Canadian oil billionaire Maurice Strong, Secretary General at the Rio de Janeiro United Nations 1992 Conference on Environment and Development, expressed the goal of Sustainable Development by declaring a partial list of what is not sustainable:
“...current life-styles and consumption patterns of the affluent middleclass [e.g. Americans]—involving high meat intake [e.g. cattle production], use of fossil fuels [e.g. air and auto travel, industrial and consumer products], appliances [e.g. refrigeration] home and work air-conditioning and suburban housing are not sustainable.”The UN Divides the World into 10 'Regional Groupings'
Originally published on June 20, 2012
Godfather of global environmentalism resurfaces
Maurice Strong, the godfather of global environmentalism and organizer of the United Nations' 1992 Rio environmental Earth Summit, is making a quiet comeback to the limelight on the eve of that meeting’s successor, the Rio + 20 summit on "sustainable development," which starts June 20 in Brazil [home of the third temple].
Strong, 82, has been taking part in a variety of conference side-events prior to the three-day meeting of some 130 top-level international leaders, part of a growing wave of hoopla and promotion that will climax at the summit leadership sessions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading the U.S. delegation there.
His appearance at Rio + 20 is also the latest stage in a Long March through controversy that has kept Strong, a native Canadian who is widely deemed to be one of the key instigators of the global environmental movement, living a low-profile life in China for the past half-decade.
Now Strong is back on one of the stages where he feels most comfortable--a global U.N. conference on the environment--though the role he may play in the leaders' sessions is not known. Questions sent by Fox News to the Rio + 20 conference organizers on Monday about his role had not been answered before this article was published.
Nonetheless, on Monday evening, Strong was introduced as a "very special guest of honor" at a "Corporate Sustainability Forum" organized by the U.N. Global Compact, a corporate group that has signed onto a variety of U.N. social and development goals. In a brief address, Strong lauded the assembled executives as "the most important meeting of Rio + 20," and noted the number of corporate representatives attending from "the country where I live, which is called China."
"If we are going to achieve the world we want, and not just the world we are going to get if we stay on the same course, it's got to be led by the business community," he said. "The real actors, the people who are going to make the change are the people in this room."While Strong's presence is low-key, there is no doubt the U.N. has brought him to Rio in an official capacity, if nothing else as a living relic of the successful 1992 Earth Summit, where Strong served as conference secretary general. Strong has recently described himself as a "senior advisor to the secretary general" of the Rio + 20 conference, a high-level Chinese bureaucrat named Sha Zukang, who is also a top member of the U.N. Secretariat.
Documents examined by Fox News show that the Beijing office of the United Nations Development Program has paid Strong's way, with a $13,000 round-trip air ticket from Beijing to New York to Rio and back. His hotels and living expenses are also being picked up, in what amounts to a three-week Rio + 20 junket.
Along the way, Strong has stirred up controversy, after he stopped off in Canada late last month to slam the incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as a man whose "ideology seems to over-ride his understanding" on issues of climate change. Many Canadians were dismayed by the comments.
Conservative Party leader Harper withdrew Canada late last year from the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, citing its crippling costs. Betwixt and between his many U.N. postings, Strong has been associated with the opposition Liberal Party.
Controversy, along with radical environmental and economic views, is what Strong has long been known for. He took up residence in Beijing in 2005, after serving as the U.N.'s special envoy to North Korea, when investigators of the Oil for Food scandal uncovered the fact that he had cashed a check for nearly $1 million from Tongsun Park, a South Korean political fixer later convicted of conspiring to bribe U.N. officials on behalf of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Strong was never accused of any wrongdoing, and said his move to China at that time was no more than a coincidence.
Since then Strong, an avowed life-long socialist, has been engaged, in low-key fashion, in a number of business deals involving the Chinese government. He also served as a director of the Chicago Climate Exchange, one of the first attempts to create a commercial cap-and-trade market in the U.S. Recently, he has also taken part in preliminary walk-up meetings for Rio + 20 in China, though without official title.
