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Heyerdahl: Morals, Not Money Will Save the Planet

By Drew Snider

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Canada, March 13, 2000 (ENS) - Humans have to put morals ahead of money, if the planet is going to survive, says Dr. Thor Heyerdahl, 85. Speaking to the annual conference of United World Colleges in Victoria Saturday, the Norwegian zoologist, explorer and environmentalist said, "Atmosphere and oceans know no boundaries. I know. I've floated around every one of them."

Heyerdahl

Thor Heyerdahl (Photo courtesy Green Cross International)
Heyerdahl is the man who piloted a raft, the Kon-Tiki, from South America to Polynesia in 1947, to prove that Polynesians may have migrated from that continent. He then set out to illustrate a similar theory when he sailed a papyrus-reed craft, Ra, from Egypt to the Americas 22 years later, in 1969.

Heyerdahl told a packed house at the Victoria Conference Centre how the Kon-Tiki expedition sailed through pristine ocean waters, while Ra encountered oil slicks on 43 of the 57 days of its journey.

U Thant, then secretary-general of the United Nations, had asked Heyerdahl to take day-to-day samples of the pollution he encountered en route. "We picked up solid oil globs - very visible pollution," the explorer said.

Heyerdahl pleaded with the gathering of students and educators from around the world to change their thinking about Nature. "We are not talking about esthetics," he said. "We are talking about life: survival of Man. We must train young people to get another vision of Nature. We call it 'wilderness,' and we think it is progress to get further and further away from it. How crazy!"

"Where would we have been if Nature had not built us up?" Heyerdahl went on, his voice rising, "For two, three million years, we were fed and cared for by Nature. Nature gave us life and brought us up!"

Thor Heyerdahl built this 45 foot long copy of an ancient Egyptian papyrus vessel in 1969. Constructed at the foot of the Pyramids and named after the sun god Ra, it was later transported to Safi in Morocco, from where it set sail for Barbados. (Photo courtesy Kon-Tiki Museum)
"Ethics. Morality. We must admit that either Nature is superior to us by inventing our brain ... or there is something beyond Nature. We've come so far to invent a scientific term for God - Big Bang," he declaimed to loud applause.

Heyerdahl called for universities to teach the same thing in science classes as they do in theology classes, and said we must accept that Nature is superior to humans, and is responsible for their very existence.

Environmental projects which generally get little media attention are getting an airing at the annual conference of United World Colleges.

At a forum on environmental stewardship, with Dr. Heyerdahl and Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson, Brenda Ogambo, a student at Lester B. Pearson College Of The Pacific, told of three successful ventures.

One affects Ogambo's native Kenya, where fishing in Lake Victoria was damaged by the proliferation of the water-hyacinth, a weed not native to that lake. It had been introduced, and then fed by fertilizer runoff from neighboring farms, robbing oxygen from the lake bordering Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

hyacinth

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is considered one of the worst weed nuisances in the world - aquatic or terrestrial. (Photo courtesy University of Florida)
Researcher Timothy Tuongo of Uganda proposed introducing weevils to eat up the water-hyacinths. After the Ugandan government initially turned down the idea as taking too long, Tuongo persisted, and three years after importing the weevils from South Africa, western Africa and Australia, 60 percent of the weed in Lake Victoria has been wiped out.

The job there is not finished, Ogambo said. The three governments still have to deal with the pollution from industry, farms and nearby towns.

Another project, a rehabilitation program for juvenile delinquents in Fiji, trains the kids in eco-friendly skills for livestock, fish and crop farming. Ogambo says most of Fiji's environmental problems are due to short sighted agricultural practices.

The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC), a non-governmental organization promoting environentally sound practices, was established in 1995. "The SEC links the smaller green groups to aid them in their environmental movements," Ogambo said. "The 500 volunteers in the Green Volunteer Network range in age from nine to 76 learn about activities such as waste minimizing, nature conservation and community action."



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