By John Scales Avery*
23 November 2015
This book was published in 1984 in English, French, German, Italian and Japanese. Far from being our of date, it is even more urgently relevant today than when it was published. It is a dialogue between two great men, Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikeda. Their greatness is both moral and intellectual.
Aurelio Peccei (1908-1984) was the principal founder of the Club of Rome, an organization whose 1972 report, “Limits to Growth” first called to the world’s attention the impossibility of constantly-increasing economic growth on a finite planet.
The second author, Daisaku Ikeda (1928- ), is the founding President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a 12-million-strong lay Buddhist organization with members in 192 countries or regions.
The Japanese words “Soka Gakkai” mean “Value-Creating Education”, and the members of SGI are strongly committed to working for peace, international understanding, and the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.
“Before It Is Too Late” is a comprehensive discussion of the urgent need to re-establish human respect for nature, and harmony with nature.
It is even more clear today than it was 30 years ago that, unless it is checked, unrestrained commercial exploitation of the environment, will lead to an environmental mega-catastrophe.
Today there is unequivocal scientific evidence that if the use of fossil fuels is not replaced by 100% renewable energy within the next few decades, we will pass a tipping point.
Beyond this point, feed-back mechanisms for global warming will take over and lead us uncontrollably to catastrophic climate change.
There is a danger that human actions will produce a 6th extinction event comparable to five largest events that are found in the geological record. During each of these, more than half the species of living organisms became extinct.
Although Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikeda did not have this new scientific information available when they were writing their important dialogue, they nevertheless were acutely aware of the environmental damage caused by the unrestrained activities of industrial civilization.
Here is a quotation for Peccei’s introductory remarks:
“Paradoxically, man has never been so much in danger as he is now, at the peak of his power. .. Mesmerized by our own power, we do what we can do, not what we ought to do…
“…The consequences of our misjudgement and our irresponsible behaviour are quite evident. We have vanquished so many diseases without reducing our reproductive fertility, with the result that the world population is multiplying phenomenally….
“…Today, in a time of quarrelsome so-called sovereign states that lose no opportunity to arm themselves to the teeth, the way we have enormously developed military technologies means that humanity is actually playing with fire….
‘…Hurtling on full speed ahead and indulging our propensity for material possessions and consumption, we have dramatically swelled the global demand for goods, foods and services….
“…We have created artificial needs, artfully expanding the range of what is considered indespensible by constantly renewing fashions, and designing products with built-in technological obsolescence.”
“…The only way we have devised to meet the surging waves of our rampant militarism and consumerism is to draw increasingly on the natural environment and to exploit, indiscriminately, the most accessible mineral and fuel deposits and all living resources we can lay our hands on…
“…Such actions irreversibly impoverish our unique, irreplaceable world, whose bounty and generosity are not infinite. Even if all other adverse situations in which we find ourselves today were to be alleviated, in itself, out high-handed treatment of Nature can bring about our doom.”
In the dialogue, President Ikeda supports Peccei’s analysis and adds:
“While striving to reduce the numbers of their unemployed, increase their military arsenals, and stimulate industry in their own lands, politicians continue to hold out to their own peoples the dream of a richer society. Economists continue to try to invigorate economic growth, probably because development and growth in business are directly linked with support of their own social positions. Technocrats follow a similar course…”
“Sympathizers with the stands of overly optimistic politicians, economists and technicians condemn indications of the gravity of the situation on the grounds that they weaken people’s will to grow and develop. In Japan, this attitude has led the Ministry of Education to request publishers of primary and middle-school textbooks to delete pictures of the atomic bombings as intolerable horrible, and to change articles about industries that pollute the environment.”
“The ministry is guilty of putting the cart before the horse. What it should be insisting on is the prevention of production, stockpiling and use of the nuclear weapons responsible for the horrors that it deplores in the textbook illustrations. People who assume an optimistic stance in connection with polluting industries and reckless consumption of the world’s natural resources are guilty of similar folly.”
A Human Revolution
Both authors agree that, in order to avoid the dangers of ecological, economic or thermonuclear catastrophe, a Human Revolution is necessary. By this they mean a revolution in the way that humans think of themselves.
The two authors agree that this will require a reform of current educational systems. President Ikeda, who has spent many years establishing reformed educational institutions throughout the world, is extremely well qualified to discuss this issue.
The reader will find much in this book that is vitally important to our current situation.
It is like a musical composition which constantly returns to the theme of harmony between humans and Nature and between humans and other humans, with a richness of variations on these themes that progressively builds up our understanding.
I should mention that the Japanese edition of the dialogue is called “21 Seiki e no Keisö” (“Alarm Bell for the 21st Century”). The English edition is available from Amazon, but it is, unfortunately, rather expensive.
Therefore I would like to suggest to SGI and to The Club of Rome that, because of the great importance of the book, it would be very desirable to re-issue “Before It Is Too Late” in a less expensive edition, and also to make it available as an e-book. The message and wisdom of the two famous and distinguished authors is much to valuable to be lost.
*John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London.
He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century http://www.learndev.org/dl/Crisis21-Avery.pdf.
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