Giving Strong one last star turn on a U.N. environmental stage, despite his past brushes with scandal, is an interesting gambit for the U.N, though it has apparently approached the matter cautiously.
The fact is that Strong is the closest thing to global environmentalism’s patron saint--or, to conservative critics, the foremost grey eminence of the movement to expand "global environmental governance"--which is once more on the international agenda at Rio + 20. His presence adds another dimension of historical luster among fervent environmentalists, something that has been lacking as the gathering bogged down in negotiating acrimony in its preliminary stages.
Rio + 20 conference: Negotiators producing a mammoth, messy and expensive grab bag of regulations and demands
Three of the continuing, controversial themes of Strong's long U.N. career, are uppermost at Rio + 20:
- strong support for China as a world power,
- a greater role for global regulation of the environment, and
- a radical overhaul of the world’s economic system.
For his part, Strong has been publicly arguing the need for urgent action on the Rio + 20 conference agenda, extolling the need for a revitalized greenhouse gas suppression agenda and a "revolution" in the world economy in, a June 4 article in Latin America that used his senior advisor title.
"Rio+20 must reinforce international efforts to reach agreement and renewal of the Climate Change Convention and its implementation," he declared.The Environmental and Economic Crises Share the Same Cause
The article was published by a news service, Tierramerica, which says it is a joint project of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank. Strong has been writing similar pieces for Tierramerica for a number of years.
Using a UNEP-created news agency as the vehicle for an article by a former UNEP executive director to further the cause of greater global sway for UNEP is the kind of inventive but also self-aggrandizing public relations thinking that Strong has long brought to the U.N., and that played no small part in his long ascent to prominence.
Strong has spent nearly half of his life promoting a U.N.-centered vision on environmental issues. In 1972, he served as secretary-general of the U.N.'s Conference on the Human Environment--which, in turn, helped to spawn the United Nations Environmental Program later that year--whereupon Strong became its first executive director.
After filling a number of business roles back in his native Canada, Strong returned to run the Earth Summit, which gave global environmentalism another huge boost. He became a close advisor to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, helping him to generate a still unfulfilled blueprint for U.N. reform.
Photograph: Wilson Chu/Reuters/Corbis Leo Hickman
Former UNEP boss and environmentalist Maurice Strong's interview with Leo Hickman
June 23, 2010
What's your reaction to how your name has been used and abused over the years?
I've got used to criticisms and, naturally, I try to make sure I don't listen to the more extreme ones because most of the people who have taken their rightwing extremist view of my life are people that I've never met. Most of my supporters are people who actually know me. I just continue to do the best I can and I don't bother to try and respond to every little bit because the best response is just to keep on doing what you think is right.
Is this a phenomenon that has happened over the past decade or so during the internet age, or have you attracted criticism all your career stretching back to the 1960s?
Way back when I headed the Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972, I was roundly criticised then. I learn something from criticism because when it comes from sources you respect you always examine it and learn. However, the extreme criticism and attacks exclusively come from people I don't know who have an ideological basis for their criticism, and, most often, very little factual basis. I remember years ago the rightwing magazine in the US, the National Review, had me on their cover saying something like Maurice Strong is not a household name, but it perhaps the most dangerous person around, but they didn't interview me or anything. But I've had my positives too. Just recently I was in the Netherlands receiving the Franklin Roosevelt Freedom award.
Some of the criticism, particularly in this internet age, can be like a virus, going completely unchallenged…
If I spent my time responding to it I'd be doing nothing else. The best thing is just to keep doing what you think is right. I have a website for people to get some factual information about me. That is a type of response, I suppose. Anyone who is seriously interested in me would usually do a little more homework and realise that the extreme criticisms are almost exclusively ideologically based. And they don't bother with facts, they just distort or misrepresent the facts. They haven't silenced me.
Are you now retired?
