Written on December 17, 2009 the final day of the Copenhagen Summit - Twenty years ago in the summer of 1989 circumstances brought me to Sicily where a scientific conference was held about nuclear energy to be used for early warning systems in case of earth quakes. At the end of the conference pandemonium broke out when a resolution was put forward to take action against the threat of climate change. An ugly divide became apparent between scientists of impeccable standing who accused each other alternatively of forsaking the search for scientific truth for politically motivated propaganda purposes or committing the crime of silence in the face of the greatest threat humanity was facing. Shouts of treason, appeasement, cowardice, corruption were in the air.






I have always carried with me the painful reality of this moment. If only a bridge over the divide had been established and cooperation had been established then and since then. Taking in the events that are taking place before our eyes I have the unsettling feeling that in the essential aspect of mutual trust not enough progress has been made.



What is hindering the taking of the necessary steps for our healthy future are not the differences of opinion but the mistrust of the motives of the other. Heads of states from the North and the South and beyond are looking in each other’s eyes for hidden agendas. And the same applies for business people and NGO activists, the older and younger generations and scientists from different schools of thought.

We can learn from the ethics of the fathers. Any dispute for the sake of Heaven will have enduring value, but any dispute not for the sake of Heaven will not have enduring value.
As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes in a recent commentary: “In an argument for the sake of heaven both sides win; one because his views are accepted, the other because he has learned something new. To be defeated by the truth is the only defeat that is also a victory, for by it we grow. In an argument for the sake of victory, both sides lose, even the victor, for in diminishing the other he has diminished himself.”





Disputes and arguments are essential to sharpen the mind and pave the way forward but when mutual respect for the motives of the other is lacking they can have a destructive effect. In Copenhagen this mistrust can lead to disastrous delays.  The recently launched Charter for Compassion suggests that in negotiations of all kinds one should step into the shoes of the other as a way of gaining trust. And The Earth Charter has put forward the liberating precautionary principle: “Take action to avoid the possibility of serious irreversible environmental harm even when the scientific knowledge is incomplete or inconclusive”.





Copenhagen can still be a turning point. As what we see there is for the first time in Earth history the emergence of a truly global consciousness expressing itself in a hopeful global partnership to care for the Earth and ourselves and the whole community of life. For the sake of at least the seventh generation we cannot afford another twenty years of mistrust. The only way is to look into each other’s eyes with trust, wishing to do to others what you want others to do to you.





Awraham Soetendorp

The Soetendorp Institute


Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values
Van Wijngaerdenstraat 21
2596 TW The Hague
The Netherlands