[Viewpoint] Nature’s cry of warning

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[Viewpoint] Nature’s cry of warning

What is nature to human beings? Nature is ever-bountiful in beauty and resourcefulness. Yet in rage, it can be relentless and life-threatening. We once again had been stupefied by the mind-blowing force of the nature as it rocked and wiped away the northeastern coastline of Japan with a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Even as our neighbor struggles to come to grips with a chain of calamities that amounts to its biggest post-war challenge, the rest of the world needs to draw a lesson and ponder the fundamental question about relations between nature and humans to achieve cohabitation on this planet called Earth.

First of all, we must return to our humble selves before nature. Greed and over confidence has blinded and numbed us from the realities of the natural order and human limits. We are forced to wake up only after nature’s vengeful teachings about how helpless and vain human hopes and desires are. It is time we humbly accept that we have been naive and arrogant in thinking we could tame and dominate nature.

Humans over the history of mankind have worshiped and relied upon nature but in the process of industrialization and globalization, men hungrily and recklessly vandalized natural riches. Materialism and the insatiable pursuit of profits, ranked as the highest values of the 20th century, have exhausted natural resources and caused perilous changes to the climate due to global warming.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that mankind is on the “highway to extinction” due to rises in temperature levels. The sustainability of nature is becoming the world’s imperative challenge for the 21st century.

Rapid modernization and industrialization has caused as much destruction on humanity as on nature. Men were dehumanized as they abused and exploited lives in the name of progress and development through capital and technology. In order to veer mankind away from the path toward destruction, we need to invent an entirely new paradigm to restore and sustain the values of human and nature to form a symbiotic community.

In a seminar in Seoul not long ago, Tu Weiming, a professor at Peking University, spoke on “New Confucian Humanism”, or the modern transformation and adaptation of Confucian humanism to revive respect and appreciation for indigenous human and nature values. He called for cultural peace beyond borders and continents to emphasize communication, dialogue and reconciliation based on the principles of common interests and values.

The re-enlightenment of Confucian values that mirror relations between humans and nature through the natural cosmic rationale may be instrumental in easing the conflict of interests between developed and underdeveloped worlds over responses to climate change and environmental challenges. It may also bestow bigger roles upon China and other Asian countries with a Confucian legacy in creating a new future for the global community.

Korean thinkers like Lee Uh-ryung have also been campaigning for a revival of humanist capitalism to overcome the serious problems and paradoxes raised by technology and information development at the expense of the destruction of nature. The intricately-connected ecosystem and life in the global community can function and be sustained only with continued endeavors to help and keep one another alive.

The philosophy behind green growth must be rooted on the interconnection with nature and the recycling of natural resources to assure their sustainability.

The future of the global community depends on sustainability but right before our eyes we see the tragedy in Japan unfolding. The Japanese people are stricken with immense losses and sufferings in the aftermath one of the world’s most disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis and a nuclear crisis tantamount to the apocalyptic destruction in Hiroshima from an atomic bomb raid during the final days of World War II in August 1945.

We must come up with a concrete outline and action plans to make this world a safer and more sustainable habitat in the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in April 2012 and the World Conservation Convention slated for September in Jeju in the same year.

*The writer is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hong-koo
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