a matter of choice -- it is a necessity. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and work and play in the same environment. Let us use the occasion of the World Environment Day to remind every citizen, communities and the business and industry that "the Earth is in our hands". By joining together, we can take the common sense steps we need to take -- and be proud to pass along a safe, clean world to our children and our children's children.

UNEP News Release 01/47

International Environment Forum - Updated 6 June 2001