I passed retirement age at the UN long ago. I left after the role I was in most recently which was Kofi Annan's representative in the North Korean issue. But North Korea withdrew their support for the UN and, incidentally, I drew some negative comments about why I left the UN, too. But it just happened that my contract expired and I was already over retirement age.
So there's nothing in the allegations about your involvement in the oil-for-food scandal?
There was lots of controversy about it, but very little attention was paid when it become clear that I didn't [have any involvement]. I had nothing to do with the oil-for-food scandal and there was an enquiry that made this clear. But I did have a relationship with one of the people involved with helping me on North Korea, who came from North Korea itself. That gave rise to some controversy and then when there was a report on it that made clear that I had not done any of those things there was very little publicity for that.
I am retired from all my official roles, but I am still very active. I have close relationships at the UN. I don't have any role at the UN, but I'm still quite cooperative with a number of UN activities, in particular to China and that region. I don't have any government responsibilities or formal role. I continue to be active, though.
Have you wound down your business interests?
I don't do very much. My son is the main shareholder of my company and I help him explore some of those opportunities that are related to things I know about, such as energy and the environment. But I'm active because I can't think of anything else to do in my so-called retirement.
A lot of the criticism you seem to attract is founded on the belief that, via your extensive portfolio of business interests and bureaucratic roles, you are somehow plotting to establish a new world order. How do you respond to this accusation?
I think it exaggerates my influence, my power and my intention. Anyone who wants to look at the record over the years can see that I've been subjected to that kind of criticism, but I've always made it clear that I do not believe that global government is either necessary of feasible. What I do believe is that we need a system of global governance through which nations can cooperate and deal with issues they cannot deal with alone. Maybe that statement is too sophisticated for some but it shouldn't be.
The ultimate example is climate change. I prepared a piece recently on what I call the "Survival Agenda", pointing out that the UN agenda has something like 150 items on it and it is impossible to get an item off the agenda due to the constituencies that keep them on there. However, many just don't need to be on there. They can be dealt with by other organisations, or are no longer relevant compared to when they were put on the agenda. What we need is to give special priority to those issues that affect our actual survival and I've boiled this down to about seven issues. We've got to realise that we blithely assume that life will continue no matter what because it always has. But it's not correct that it always has.
Look at the history of planet earth – there's only a minute moment of time when the conditions have been conducive to human life. We are literally altering those conditions and my motivation is to alert people to this. I believe that we need a degree of cooperation on these issues that goes beyond anything we've ever seen before. During a war we get a lot of co-operation, but we also get a lot of rivalry. In the second world war, nations co-operated. There are examples of co-operation during periods of special need. But things are happening now that could really affect the future of humanity and that's what drives me. It doesn't mean I'm right about everything, but that is my purpose.
A common cry among your critics is that you are a socialist, a communist. Your links to China and North Korea give rise to that view with some. This, they argue, is all part of some secret agenda to create a totalitarian, unelected world government. Is this something you recognise? Are you – or have you ever been – a communist?
I've certainly never been a communist. [Laughs.] It doesn't mean that I don't look critically at all systems. The capitalist system has proved itself not able to deal with all of society's problems. In terms of socialism, yes, I've been accused of that. My belief is that the purpose of economic life is to meet the social needs of people.
My kids sometimes ask me: "Are you a socialist or a capitalist?" I'm a socialist only in the sense that I believe that the purpose of economic life is to meet the social needs of people. I'm a capitalist in that I believe that's the best way to do so. Capitalism is not an end in itself but a means of creating and managing wealth to help meet social objectives. To me some people define socialism as the ownership of enterprises by governments on behalf of society. Well, sometimes that is very necessary.
In Canada, we've never had a socialist government at the federal level, but we've had state corporations, or what we call crown corporations. There are times when every government has state involvement in the economy. In the US, take a look at the single biggest industry – the defence industry. It is very much state-controlled. I believe that the government is actually a very poor owner of enterprise. I've run enterprises in Canada that were owned by government and never believed that government was the best owner of enterprise.
Is the concept of a free market, given the environmental challenges we face, a dangerous concept for humanity?
