Arthur Dahl's Blog at International Environment Forum
Arthur Lyon Dahl
Maurice Strong, on of the great leaders of the environmental movement in the 20th century, has just passed away. It is rare to find someone who is successful as a businessman, a diplomat and a visionary leader over such a long period of time.
I first saw Maurice Strong in action as Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, where I represented the Baha'i International Community. He then became the first Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). When I joined the South Pacific Commission as Regional Ecological Adviser in 1974, I traveled to Nairobi to establish cooperation with UNEP. Maurice was away at the time, so in December 1974 he came to New Caledonia to discuss how our two organizations could collaborate to advance environmental action in the Pacific. We spent three days together and I took him around the island to see some of the natural wonders we were trying to preserve. He said he did not want to stay too long at UNEP, as he preferred to create things rather than to manage them, and he wondered if he might come to live in the islands (as so many of us dream at one time or another). Based on our discussions, he gave a talk at the Pacific Science Congress in Vancouver in 1975 about the need for an environmental programme in the Pacific, and UNEP then supported me to build what became the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) now based in Apia, Samoa.
When Maurice was Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, he asked UNEP to second me to his secretariat, specifically to prepare an islands section of Agenda 21, and I ended up doing the final drafting of the whole chapter 17 on oceans, coastal areas and islands.
Our paths did not cross too often after that, once when I was with UNEP and he visited our headquarters in Nairobi, and another occasion when by chance we sat next to each other in an airplane. He had a great appreciation for the Baha'is, and when my wife wanted to interview him for a film on Baha'u'llah that she was making for the Holy Year 1992 (Baha'u'llah, Secret of the Century), he agreed immediately to the interview.
At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012, Maurice was on a panel to discuss the issues of employment and migration, and he made perhaps the most radical statement of any panelist when he said that we had to recognize that modern technology allowed us to meet our material needs with less and less labour, meaning that the economy would never create enough jobs for everyone, but this should not mean that anyone should be deprived of their share of the material benefits of the economy. That illustrated his perfect balance of an ethically-based idealism and practical realism.
This is my small tribute to one of my heroes and a great figure of the last half century.
Felix Dodds has prepared hos own homage to Maurice Strong at http://blog.felixdodds.net/2015/11/rip-maurice-strong-father-of.html
Last updated 28 November 2015