Speech by Sophie Prize winner Ms. Sheri Liao

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 14, 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am very honored to receive the Sophie Prize. I appreciate that the Sophie Foundation and Norwegian People are giving me, a Chinese, this great honor. I would like to share the honor with all those people who have helped me in the past years and all environmentalists who are dedicated to environmental protection of China.

It seems to me that the honor implies a kind of philosophical connection of the prize coming from Sophie's World, a famous philosophy book and me, the former philosophy researcher of the China Academy of Social Science. I love philosophy, especial Chinese traditional philosophy that emphasizes the harmony between humans and nature, Yin and Yang. It might be one of the reasons why I became an environmentalist, acted as a writer of environmental articles and producer of environmental TV programs ten years ago. During my stay in the United States from 1993 to 1995, I had a chance to meet a lot of NGO people not only from developed countries but also from developing countries. Realizing the important role the NGO had to play in the public environmental movement, I came back to China, giving up my green card in the US, to establish a independent non governmental and non profit organization, The Global Village of Beijing. When the TV-program "Time for Environment" independently produced by us reached millions of families every week across the country wide; when 10 million people evolved in our first NGO co-organized Earth Day 2000 China activities over dozens of provinces in China, I really knew what an important function that Chinese NGOs can play and what a positive reaction that the Chinese public can make to the environmental movement.

As you know, China is facing a serious environmental challenge: of the ten most air polluted cities in the world, seven are in China. China is also the number two emitter of the Greenhouse gases in the world; 80% of China's urban wastewater is discharged without treatment while this country faces serious water scarcity; One sixth of China's total land area has been damaged by severe soil erosion and about 5000 species of plant and animal life have become endangered… In order to deal with the huge, comprehensive challenge, a partnership between government, NGO and the private sector have to be established. Environmental protection is not just the government's affair but also the individual's. The solution is in the hands of every Chinese citizen who has the right and responsibility to be concerned with the quality of the environmental laws, to participate in policy-making processes and to choose an environmental friendly lifestyle. It is impossible to build a sustainable society without the development of the environmental NGOs that promote public awareness and public participation.

With some unique values of lifestyle such as reduce, reuse, recycle, Chinese civilization has been surviving for 5000 years dependant non the culture that respects both nature and family. Unfortunately, the culture is being swept by the globalization of western consumerism, the most dangerous force to threaten China and every other nation in the world in this Century. The consumerism is destroying the both the nature home and spirit home of human beings, turning human beings to machines of consumption and machines of production, while assuring that the consumption and production cannot be sustained. The most urgent strategy for human beings is to change our lifestyle in a more sustainable direction. When I talked about this issue with US President Bill Clinton at the roundtable meeting in China in 1998, I said that, what we are doing is to educate the Chinese people to not copy the mistakes made in the US such as too many private cars, too many air conditioners and too many one time use products. Realizing that unsustainable consumption is the cause of any environmental disaster, Global Village of Beijing has been focusing on advocating sustainable consumption patterns, which should be the most essential environmental issue in China as well as in the rest of the world.

When I received the status of the Sophie Prize, I felt heaviness, not only from the heavy honor but also the heavy responsibility with come from the expectations of the rest of the world.

As a native Chinese, I know how important it is that my motherland, a country with a population of 1.2 billion and 9,600,000 km2 land area, in the global ecosystem. Any small change will make a big impact on the world. The choices made by China will define the future for all humankind. The Sophie Prize will encourage me, and more Chines people, to improve the environmental protection for our country as well as for the world. I am planning to set up an award out of the prize to inspire more Chinese environmentalists.

As a global Chinese, I also know how important that international cooperation is to China's environmental protection. China can avoid mistakes made in the western world by sharing good practices of sustainable consumption and exchanging the good experiences of NGO development in order to enhance globalization of consumerism.

Since 1978 when China opened its doors to the world, there has been a lot of communication through governmental channels and also a great increase in exchanges through business channels. But there are so few communications and exchange through NGO channels. I hope the Sophie Prize will start a new era of the third channel between two countries. Considering NGOs are still a very new concept in China and Chinese NGOs are still very few and very young, it will be extremely helpful if international society pays more attention and support to Chinese environmental NGOs which are so essential for the public environmental movement that will benefit the whole global Eco-system.

I would like to express my special thanks to you all for listening to my speech. Five years ago, I had the chance to interview your former Prime Minister, Mrs. Brundtland in Beijing, when she made an official visit to China. I said to her: No matter what the differences between you and I, we are all daughters of the Earth. What I want to say today is that no matter what the differences between you and I, we are all children of the Earth. Because all of us care about the threat to our only mother Earth and we all breathe the air of the only global village.

Let us work together more closely in environmental protection, with common consciousness, sharing coming responsibility, for our common future!

Thank you!