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LEE Yuan Tseh




LEE Yuan Tseh

Doctor of Science
honoris causa

Limited Earth, Unlimited Hope

Mr Pro-Chancellor, Mr Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of all those who are awarded Dr honoris causa here today, I would like to thank Hong Kong University for this honour. I'm sure that we all feel greatly honoured for such recognition. I also feel particularly fortunate to be the one to have this special opportunity to address to this unique audience. Therefore, for the next few moments, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my own thoughts that have been lingering in my mind as fellow citizens of the earth.

As we look back in human civilisation and cultures, history tells us that for thousands of years, human beings believed that they were part of nature and the universe. As a result of such belief, human beings considered it vital to live in harmony with nature. Man and nature are but one; evidenced and practiced in various cultures and advocated vigorously by ancient Chinese philosophers. However, industrial revolution that took place in Europe in the late eighteenth century brought unprecedented advancement in technology on the one hand; and on the other hand also uprooted value systems in Western cultures. People no longer believed that they were part of mother nature; instead, they wished to be the supreme Master, to conquer nature, to control the universe and to create a new world in pursuit of material advancement in life. In other words, to pursue better material life had thus become the new cultural value. Human values as well as life in general have been uprooted and changed ever since.

Based on scientific progress and technological advancement brought by industrial revolution, Western culture, starting from the nineteenth century, had become the main stream and taken the lead of global cultures. They had become the models to be followed. Consequently, development of science and technology, exemplified in degrees of industrialisation, as well as political democratisation and economic liberalisation have thus become significant indicators and norms of how developed a country was. By the twentieth century, many developing and undeveloped countries have set out to try very hard to follow the steps and paths of developed countries, with the exception of imperialistic colonialism. Modernisation became the ultimate goal; abandoning older values relentlessly became necessary. The end unequivocally justified the means.

At the early stage of industrialisation and modernisation, people were not very much aware of the degree of destruction and demolition that could come along; whether it was the earth, the ocean, or the atmosphere. Along with leaping rise of productivity and increasingly large consumption of energy as well as other resources, material life for human beings improved remarkably. But as a result, population boom also emerged as an inevitable consequence. In the short period of one hundred years or so, namely the twentieth century, human population increased by four folds. Besides, the advancement of science and technology also brought forth great improvement in transportation and communication. The world became relatively shrunken and our economic activities as well as our environmental problems increasingly internationalised.

After constant pursuit of economic development and growth, people realised little by little that there were limits of the resources that the earth could offer and the capacity of the land, the ocean and the atmosphere to absorb the waste generated by human activities are also limited. Endless exploitation of the natural resources and ceaseless demand of high economic growth could cause disastrous impact to the ecological system. Our earth is in fact very vulnerable; it can only tolerate so much. In the end, the knowledge that makes us human beings master of all species and the science and technology that enable us to manipulate the world could eventually turn against us and become responsible for the disappearance of our race from the surface of the earth.

Recently, people in many areas of the world have finally started to look seriously into environmental and ecological problems such as the destruction of the ozone layer, the acid rain, and the global warming trend. These problems tell us that we can not and must not continue unlimited exploitation of the limited earth. In particular, the ceaseless competition of economic growth among nations must come to an end. Otherwise, the destroyed ecological system will no longer provide human beings' with the sustainable existence that are essential for the generations to come.

So far some international efforts have taken place in the hope to help the situation. The Montreal Convention has resulted in signing the protocol to limit the use of CFC to prevent continued damage to the ozone layer. For the prevention of global warming trend, resolution was also passed during the Third General Congress of the FCCC that was held on December 11, 1997 in Kyoto. The resolution stated that by the year 2010, developed countries should decrease the gas release that could cause green house effects by 5.2 percent than that of 1990. That includes CO2, Methane, NO and Freon substitutes such as HFC, PFC, and SF6.

As we know energy consumption is essential for economic activities and modern life. But, unfortunately, most of the energy needed is produced by the combustion of fossil fuel with the accompanying production of CO2. Therefore, it would be a tremendous challenge for developed countries to decrease the release of CO2 in the next ten years to below the level of 1990. However, I must note here that even though CO2 release is kept below the level of 1990 by developed countries, if developing countries are still absorbed in pursuing economic growth following the pattern of western countries and if everyone on earth emit CO2 at the level of people in western countries, then CO2 release will still be far beyond the tolerance of the earth. If that turns out to be the case, the fate of human beings will inevitably be doomed.

Paradoxically, using the threatening green house effect as reasons to prevent developing countries from pursuing the Western-style material life is like to consent the people of Western countries to possess two cars while not allowing the people of developing countries to take the buses. Therefore, though the resolution of "Kyoto Convention" is a good start, it will nonetheless pose a great test to us all as to how to substantively and effectively enforce it.

Nevertheless, the best lesson we have learned so far is that Western pattern of economic development is by no means the sustainable way that the rest of the world should follow. If we still believe that the earth's resources are unlimited and that Western countries still continue to indulge in their already-established rapid consumption of world energy and resources, it would be very difficult to expect developing and underdeveloped countries to catch up. But if developing and underdeveloped countries could figure out ways that would allow sustainable development with our limited earth, then these ways and methods shall and will become new landmarks and horizons for the entire earth and the human race to follow.

The earth where we live on is a planet with limited energy and resources; with limited land, ocean and atmosphere. The world where we belong to brims with enormous difficulties and unprecedented challenges. Nevertheless, I believe that along with difficulties and challenges there are opportunities and excitement. What we need is to conduct various drastic reforms that are necessary and to channel our best efforts to educate the younger generation so that they may at least be well equipped to face critical issues and problems head on, seriously and courageously, and to have the open hearts and minds to join hands to search and work together for possible answers and solutions for mankind.

As a scientist, I spend all my life working on scientific research. In the arena of science, scientists have learned to "share". Scientists have come to believe that the fruits of scientific research belong to all human beings. But, when people turn the results of scientific research into new technology and further apply it to production for human societies, the same results of scientific research may very well become handy tools for economic competition. Scientific knowledge is no longer shared by fellow human beings. As world economy and information become highly internationalised, if the high-tech based economic competition among countries could be replaced by joint and cooperative endeavors combining both science and technology together and to solve critical issues that the world face as a whole, then it would be essential that we also learn to solve the inherent conflicts between "sharing" and "not sharing" that stem from "science" and "technology". Only when we learn to assist, support and share the results of 'science" and "technology" with each other can we witness the formation of a global village with sustainable development. When people on earth all learn to work together in a harmonious global village, it will certainly signify the beginning of a new era for mankind.

Let us work together to pursue unlimited and endless hope on this limited and precious earth of ours.

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