It's not free and never has been. Just look at the level of subsidies that every government provides. Even today, governments continue to subsidise fossil fuels or other things that are environmentally counter-productive. The market economy has seldom ever been free and we've seen recently the dangers of an unregulated, unrestrained market economy. I think even those who believe in the market economy must accept that it produces some unwelcome by-products and economic winners and losers. It demonstrates that a totally free market economy simply isn't workable.
So an ever freer market is a wrong-headed goal in your view? And increased regulation is preferable?
Up to a point. There are extremes of regulation. There has to be a balance. The democratic system, in theory, permits this constant re-examination of this relationship between government and enterprise.
Given your understanding of China, what in your view is the better model in the decades ahead – the Chinese model or the Western model?
I don't think there is any perfect model anywhere. We know already that the US model is not working. With the bail-outs and takeovers some of the US's main companies are now controlled by the government. We know that pure capitalism hasn't worked. In China, they have used their system – which they call a socialist market economy – quite well to achieve their objectives. It's also in a continuous process of evolution. I've had a working relationship with China nearly all my adult life. I've seen the remarkable progress they've made and are still making. They're quick learners. They tend to be among the best in terms of business and industry. They have learned how to use the methods of capitalism to meet their own goals of socialism. China is among the best managed countries today. Not perfectly managed, of course
Where would you instinctively rather live? In China, or in the US or Canada?
I've spent a lot of time in China and, with my environmental interests, China is about as good a place to be at the moment. China was pretty slow at the beginning. [The environment] was a side issue compared to the economy. But China has now recognised that undermining the environment is one of the risks to development. They have become very environmentally minded.
After the Copenhagen summit there were lots of accusations that China had pulled the rug out from any agreement…
I was there, but didn't have any influence. That is a lame excuse for the West. China is actually doing more than most other countries in the world to reduce its emissions. For example, its automobile emissions standards are tighter than those of the United States. The problem is the economy is growing so fast. The Chinese will continue to do more on their own emissions than an international agreement asks them to do, but they are not prepared to do them under an international agreement unless and until those who created the problem in the first place, and brought us up to these thresholds of danger, are doing what they've got to do. China's position is very consistent.
What most people missed about Copenhagen was there was no agreement in prospect. But what it did do is underscore that China must be accorded the kind of political status that its economy now demands. It's interesting that the final statement at Copenhagen was a statement between two countries – China and the US. That in itself is very significant. China has its own internal dangers, of course, but it has never been one to take over its neighbours. It has boundary disputes. It could easily overrun its neighbours, but it doesn't do that and I don't think it is likely to. But China is on track to be the largest economy in the world and, with it, it has a growing political influence.
Does this please or displease you?
I would say neither of those things. It's a perfectly proper objective for it to pursue. It has already lifted more of its own people out of poverty than any other single nation. Whether it will work in the future, as it has done in recent times, I'm not sure, but I don't see any signs that China increasing its power is a great threat.
It sounds as if your heart and sympathies are more with China at the current time than with the West. Is that correct?
I wouldn't say that. I'm a westerner, but I believe that the rise of China is good. It's not a danger and it will be a benefit to create a little more balance in the world where it's not dominated by one country. The US will continue to be a major force in the world, and that's good, but it's not going to be exclusively dominant as it has been in the past. The rise of China, and others in Asia, means the centre of gravity in world geopolitics has now moved towards Asia. My sympathies are with the East to the extent that I believe that it's inevitable – and should be good – that the power structure of our world community is accommodating of the fact that Asia is the largest region in economic and population terms. I can see how it could go wrong, too, but Western leaderships haven't always provided the ideal world we all hoped for. We are still a minority in the west. We can't continue to have it all our own way.
One of the strongest criticisms that you face is that, because you have had a varied career involving business interests and roles at the UN, you somehow created the climate change issue to profiteer from your business interests via, say, cap-and-trade and the Chicago Climate Exchange. Or that it is all a Trojan horse for you to advance your political objectives. How to respond to this?
