We are rapidly closing in on the 40th anniversary of the landmark UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm between June 5 and 16, 1972. 40 years ago today, though, Maurice Strong, the conference’s Secretary-General, was in Toronto addressing the University of Toronto’s graduating class. His convocation speech was “The Hope of a Human Environment,” and it reflected on the environmental future facing the young graduands, as well as Strong’s own experiences in planning for the Stockholm conference.
In the past year and a half it has been my privilege to have access to the knowledge and insights provided by most of the world’s governments and international organizations as well as by a broad cross section of the world’s scientific and intellectual community in preparation for the UNCHE that will open in Stockholm just 10 days from now.
Their contributions must surely constitute the most comprehensive review of man’s present conditions and future prospects that has ever been assembled.
(Maurice F. Strong papers, Box 29, Folder 296)
A few thoughts. First, Strong’s access to the most focused discussions on the global environmental predicament in human history was second-to-none. He was a key facilitator and organizer in this movement—and the importance of the Stockholm conference should not be overlooked. Second, this perspective of one of the most critical “moments” in the history of addressing environmental decline is of vital importance. There’s something very moving—well beyond Strong’s own participation or perspective—of the earnestness and expanse of the preparations surrounding the Stockholm conference and the subsequent aftermath. There is no doubt that the various meetings and events that Strong convened and attended constituted “the most comprehensive review” of the state of the environment at the time and plans for moving forward.
I’ve mentioned before that Strong is a fascinating and enigmatic figure in the history of global environmentalism. At the same time, he was remarkably well-situated and well-prepared for managing the divergent perspectives that characterized the collective movement for environmental protection in the early 1970s. If any singular person typifies or represents the ideals of contemporary sustainability—and its adherence to compromise, dialogue, and the attempt to reconcile the incommensurable priorities expressed by community, corporate, indigenous, and scientific leaders—Strong must be a strong candidate.