1989 Vancouver Declaration UNESCO

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Symposium on Science and Culture for the 21st Century:

Agenda for Survival

Vancouver, Canada

10-15 September 1989


Survival of the planet has become of central and immediate concern. The present situation requires urgent measures in all sectors - scientific, cultural, economic, and political - and a greater sensitization of all mankind. We must make common cause with all people on earth against a common enemy: any action that threatens balance within our environment, or reduces our legacy to future generations. Today, this becomes the objective of the Vancouver Declaration on Survival.


Our planet is unstable - a constantly changing heat engine. Life appeared on its surface about four billion years ago, and developed in balance with an environment where sudden unpredictable change is the norm. The discovery, over 200 years ago, of free energy locked in fossil fuels has given humankind the power to dominate the whole planetary surface. In an unbelievably short span of time, unplanned and almost mindlessly, our species has become by far the largest factor for change on the planet.

The consequences have been drastic and unique in the history of our species:

- an accelerating increase in population growth over the past 150 years from 1 billion to over 5 billion with a current doubling time of 30-40 years;

- a comparable increase in the use of fossil fuels leading to global pollution, climate and sea-level change;

- an accelerating destruction of the habitat of life, initiating a massive and irreversible episode of mass extinction in the biosphere - the basis of the Earth's ecosystem;

- an unimaginable expenditure of resources and human ingenuity on war and preparation for war.

And all licensed by a belief in inexhaustible resources of the planet encouraged by political and economic systems that emphasize short-term profit as a benefit and disregard the real cost of production.

The situation facing mankind involves the collapse of any balance between our species and the rest of life on the planet.

Paradoxically, at the time when we stand at the threshold of degeneration of the ecosystem and degradation of human quality of life, knowledge and science are now in a position to provide both

the human creativity and the technology needed to take remedial action and rediscover harmony between nature and mankind. Only the social and political will is lacking.


The origin of our present predicament lies fundamentally in certain developments in science that were essentially complete by the beginning of the century. Those developments, which are mathematically codified in a classical mechanical picture of the universe, gave to human beings a power over nature that has, until recently, produced an ever-increasing, and seemingly boundless, supply of material commodities, Swept up in the exploitation of this power, humankind has tended to shift its values to those promoting the maximal realization of the material possibilities that this new power provides. Suppressed, correspondingly, were the values associated with dimensions of the human potential that had been the foundations of earlier cultures.

The impoverishment of the conception of man caused by this omission of other human dimensions is precisely in line with the "scientific" conception of the universe as a machine, and of man as nothing but a cog within it.

Man's conception of himself is a principal determinant of his values; it fixes the conception of "self" in the appraisal of self interest. Thus, the ideological impoverishment associated with the view of man as a cog in a machine leads to a narrowing of values. However, scientific advances of the present century have shown this mechanical view of the universe to be untenable on purely scientific grounds. Thus the rational basis for the mechanical conception of man has been invalidated.


In contemporary science, the older rigid mechanical picture of the universe is replaced by concepts that permit a universe that is formed by a continual creative input that is not rigidly constrained by any mechanical law. Man himself becomes an aspect of this creative impulse, and is linked into the whole universe in an integral way that is not expressible within the older mechanical framework. The "self" becomes thereby converted from a deterministically controlled cog in a giant machine to an aspect of a free creative impulse that is intrinsically and immediately tied to the universe as a whole.

Human values become, accordingly, in this new scientific view, enlarged into values consonant with those prevalent in earlier cultures. It is within this framework that the converging images of man provided by recent scientific and cultural developments that we look for visions of a future that would allow man to survive in dignity and harmony with his environment. The human species has reached limits in its use of the external world and also limits in its capacity to live in a changing social and cultural environment. Man's developing perceptions in science suggest that he might recapture lost beliefs and varieties of spiritual Experience.

The present critical situation in mankind's occupancy of the planet requires new visions, rooted in a variety of cultures, in contemplating the future:

- The perception of an organic macrocosm that recaptures the rhythms of life would allow man to reintegrate himself with nature and understand his relationship in space and time to all life and the physical world.

- Recognition that a human being is an aspect of the creative process that gives form to the universe, enlarges man's image of himself, and allows him to transcend the egoism that is the principal cause of disharmony among his fellows and between mankind and nature.

- The overcoming of fragmentation of the body-mind-spirit unity, brought about by unbalanced emphasis on any one over the others, allows man to discover within himself the reflection of cosmos and its supreme unifying principle.

Such visions change the conception of man in nature and call for a radical transformation of models of development: the elimination of poverty, ignorance and misery; the end of the arms race; introduction of new learning processes, educational systems and mental attitudes; implementation of better forms of redistribution to ensure social equity; a new design for living based on a reduction of waste; respect for bio-diversity, socio-economic diversity, and cultural diversity that transcends outmoded concepts of sovereignty.

Science and technology are indispensable for the attainment of those goals but they can succeed only through an integration of science and culture that leads to a sense of purpose, and an integrative approach designed to overcome the fragmentation that has led to a breakdown in cultural communication.

We must recognize the reality of a multi-religious world and the need for the kind of tolerance that will enable religions, whatever their differences, to cooperate together. This would contribute to meeting the requirements for human survival and for the nurturing of the shared core values of human solidarity, human rights and human dignity. This is the common heritage of mankind that derives from our perception of the transcendental significance of human existence, and from a new global conscience.

If we fail to redirect science and technology towards fundamental needs, the advances in informatics (hoarding of knowledge), biotechnology (patenting of life forms) and genetic engineering (mapping of the human genome) will lead to irreversible consequences detrimental to the future of human life.

Time is short - every delay in establishing a world eco-cultural peace will only increase the cost of survival.


Professor Daniel Afdezi AKYEAMPONG, Theoretical Physicist, University of Ghana

Mr Andre CHOURAQUI, Author, Religious Studies, Jerusalem, Israel

Professor Nicola DALLAPORTA, Theoretical Physics, Padova, Italy

Dr. Santiago GENOVES, Anthropologist, Universidad Nacional Autonome de Mexico

Dr. Alexander KING, Chemistry, Paris, France

Dr. Digby McLAREN (chairman), Geologist, Royal Society of Canada, Ottawa

Mr. Lisandro OTERO, Author, Havana, Cuba

Professor DOEDJATMOKO, Diplomat, Educator, Jakarta-Pusat, Indonesia

Professor Ubiritan D'AMBROSIO, Mathematician, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil

Professor Pierre DANSEREAU, Ecologist, Universite du Quebec, Montreal, Canada

Dr. Mahdi ELMANDJRA, Economist, Rabat, Morocco

Professor Carl-gwran HEDEN, Biotechnology, Solna, Sweden

Mrs. Eleanora MASINI, Anthroplologist, Rome, Italy

Professor Yujiro NAKAMURA, Philosoper, Author, Tokyo, Japan

Professor Josef RIMAN, Molecular Genetics, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences

Professor Henry STAPP, Physicist, University of California, Berkeley, California

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