- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Jan 1983, p. 196-205
- Hillary, Sir Edmund, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The unknown concept of "conservation" thirty years ago, with lots of evidence strewn over Mount Everest. The speaker's personal experiences and travels since that time. The desperate situation in Nepal and for many similar countries in the Third World. The speaker's belief that the developed countries must accept some degree of responsibility for any massive destruction of the environment which may occur. What can be done to help. An example in the Sagarmatha National Park. The situation in the Antarctic. Politics and economic development. A description of the speaker's trip near the South Pole in 1957. The Conference on the Human Environment organized by the United Nations Environmental Program, held six months ago in London. Environmental concerns discussed at the Conference. Major conclusions reached at the International Conference on the Environment. Hope for the future as it lies in a strong and well-informed public opinion and in those devoted people who work so energetically to protect our world from unnecessary exploitation and pollution. The speaker's conviction that it is "all up to us!"
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- 27 Jan 1983
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- Full Text
- JANUARY 27, 1983
AN ADDRESS BY Sir Edmund Hillary, K.B.E.
CHAIRMAN The President, Henry J. Stalder
Distinguished members and guests, ladies and gentlemen: Don't we all in a philosophical way climb our own mountains? Don't we all seek the same uncertain rewards? Don't we all wait for the most rewarding moment to look down? There is always room at the top, but the way there is steep and can only be taken by the daring. And one must never forget that the way back down is just as dangerous--if not more so--as the ascent.
Our guest of honour, not only a sportsman but a humanist, is well acquainted with that fact.
Sir Edmund Hillary, K.B.E., was born in New Zealand in 1919. He was first an apiarist, then he served with the New Zealand Air Force, and, with Tenzing Norgay, he stood atop Mount Everest on May 29, 1953, thirty years ago. Sir Edmund was also the leader of the first overland vehicle party to the South Pole, and he has explored many of Nepal's unmapped regions, thus filling in blank spots on the world's atlases and in the history of discovery.
He has conquered raging Himalayan rivers in jet boats and he has bridged ten of them while labouring under the most primitive working conditions. He has established hygienic water systems in out-of-the-way villages. With the help of untrained Nepalese he has built twenty-two schools, two airfields, three hospitals, and ten village clinics. In addition, he has organized the escape of thousands of Tibetan refugees. Sir Edmund Hillary's life has been devoted to aiding the cheerful, short-lived, disease-ridden people of the Himalayas. Since 1961 the New Zealand Himalayan Trust has provided materials for all his humanitarian efforts. From 1974 to 1976 he watched the formation of the Canadian "Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation," dedicated to rebuilding and funding the Khunde Hospital, as well as six medical clinics, and to providing medical supplies and food for a medical practitioner at Khunde. Sir Edmund's own objective is to teach these people to become craftsmen, nurses, and teachers, and he has sponsored the education of promising young people who then return to teach in their home villages.
Sir Edmund has written numerous books and articles, has lectured widely, and has produced adventure films. He is a company director of several firms. Besides an impressive array of medals and decorations, he holds three honorary degrees: Doctor of Laws from the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia; Doctor of Laws from the University of Victoria in Victoria, New Zealand; and Doctor of Laws in Humanities from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our guest of honour, Sir Edmund Hillary.
SIR EDMUND HILLARY:
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: I always remember those grand old days when we organized a Himalayan expedition to search for that strange and elusive creature--the abominable snowman. One newspaper in the United States had a rather good cartoon which someone cut out and sent me. In front of a news-stand were two abominable snowmen, one big one and one smaller one, and they were reading one of those boards with the hot news of the day on it. There was no doubt that the little snowman was really worried.
