"Proposal for a Meeting of Heads of State and Spiritual Leaders in Iceland in 2000"
In 1991, the MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE submitted a proposal to the government of Iceland for a meeting of heads of state and spiritual leaders to be held in 2000 at Thingvellir, Iceland, the natural amphitheater that was the original meeting place of the Icelandic Parliament.
Thingvellir is now a beautiful national park where the Parliament of Iceland still meets on the most important occasions. Use of Thingvellir is controlled by the Thingvallanefnd (the Thingvellir committee of the Icelandic Parliament) and virtually no meetings are permitted there except meetings of the Icelandic Parliament.
There have been several meetings and discussions of the proposal with the senior leaders of Iceland, including Prime Minister David Odson; Former Prime Minister Steingrimur Hermannsson; Mr. Bjorn Bjarnason, Vice-President of the Parliament; Mr. Jon Sigardsson, Minister of Industry and Commerce; The Most Reverend Bishop of Iceland Olafur Skulasou; The Most Reverend Catholic Bishop of Iceland Alfred Jolson; Pastor Hanna Maria Petursdottir, Director of the National Park and Thingvellir.
The Icelandic leaders are interested, but cautious. They wonder if heads of state and spiritual leaders would be willing to come to what many who have never visited this beautiful country regard as "the very edge of the inhabitable world."
It would encourage Icelanders greatly if spiritual leaders individually or collectively wrote letters asking that Iceland host this much-needed meeting. Letters from others would also be helpful. Letters should be addressed to: His Excellency Bjorn Bjarnason, Vice-President of the Icelandic Parliament and Chair of the Thingvallanefnd, Althingi, 150 Reyjavik, Iceland and should refer to the following proposal.
A Proposal to the Thingvallanefnd for a Meeting of Heads of State and Spiritual Leaders at Thingvellir in 2000
I am writing at the direction of the Board of Trustees of the MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE. We would like to begin exploration of the possibility that a major meeting of the world's heads of state and spiritual leaders could be held at Thingvellir in the summer of 2000.
The following paragraphs are our first attempt to put our ideas on paper. After you have reflected on them, we would appreciate you raising them with the members of the Thingvallanefnd. If there is openness to some discussion, we would like to join with an appropriate group of Icelanders in the development of a plan for the meeting and the preparation of a feasibility study.
For almost a decade now, we at the INSTITUTE have been encouraging nation after nation to prepare what we call a 21st Century Study, i.e., a long-term exploration of how a nation will manage its affairs in the 21st century. Over the years we have developed training materials and a Tool Kit to facilitate these studies.
A fifth of the nations of the world now have study projects that meet or approximate our definition of a 21st Century Study. As you know Iceland is one of these countries. Before 2000 we hope to persuade every nation to prepare a 21st Century Study.
In the course of working with many nations, it has become clear to us that we humans face an uncertain 21st century. While there will certainly be many opportunities, there will also be enormous challenges: growing nationalism; conflicts of ethnicity and religion; limitations of petroleum and fresh water resources; disruption of Earth's atmosphere and climate; destruction of habitat and the extinction of huge numbers of species; continued rapid growth of human numbers; risks of AIDS and other diseases; drug trafficking; the poverty, neglect, and abuse of women and minorities; the destructiveness of modern weapons; and the fragility of our global economic systems. To meet these challenges and take advantage of our opportunities, we humans must find ways to work much more closely together in the future than ever before.
It is the conviction of the Trustees and staff of the INSTITUTE that rational analysis of the opportunities and challenges can help guide human steps into the future. However, if we humans are to achieve the cooperation and understanding essential to a successful 21st century, something inspirational is also needed. Because of this conviction, we are trying to combine the rational analysis of the 21st Century Studies with the spiritual inspiration of the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions. Our fondest hope is that the national 21st Century Studies, the religions of the world, and the unique and special traditions of Thingvellir can be combined into an enormously powerful, planetary event at the entry into the 21st century.
Deep in the human psyche is a compulsion to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, and the entry into the 21st century will be no exception. If anything, this particular anniversary will be a psychological experience more profound than the usual transition to a new century because it is also (on the most widely used calendar) the transition to a new millennium. Already hotel ballrooms are being booked up for December 31, 1999. The entry into the 21st century will be a birthday and anniversary of planetary proportions, and if the energies it will generate can be channeled in a constructive direction, the future of Earth could be radically better than might otherwise be the case.