It shouldn't take anyone too long to understand that it would be pretty difficult for a single person to mount a conspiracy that involves most of the world's [climate] scientists and to get them all to join this conspiracy. I'm not a scientist, but I've been close to science and seen that scientists don't reach consensus very easily. There's a tremendous process of dialogue and differences. To see climate scientists reach the level of consensus that they have is a major thing and couldn't be the result of a conspiracy that one person could ever engineer.
And what about the idea that you are somehow profiteering from climate change? That it's a device for you to make money through cap-and-trade?
I was on an MIT panel on climate change in 1968, I think it was, before the Stockholm Conference. But I was lucky enough to have already made enough money from business at that time. It's true that I do get a modest fee from Chicago Climate Exchange, which I helped Richard Sandor to found, because I believe the cap-and-trade system, while not perfect, is one of the best ways to ensure that people have the incentive to reduce their emissions at the lowest cost. That's a long way from suggesting that I could invent the climate change issue to make profit. People call me very rich. I'm rich in experience, but most of my money has always been spent on the causes I'm interested in. No one should feel sorry for me for being poor, but I'm certainly not very rich.
You're painted as this billionaire figure who strides all these global institutions reaping profits from the so-called cap-and-trade "scam" and your interests in China. Do you just laugh this off?
Well, it's just not true. You can check my credit report and see that I'm credit worthy - but just barely [laughs] - and I've never been anywhere close to being a billionaire. Also, it's never been my main purpose in life. I have business interests, but they are pretty modest and I believe that business has to contribute to the solutions. To do that, they have to be profitable. If people think I shouldn't have ever made a living, then perhaps I should have just passed the hat around to keep my affairs going. But I think if you look at my business record you will see that not everything I have ever done has been successful, by any means, but I have fought to contribute to the solutions of these problems.
Will the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico help President Obama push through his climate-change legislation?
I don't have an inside track, but I think it could help and probably should help. But the oil industry has lobbyists and the power of money has tremendous influences. No other industry has more than the oil industry. It's a good industry and I was in it myself. I was jeered when I set up Canada's national oil company – Petro-Canada – because I made every proposal that came to management have to have an environmental assessment. People in the industry at that time laughed at it and that was another source of criticism for my crazy ideas. The oil industry is very important, but it, too, has its excesses and the BP disaster is demonstrating the tremendous consequences of its excesses. We have to move away from oil now – and are at the very early stages of doing so – not because the oil is running out, but because of the economic and environmental consequences.
Some of your critics claim that you are part of a shadowy elite who gather together and work out how to run the world. Your name has been linked to the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati, and, with your connection to the Rothschilds on the record, the "Jewish banking conspiracy". What are your connections to these groups?
I have got lots of connections, but they're not among them. I've never been a member of the Bilderberg. I don't have any special relationship with the Rothschilds. I knew Edmund Rothschild at one stage. He's passed away now, but was a very creative fellow who took an interest in Canada. I don't think I've ever done a piece of business with the Rothschilds. I've been on various foundations: the Rockefeller Foundation, and I worked with Ted Turner in helping him to set up the UN Foundation. But I got off most of those things because I got a little older and attending all the formal meetings was difficult physically because I've had health problems. What was the other one?
Illuminati - a group that has its origins in 17th Century Bavaria and is said to be planning a new world government.
[Laughs] Well, I've certainly never had any contact with anyone from that organisation, or that I knew was connected to that group. Maybe someone I knew had a connection with it, but I certainly don't have any relationship with it. And I'm not in favour of a world government, as I've said. It's not even feasible. I do believe that governments have to work together. That's one of things that really concerns me about the future. I really do believe that our future is in doubt.
So are you pessimistic about the state of the world?
