A hundred years ago, few people thought that we might be damaging our life support system, and those who did were unable to substantiate their concerns in any meaningful way.

I must warn you that I am in fact a video recording.

I have only made a “virtual” flight across the Atlantic and am “virtually” half-dead and only “virtually” royal.

In truth, I am merely a hologramatic visitor from cyber-space who could not be more flattered and honoured to be receiving this award from Mr Gore on behalf of the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

I have known Al for many years and greatly admire his commitment to environmental issues.

That commitment has been maintained, I may say, through times when as I know all too well myself such issues were far from fashionable and merely daring to talk about them was a positive handicap for anyone in public life. 

I suspect that many of you will have seen Al’s remarkable film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

Interestingly, or worryingly, we both produced personal statements on the environment as long ago as 1990, with remarkably similar titles.

Al very kindly took the risk of being associated with my film for the BBC, called ‘Earth in Balance’.

And he was equally articulate and thoughtful in his own book, ‘Earth in the Balance’ which appeared just a little later.

Great minds think alike! 

I made that film because of my personal and profound sense of unease, which even then dated back almost 20 years, about the way that we, as mankind, were treating the environment on which we all ultimately depend.

Since then, of course, every passing year has seen further evidence emerge of the damage we are doing to this poor old planet the only one we’ve got that sustains life in such a miraculous and well- ordered way ... 

A hundred years ago, few people thought that we might be damaging our life support system, and those who did were unable to substantiate their concerns in any meaningful way.

But over the ensuing years the evidence has emerged, bit by awful bit, to the point where no-one can surely be in any doubt whatsoever about the nature and scale of the damage we are causing.

That doesn’t, of course, make the message any more palatable, which is perhaps why Al has called his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. 

But if the facts are now so clear and no-one who has seen the film can be in any doubt about that 

it is surely the duty of each and every one of us to find out what we can do to make the situation better. However, if we are to do this, I think we need first to stop and ask how we could have allowed ourselves to reach this point in the first place?

In my own attempts to draw attention to environmental issues, I have always tried to ask what it is about our society and its values that has led us to act with such thoughtless destructiveness.

With all our knowledge, our resources and our capacity for sophisticated analysis of any and every problem known to man, how on earth did we arrive at this point?

If we could answer that question, we could be more confident about our ability to look for and implement solutions before it really is too late. 

The crux of the problem, I believe, is that we have come to see ourselves as being outside of Nature and free to manipulate and control her constituent parts, imagining somehow that the whole will not suffer and can take care of itself, and of us, whatever we do.

I happen to think that this illusion of separateness conceals from us the degree to which we are still entirely dependent on those natural systems for our basic needs, notwithstanding our technological genius.

Surely, if we are to find our way through to a wiser, more balanced future we must learn to see the world differently and our role in it?

To me, this is a ‘crisis of perception’ which we have to face up to.

If we don’t, we will inevitably end up making all the same mistakes, all over again. 

This is not, you will no doubt be relieved to hear, going to be the occasion for a lengthy discourse on mankind and Nature, or the dominance of empirical argument over intuitive thought!

(That will have to be reserved for a much more unfortunate audience at a later date!) But I do just want to introduce some thoughts which, whilst not a regular feature of the average after-dinner speech (although I can’t believe you have taken the trouble to invite me across the Atlantic to hear mere platitudes...!), are nevertheless central to many of the things I have argued for so vigorously over the years.

One of these is the relationship between health and harmony. 

Health is the practical measure by which we judge the effectiveness of things, and it can be applied to abstract concepts such as the economy, democracy or an argument, just as well as to a farm, a lifestyle or indeed a person.

But both biology and the latest discoveries in quantum physics demonstrate just how profoundly health depends on organisms or particles operating in harmony with their surroundings.

This is neither a debating point nor a coincidence.

It is a fundamental fact of natural law.

All organisms depend on a state of harmony to be healthy.

Yet our species has made such powerful and unhealthy changes to this planet that we are increasingly out of harmony with our environment.

We are no longer dancing in tune with Nature’s rhythms. As a direct result, our environment is losing its capacity to sustain us. 