We are convinced that if the anniversary compulsion is to be channeled in a constructive direction, that direction must be determined with care through systematic analysis. We also believe that the vision for the future must arise from multiple perspectives, not from a single source. That is why we are now devoting so much time and effort to the encouragement of integrated, multi-sectoral national 21st Century Studies.
In virtually every country in which a 21st Century Study has been successfully completed, the study has had a major impact on the thinking of the people and leaders of the country. Part of the impact comes from the fact that there are so few well-developed analyses of the future possibilities for a country; when one comes along, it quite naturally attracts attention. Another reason is that the reports help nations to overcome the denial of some of the issues that everyone senses but for which there exists no suitable forum for discussion. In one country, it was the dumping of massive amounts of toxic wastes in rivers and on the land. In another it was unsustainably high rates of population growth. In another it was excessive dependence on imports of petroleum and other resources. Thus the 21st Century Studies are a tremendous help to nations in overcoming denial and addressing critical national issues affecting their future development.
But the studies by themselves are inadequate to allow nations to overcome one very important denial, namely that they are part of a single planet. As a result, we find virtually every nation assuming that its balance of payments problems in the early years of the 21st century will be solved by exporting more that it imports. (In reality, of course, it is impossible for all nations to export more than they import.) Virtually every nation is assuming that it will be able to import more oil from the Middle East, import more food from the world's bread baskets, and release more carbon dioxide and chloroflurocarbon into the atmosphere. While such assumptions seem to make sense in the context of a single nation looking in isolation at its own future, in total they imply disastrous consequences for the planet as a whole.
To help nations see themselves within a planetary context, we are beginning to synthesize all of the studies into a picture of Earth in the 21st century. The first version of this synthesis is our book, Studies for the 21st Century, which summarizes about forty 21st Century Studies. This book, which has been prepared with funding from UNESCO, will be ready for publication before the end of the year. The next version of our synthesis is being prepared for the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions.
The religions of the world will have a powerful influence on the human future. Currently there are about forty wars in progress around the world, and the hostilities inspired by religions are major factors in virtually every one of these wars. Religious beliefs also stand in the way of attention to a number of critical issues. The best known of many examples is the attitude of various faiths to family planning, but equally important are teachings concerning "progress" and the difference between needs and wants. For these reasons, it is critically important that the leaders of the world's religions be engaged in a dialog on the critical issues of the future. This is what will happen at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, August 28 to September 4, 1993, in Chicago.
The first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in Chicago in 1893. It was an enormously successful and influential event that focused on increasing inter-religious understanding and tolerance. Now a centennial of the original Parliament is being organized. The 1993 Parliament will be a major global event at which influential representatives of the world's religions will be asked to address the critical issues of the 21st century.
The MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE is a partner with the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions in organizing the 1993 Parliament. Our part of the overall task is to prepare a synthesis of everything available on the future of Earth. The report, to be entitled Global 2000 Revisited: What Shall We Do?, will describe what Earth will be like in the 21st century if all nations continue as they now plan and will ask the world's spiritual leaders to share their wisdom on how we humans should manage our affairs on Earth in the 21st century.
We are also beginning to assemble a "catalog" of key projects and major actions that need to be done for Earth. One example might be to utilize the best satellite technology now available to build and deploy a highly effective famine early warning system. Another might be a system to provide at least an elementary education to every child on the planet.
The report and a very early draft of the catalog will be major inputs into the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions. The Parliament will provide a high-visibility forum at which thoughtful spiritual leaders will have a global audience. Many prominent spiritual leaders have already agreed to attend, including His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Dr. Abdula Omar Nasseef, Director General, Muslim World League. An agenda item for the 1993 Parliament is the possibility of establishing a continuing institution called the Parliament of the World's Religions.
Following the 1993 Parliament, we want to work with the continuing Parliament of the World's Religions (if it comes into being), with other interreligious organizations, with individual spiritual leaders, and with individuals from all faith traditions to prepare an event or series of events in the 1999-2001 period. Part of the preparation will be the development of three documents: (1) the report on the projected state of Earth in the 21st century; (2) the combined wisdom of the faith traditions with respect to the critical issues; and (3) the catalog of key projects and actions that the respective traditions could support and recommend. This work should be completed by about 1996.
