Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wangari Maathai and "Mottainai"

In 2004, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee's official announcement contained these words about Wangari Maathai: "Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally. "

Dr. Maathai caught the attention of the Nobel committee by establishing The Green Belt Movement in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya. Basically, she started a worldwide movement to plant trees, sustain communities and save the planet. The program has already outgrown its name, The Billion Tree Campaign, since the movement is going to achieve the planting of 4 billion trees. Check it out and plant a tree: http://www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign/

Tonight Dr. Maathai was in Little Rock delivering the Kumpuris lecture at the Clinton Libary. My classmates and I had the honor, of hearing Dr. Maathai speak, and of shaking her hand. Notable were her spunk and engaging sense of humor. She shared with us stories from her work in many countries around the world. My favorite was from a trip to Japan. She noticed that the people were using their wooden chopsticks once and throwing them away. She inquired about the impact of this on the environment and her Japanese hosts replied, Oh no, it does not hurt the environment of Japan, we import them from other countries. Dr. Maathai replied, Well I am here as ambassador for the cocoa tree forests and the Amazon forest to tell you that you are hurting our environment! Now, many people in Japan carry with them their own personal set of chopsticks which they wash after each use.

Dr. Maathai also shared with us the concept of mottainai, the Japanese phrase literally meaning "what a waste". She is teaching everyone to use it when they forget to turn off their lights or recycle their waste. A one word reminder that it is everyone's responsibility to save the environment.

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