I want to suggest that before we even start thinking about the positive and practical steps needed to reverse environmental degradation and limit climate change, we really do need to look hard at ourselves.

We need to recognize that to a large extent we have lost our capacity to see beyond our individual, and in many cases urbanized, lifestyles.

Three quarters of the population of your country now lives in a city, and the proportion is much the same in Europe.

This means that many people now have little or no physical contact with the Earth.

They may see excellent programmes about Nature on their television screens, but they have little if any direct experience of their own.

Nature has become a simplified and sanitized, arm’s-length experience, to be switched on or off at will.

It is no longer the “Mother Nature” that animated the entire world for generations of our forebears.

As a result, so many have lost what I would call a “sense of harmony”. 

Having become disconnected from Nature, we have discarded our sense of awe and reverence for the natural world.

Tragically, we have also largely lost the once common belief that mankind is, above all, a participant in the natural world, with a sacred yes, a sacred

duty of stewardship to fulfil.

In some of our actions we now behave as if we were “Masters of Nature”, and in others as mere bystanders.

If we could rediscover that “sense of harmony”, that sense of being a part of and not apart from Nature, and so regain our sense of stewardship, we would perhaps be less likely to see the world as some sort of gigantic production system, capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit at no cost.

And we would be more willing to recognize the Earth for what it is a complex, living organism, dependent on harmony for its health and ours.

With this approach, Ladies and Gentlemen, we would take full responsibility for our actions and give greater weight to our instinctive and intuitive responses.

These instincts have been an essential guide to our actions over thousands of years.

They are actually part of our survival kit, handed down over all those generations, but they have become blunted through lack of use, with their messages drowned out by the clutter and static of our daily lives.

Yet they are still there, if only we could find the time to listen.... 

Many times in my life I have come across people who remain deeply conscious of this older, more natural perspective.

Years ago, in Northern Australia, I remember seeing the aftermath of a terrible typhoon in Darwin and being told that the Aboriginal people there, together with the birds, had sensed that disaster was imminent and had disappeared to find a safer place.

I heard exactly the same story just two years ago when I saw for myself the awful aftermath of the Asian Tsunami when I visited Sri Lanka.

The tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands were close to the epicentre of the earthquake off Sumatra and bore the brunt of the devastation.

But the small tribes who have lived there for 50,000 years and who are in close contact with the Earth, used their instinctive powers of participation to save nearly all of their people.

Coastal tribes like the Onge and Jarawa on South and Little Andaman noticed subtle changes in the behaviour of birds and fish.

These warning signs are woven into their folklore and they responded immediately, wasting no time in moving quickly to higher ground and the shelter of the forest.

In this way, they survived.

Such people do not observe the world from the outside.

They consider themselves participants in it and define life on Earth as “sacred presence.”

They are sensitive to the importance of the innate Harmony I have just mentioned and do something about it when it starts to fragment.

They also take direct responsibility for the future and listen carefully to their well-learnt and thus instinctive responses. 

I come across many people who say they feel deeply ill at ease with the way we use the world today that we misuse it and waste its resources.

Deep down, in their inner-most being, they sense that we are heading towards some kind of catastrophe.

Perhaps unconsciously, they are reading the signs and, like many of us, I suspect, they know in their hearts that, somehow, we must change our ways.

But all too often we continue to turn a blind eye to these intuitive feelings.


Is it because we feel that such an intuitive response has no place in a world so dominated by the one response of rationalism?

If that is so, then I would argue that such a reduced response is far from rational.

It is irrational!

Not least because it persuades us that all we have to do is invent our way out of the problems we have created that technology will fix everything.

But it seems to me that however effective they may be, technological fixes are not enough on their own.

Only by widening and deepening our focus will we begin to recognize that we cannot carry on the way we do now as if it were “business as usual.”

I happen to think that intuition is a much-maligned faculty.

And yet the word itself is a clue to what it truly is.

Our ‘in-born tutor’ is the voice of the soul; the link between the body and mind and therefore the link between the particular and the universal.

If we were to recognize this truth we would once again begin to see our existence in its proper place, within creation and not in some specially-protected and privileged category of our own making. 