We will need the assistance of a group of dedicated and committed spiritual leaders. We need them to help think through what are the key projects and actions needed to put Earth on a sustainable course and to help arrange the participation of fifty to one hundred of the most respected spiritual leaders of the world. We also need them and the leaders of the national 21st Century Studies to help arrange meetings with all heads of state of the world, and to ensure that all heads of state participate.
To the political leaders, we will say, in effect:
Anniversaries, of course, are a time for celebration, but they are also a time for giving gifts. Since this is an extraordinary anniversary, your nation may want to join other nations in making a gift to Earth for the 21st century.
To help you to think through what gift might be appropriate for your nation to give, we have brought you three reports: a picture of the future of the planet in the 21st century; the wisdom and teaching of the faith traditions on the critical issues of the 21st century; and a catalog of major projects and actions that experts, visionaries, and spiritual leaders recommend be done for Earth.
We ask that you share these documents with your parliament (or congress, etc.) and begin consideration of a major gift that your nation could make to Earth in the 21st century.
The invitation would also ask the heads of state, after deciding with their parliament on a suitable gift for Earth, to search out their nation's best calligraphist and have their nation's pledge to Earth recorded on the large sheets of special paper. They should then bring their nation's pledge with them to the gathering at Thingvellir.
The event at Thingvellir in 2000 will require careful planning, and we would like to work closely with Icelanders and spiritual leaders in exploring the possibilities. Currently we envisage fifty to one hundred spiritual leaders assembled under a beautiful tent at one end of the upper flats at Thingvellir. In front of the spiritual leaders would be a stone table, constructed for the occasion by an artist. Beyond the table on the plane would be an even larger colorful tent, and under this tent would be assembled the almost two hundred heads of state of the world, each accompanied only by a spouse.
The actual celebration would have the three parts traditional to most "transition" celebrations: a ritual death to and giving up of the old 20th century and its ways of being and thinking; a brief, symbolic transitional event to mark the entry into the new; and a celebration of the possibilities of the new. Gifts to Earth from both heads of state and spiritual leaders would be a part of the celebration and would express our collective best wishes for Earth during the new era. The gifts from spiritual traditions may be even more important than the gifts from nations.
For the actual gifting ceremony, the spiritual leaders and heads of state would rise and walk to the stone table. Then, facing their peers and (by television) the peoples of the world, they would each read from the beautifully hand-written page their faith's or nation's pledge of what it will do for Earth in the 21st century. Similar events could be planned and held in individual nations, provinces, communities, and even families throughout the world.
After the announcement of each gift, the head of state or spiritual leader would place the written pledge on the stone table. At the end of the ceremony, the pages would all be bound together in what might be called Earth Book, 2000 and entrusted to the Icelandic Parliament, the Althingi, for safekeeping. The book would also be translated into many languages and distributed widely as a palpable symbol and reminder of what the peoples of Earth committed themselves to on the occasion of their entry into the 21st century and the third millennium.
The meeting would need to continue for several days. There are three reasons. First, the importance of this milestone, this anniversary of Earth, demands that the spiritual and political leaders of Earth pause for several days to mark and celebrate it. Second, two hundred heads of state and a hundred spiritual leaders will need at least a few minutes each to announce their gifts. And, finally, the event must not be rushed. There must be time for celebration, music, and perhaps even dancing. This will be an event that will be remembered forever, and we must do it well.
You may ask, Why hold this meeting at Thingvellir? In answer, we would say that perhaps there are other places on Earth where such a meeting could be held, but of the places we know of, Thingvellir seems best for several reasons.
Facilities and accommodations are another consideration. We would hope that the whole gathering could be kept simple. If it were held in the summer, the meeting itself might be in the open air tradition of Thingvellir. We envision the use of large colorful tents so that no new buildings would be needed at Thingvellir. If the guests were strictly limited to the spiritual leaders and heads of state, their principal spouse or partner, a single aid or assistant, and no news media, the numbers would probably not exceed the capacity of the accommodations and food services in Reykjavik in 2000.
The 21st century holds many opportunities and obstacles for our generation and for our children. An event that draws on the traditions of Thingvellir and the emotional energies of the entry into the new millennium could help all of us on Earth to make the best of the opportunities and to overcome the challenges.
When you have had an opportunity to reflect on this letter, we would appreciate an opportunity to meet with the members of the Thingvallanefnd. Then, if there is interest, we could begin together developing a plan and preparing a feasibility study.
Gerald O. Barney