Analytically, I'm pessimistic. I believe the odds are against us for making the changes we need to make in time. But, operationally, I'm optimistic because I believe that it is still possible. Tougher the longer we delay it. That's why I'm trying all these things because I believe we should still be trying as long as it is still possible. My pessimism is based on whether I think we will actually make these changes. At the Rio Summit, which I ran, a group of enterprises prepared a report called "Changing Courses". These were not environmentalists, they were CEOs of major companies and they said our present industrial civilisation is not viable unless it changes course. That was back in 1992. The need to change the course – not to replace it with some communist system – on which we are now embarked was absolutely imperative way back then. Now we have more companies agreeing with us, but we also have more opposition. I do believe that we are at risk.
Your name is often associated with terms such as eugenics and population control. What is your definitive position on the human population? Do we need to radically reduce the number of people on this planet? If so, how?
There is no question that growth in the world population has increased the pressures on the Earth's resources and life-support systems. Now that doesn't mean that the Earth can't support this number of people. There are much more stringent and disciplined ways of supporting the increase in population. The increase in population is occurring today mostly in countries without the resources to look after these populations.
China's one-child policy is not a perfect policy by any means, but, on the other hand, how do you control growth in your population? China has done a remarkable job in increasing the well-being of one of the largest populations in the world, but it's not easy.
There's no question that if you look at the growth in population and the growth of the economy that the pressure on the environment and resources of the Earth have come not from the increase in population, but rather the impacts of the existing population.
All the people on the Earth aspire to a better life. If all of them enjoyed the same patterns of consumption that we in the West do, then we would have an unsustainable situation, and we're actually on the way to that now. We are in a situation that is unsustainable. In some of the densest city states, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, you see that it's possible to have a decent life, but only by reaching out to the rest of the world for supplies and support.
So they are financially successful, but they require a disproportionate share of the world's resources. On a global basis, that would inevitably create an unsustainable world.
So, with a global population approaching 7 billion and predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, do we just let this rise happen, or, in the West, do we have to start thinking along China's lines by introducing rules and regulations about how many children people can have?
There is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that China's one-child policy hasn't been the only form of population control in that country. As the economy helps people in their lives, they tend to have fewer children.
So one child in the US, could equal the consumption levels of 10 children in Africa or India?
That's what I believe. It may be possible that the Earth can sustain a larger population, and seems inevitable with current trends, but it will require better constraint and discipline. It will be hard to enforce, therefore. The increase in population will create a huge dilemma and sources of conflict. For example, population growth in places like Europe used to be balanced by emigration, but today the borders of the world are closing and the pressures on Europe, for example, will grow. The combination of population growth and the growth in consumption is a danger that we are not prepared for and something we will need global cooperation on.
This is the toughest issue of all, surely. How do you go to someone - unless you live in a totalitarian government such as China's - and say to them that they must limit the number of children they have?
Nature will provide solutions much tougher than we could ever provide if we don't do something ourselves. Secondly, I was deputy minister in the Canadian government at a very young age and I made a speech in Canada in which I said that, with a growing global population, we will have to recognise that having children is not just a personal issue but a societal issue and at a certain point we may be faced with a need to have a permit to have a child. My minister was getting all sorts of calls from archbishops saying, "what is he saying?" I had to explain that I wasn't advocating this, just that this is what might happen if we don't find better ways of doing it. That was controversial and I've been used to controversy ever since. Over the years, I've also noticed that this is one way of getting attention. For example, you'd probably never heard of me if people weren't always attacking me. It is, perhaps, a peripheral benefit that the attacks call attention to the issue.
You don't lose sleep when Glenn Beck dedicates a show to attacking you?
You know what? I haven't actually seen that show. But we wouldn't be having this conversation if he hadn't attacked me. I'm never going to be immune from criticism. I've always had lots of it and the internet has given it a proliferation of dissemination. I don't respond to it all, but I listen to it. My family gets irritated by it, but it's something that's been part of my life for so long that at my age I'm philosophical. I concentrate on the positives such as being honoured with a professorship seven or eight times. I could just fade away and, at my age, to some degree I am, but I'm not going to fade away any more than I have to.
Click here for more on Maurice Strong and the global warming conspiracy.