The title on the board read in big type, "Hillary to hunt Abominable Snowman." But the big snowman wasn't impressed at all. "Heck, why worry?" he said to his smaller companion. "How do we know that Hillary even exists?" In 1951, thirty-two years ago, I made my first visit to the Himalayas, and we climbed some pretty good mountains too. A couple of years later--in 1953--Sherpa Tenzing and I stood on the top of Everest--the culmination of much effort on many hardy expeditions. I have many memories of those great days--memories of difficulties and danger, and particularly memories of comradeship and team spirit.
I suppose that all of us want to receive recognition as individuals at some time or another--be it in sport or business or even in politics. I've certainly been lucky enough to have had more than my share.
I received my most treasured decoration immediately after the successful ascent of Everest in 1953. I can well remember that great occasion in Kathmandu when the decoration was presented. It was all carried out on the front steps of the magnificent British Embassy. The courtyard was jammed with people and motor cars. The people weren't unusual but the motor cars were--in those days there was no road joining Kathmandu with India so every vehicle had to be carried over the hills for a couple of days by about sixty-four porters. Well, it was a very impressive ceremony with many speeches and much shaking of the hand--and finally, the presentation to Tenzing and myself of an enormous decorative star, very bright and very colourful.
I wasn't at all clear as to who was actually making the presentation, and it wasn't until all the vehicles had rumbled away and the people had departed that I had the chance to read the actual inscription. I will always remember it. On top it said, "Presented to the Conqueror of Everest," and on the bottom, "by the Kathmandu Taxi Drivers Association."
Over the years I've been lucky enough to be involved in a number of exciting adventures--in the Himalayas, the Antarctic, and elsewhere. But slowly my values have been changing--I found that success was still important to me, but so, increasingly, were human relationships. I became involved in assistance programs in Nepal--building schools and hospitals, bridges and water pipelines. Success on a mountain was not now the only thing that mattered; to help others to improve their way of life became a prime target. And that's the way it has gone on; still the odd adventure--jet boats up the Ganges, through Tibet to the east face of Everest, even backpacking on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic--but more and more I've been getting involved with people and their problems, and very satisfying it has proved to be.
As my interest in people has grown, so too has my awareness of our natural environment and the importance of its conservation. After all--people and their environments are very closely related.
Thirty years ago conservation hadn't really been heard of. On our 1953 expedition we just threw our empty tins and trash into a heap on the rock-covered ice at Base Camp. We cut huge quantities of the beautiful juniper shrubs for our fires, and on the South Col at twenty-six thousand feet we left a scattered pile of empty oxygen bottles, torn tents, and remnants of food containers. And the expeditions of today aren't much better in this respect either. Mount Everst is littered with junk from the bottom to the top--there are even a few bodies lying around.
Since those years I have spent a great deal of time in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. I have learned to understand the people, to enjoy their friendship and cheerfulness, and I have gained an appreciation of some of their problems. One thing that has really concerned me has been the destruction of their natural environment that is taking place.
Population pressures are forcing the farmers higher and higher up the mountainsides to find land where they can plant their crops. A large proportion of the forest cover has been destroyed in order to clear land for cultivation, to supply the local people with fuel, and to produce firewood for trekking and climbing groups. The Nepalese are experts at ingenious and laborious terracing of their hillsides, but when the monsoon rains come the surface soil is washed down into the streams; it pours into the great Ganges River, flows out into the Bay of Bengal, and is finally deposited in the Indian Ocean. That valuable soil will never return.
The situation is indeed becoming desperate--desperate not only for Nepal but for many similar countries in the Third World. It is my belief that all of us in the developed countries must accept some degree of responsibility for any massive destruction of the environment which may occur on our globe. What can we do to help?
Well, an example of what we can do is the Sagarmatha National Park. This lies on the south side of Mount Everest. It was established about seven years ago and it covers a very extensive area. About three thousand mountain people live in this national park, but each year double that number of foreign visitors come to the area. Over the years these visitors have used great quantities of the limited supply of firewood for cooking and heating, although efforts are now being made to persuade them to use kerosene for fuel. In this park a small amount of reforestation has begun, using New Zealand government funds, but this support has now come to an end. Virtually the only funds now available come from the Canadian Hillary Foundation. We contribute a very modest $10,000 to $15,000 a year, but much greater sums are needed if this superb park is not to seriously decline and become a barren eroded desert. There are many such cases around the world.
