Mayor Alan Arakawa recently visited Hangzhou, China, capital of eastern China's Zhejiang Province, where he attended the Second Annual World Cultural Forum from May 17 to 19.
Established in 2007 as a non-governmental organization based in China, the World Cultural Forum is committed to creating open, multilateral and inclusive platforms for international cultural exchanges.
Invited as a guest speaker by the Chinese government, which paid for all of his expenses, the mayor, along with distinguished dignitaries from around the world, contributed to a global movement to improve and repair an already-damaged natural environment.
“I am grateful to China, our hosts, for bringing us together to address what is truly the paramount challenge of our time; reinventing our civilization’s relationship with the planet that sustains us,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa. “It was also a chance to expand Maui County’s growing relationship with China, which is a major world economic power and the source of new visitors to our islands.”
Photo: Rob Parsons
Coinciding with the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal 7--"Ensure Environmental Sustainability"--this year's World Cultural Forum topic was "Strengthening International Cooperation for Establishing an Ecological Civilization." Over 500 political leaders, scientists and bio-cultural experts from 23 countries met to discuss this urgent subject that deserves the collective attention of all nations.
"I was honored to address what is truly the paramount challenge of our time," said Mayor Arakawa. "It is time to reinvent our civilization's relationship with the planet that sustains us and to lay a foundation of international cooperation far beyond what we previously thought to be possible."
The meeting opened with a speech from Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee. Zhengsheng offered strategies for sustainable development and explained the importance of keeping a commitment to them.
"We must change the model of consumption and production and take concrete measures to help developing countries attain sustainable development," said Zhengsheng.
"Chinese officials know they have a lot to do when it comes to cleaning their environment, and they are looking worldwide, including to places like Maui County, for examples of how to protect their natural resources," said the mayor. "Indeed, this collective effort will test the character, will and heart of us all."
Maui County Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons accompanied the mayor to China.
"I found our mayor to be the consummate ambassador, always eager to help and to make new acquaintances," Parsons said. "We met authors, sustainability professors, political and spiritual leaders, a group of Chinese youth environmental ambassadors and many others."
The conference opened at a spectacular convocation center with a military band playing as participants entered.
"Everyone in the assembly hall had a pair of headphones in order to hear translations in their language of choice," Parsons said.
Chinese delegates spoke of the challenge to invent new ways to benefit the world and the ecosystem of the Earth while acknowledging the importance of international powers working together.
Dr. Ervin Laszlo, professor, two-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the International Club of Budapest, noted that unless we dramatically modify our behaviors, humans could become the first self-endangered species.
Parsons added, "More ecological pronouncements were offered by the prime minister of Mozambique, the former Dutch prime minister, the director of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and other high-ranking officials."
During the afternoon breakout session, the mayor spoke to a group that included Chinese municipal officials and Mayor Scott Hines of Rancho Mirage, Calif.
"His talk shared a short history of Hawai'i's transition from a culture in great harmony with the natural resources to those who came and exploited them through sandalwood trade, whaling, monk seal slaughter and the transition to sugar, military and tourism economies," Parsons said.
"On Sunday, May 19, at the Mayor's Roundtable Dialogue, Mayor Arakawa spoke extemporaneously about the protection of our resources from the mountaintops to the coral reefs," said Parsons. "The mayor also explained how we have developed coastal lowlands that used to serve as filtration for storm water runoff that now clouds our near-shore waters."
The mayor outlined the many positive steps Maui County is taking to counter some of our short-sighted decisions of the past, from coastal land acquisition and protection to watershed and evasive species management, and much more.
"Isolated as we are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the nearest continent, Maui is nonetheless uniquely positioned to meet this new challenge,' said Mayor Arakawa. "It is time for us all to redefine who we are and what sort of future we wish to face. We must hold the vision of our ecological health of paramount importance in order to insure the future of our children.".
"Mayor Arakawa's vision of a strong environmental and ecological focus made an impression on many he met and those who heard him speak," said Parsons. "He understands the need of environmental protection to optimize economic development."
"In fact, it is very likely that he will be invited back for next year's conference, joining an elite group of visionaries in reshaping our worldwide community," said Parsons.
The mayor summed up the situation, saying, "As more and more people continue to consume the finite resources of planet Earth, our great dilemma is how to restore ecological order to the world's vastness before we further deplete those natural resources we once assumed to be inexhaustible."