I realize that saying such things in one of the commercial capitals of the world may seem somewhat naive or, as the British press like to observe so frequently, “eccentric”! but it does seem to me that the business community which, oddly enough, often recognizes the value of instinct and “gut feel”

has a particular responsibility to see and understand the broader relationship between mankind and the natural world.

As Professor Herman Daly once said so eloquently, ‘the natural world is the envelope that contains, sustains and provisions the economy’ and not the other way round. 

There seems to be a view in some quarters that in commerce there is only a ruthless ‘law of the jungle’ to be observed.

Yet this is a much-abused metaphor, because a jungle is in fact a vivid example of an immensely complex natural system, in which the various parts survive and thrive as much through co-operation as competition.

If we really lived by the law of the jungle, properly understood, then we would treasure diversity in our economy, reward collaboration, build skills to manage complexity, and maintain all those subtle checks and balances that keep any economy, or eco-system, vibrant and healthy. 

There are, of course, many far-sighted businesses which do take a longer and broader view of their responsibilities.

It is instructive, for instance, to look at the major oil companies and see the different approaches it is possible to take to the science of climate change.

Some of them still seem to be in a state of increasingly desperate denial.

Others are moving ahead with strategies that will, gradually, but probably not quickly enough, position them and their shareholders for the reality of a carbon-constrained future.

I know where I would prefer to invest! 

Companies in many other sectors have also seen the future and are adapting their corporate behaviour accordingly.

In San Francisco, in 2005, I met representatives of several United States businesses who are already taking action to limit their contribution to climate change.

There are so many shining and practical examples of what can be done that it would be invidious to name just one or two of the companies that are setting the pace.

But, as a general observation, the things that are being done do not require either huge investment or extraordinary ingenuity.

They mostly need clear thinking, a proper understanding of the issues and possibilities, determination and good management.

These are, of course, among the hallmarks of any successful company, and I certainly understand why some business analysts are starting to claim that the companies which succeed in tackling climate change are those that will achieve long-term success in other areas too. 

In pressing for every company, large and small, in every sector, to follow their example we have to recognize another factor, which is that the pressures on businesses come from two main sources: governments and consumers.

If those pressures are aligned and consistent then it is much easier for companies to see where their best interests lie and then take effective action.

It is for governments to establish policy frameworks to encourage and enable companies to take the necessary steps to make major reductions in their emissions of greenhouse gases.

And consumers can make it clear that they regard this as essential and that they will remove their custom from businesses which are not moving fast enough.

This is another area where each of us as individuals can make a real difference. 

Certainly, like the rest of the world, I am watching with enormous interest the growing debate now taking place here in the United States on climate change.

Indeed, it was particularly encouraging to read the joint statement published only last week in Washington by evangelical leaders and leading scientists in America calling for a change in “values, lifestyle and public policy” to protect the Earth.

This followed a gathering in South Georgia under the auspices of our host tonight, the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

As this report said, “there is no excuse for further delays” and “business as usual cannot continue yet one more day”.

As you may have gathered by now, I have been in no doubt for a considerable number of years that climate change represents a fundamental and critical threat to our survival and to any kind of future for millions of people.

When I say that the British Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, told me recently that we are living today with the consequences of carbon emissions from 30 years ago, it perhaps becomes more starkly apparent or should do that the dramatically increased emissions since then are rapidly accelerating the whole process of climate change.

Our successors will pay most dearly for our dilatoriness and inaction as it is, but we surely owe it to them to take urgent steps now not just by “2020” to halt and reverse that, ever-accelerating graph of global temperature rise shown to such alarming effect in Al Gore’s film.

Perhaps we should see this as a war we simply have to win and in wartime it is remarkable how solutions can be found to challenges that were previously considered insolvable. 

Finally Ladies and Gentlemen, as on so many occasions in the past, and as I said when I was here some 18 months ago, I can tell you that the rest of the world, where alarm is growing exponentially as the evidence mounts, is looking to this great country to provide the leadership and commitment that could transform the situation and bring us that much-needed element of hope.

Meanwhile, I am deeply grateful to you for raising my morale by giving me this splendid Award.