So I have become a keen, and, I hope, a practical environmentalist. I am concerned not only about the deterioration of our environment in the more affluent developed countries but in the poorer countries--those that simply don't have the finances to help themselves--as well. I worry about the pollution in our great cities and in our many waterways. I even worry about the Antarctic and about the potential dangers facing that great remote continent.
I have spent much time in the Antarctic; I was in McMurdo Sound only a year ago. I discovered then that all the talk was about the oil potential, the possible mineral resources, and farming and krill. Only the difficulties of access have prevented an even greater concentration on commercially-oriented investigation and exploitation--seeking out some of the last miserable remnants of oil under the surface of the earth. I heard little about the protection of this superbly beautiful environment, although much good work has been done by scientists in the past and, in truth, is still being done. I dread the thought of drilling being done through the movable pack ice with the attendant possibilities of an enormous oil spill and the destruction of millions of Antarctic creatures.
The Antarctic Treaty has produced a demilitarized, unpolluted wildlife sanctuary dedicated to free scientific co-operation. But now major political problems are looming. The possibility of economic development has turned the attention of many countries to the Antarctic, countries who have not signed the Antarctic Treaty, and conservation could become a minor priority in the search for wealth. When I was deeply involved in Antarctic exploration I regarded the South Pole as a continent of science and adventure. The world needs places like that, and I hope that it stays that way.
The moments you remember most clearly are not always the most dramatic ones--certainly the summit of Everest was important to me, but there were other occasions that at the time they happened were equally impressive.
In the middle of October 1957, I set off from Scott Base in McMurdo Sound with a group of farm tractors bound for the South Pole. Very few people in McMurdo sound had any confidence in the travelling ability of our tractors, and our neighbouring Americans and most of the New Zealanders at Scott Base openly doubted that we would go fifty miles out on the Ross Ice Shelf before having to be rescued. But the more opposition we got the more determined I became to prove them wrong.
Our journey across the Ross Ice Shelf started off very slowly indeed--only six miles were covered that first day. But then we started to improve--twenty-three miles, thirty miles, thirty-two miles, and then thirty-eight miles. On the sixth day we drove for thirteen hours and covered a massive fifty miles (massive at about three miles per hour anyway). We had reached our depot at the foot of the Skelton Glacier.
Ahead of us now was the great ice floe of the glacier, peppered with steep slopes and deep crevasses. For 130 miles the trail climbed up to eight thousand feet, where we had established the Plateau Depot with small ski planes. Would we be able to make it with our simple tractors?
Day after day we battled our way upwards through drifting snow, breaking through the crust of innumerable crevasses, being battered by constant strong winds. Whenever the sun appeared I'd hastily work out our position and then turn the tractors back onto the right heading. Slowly we made height and reached the snowfields at the head of the glacier. Dense fog surrounded us but still we pushed on: we knew we must be somewhere near the Depot, but would we ever find it?
Suddenly, the mist began to thin and we emerged into clear visibility. I looked anxiously ahead; there on the horizon, several miles away, was a tiny black triangle--a tent. It was the Plateau Depot.
I have never felt more relieved or excited. Alone in my vehicle, in an unaccustomed outburst of emotion I shouted and sang at the top of my voice. Despite the doubts of others (and, I admit, ourselves), we had made it. We were still nine hundred miles from the South Pole but that was one of the best moments I can ever remember.
Six months ago, in London, I attended a Conference on the Human Environment organized by the United Nations Environmental Program. It was attended by distinguished scientists and administrators from all over the world, and I found it a remarkable, although rather terrifying, experience. I am neither a distinguished scientist nor an administrator--I spent my early years as a simple bee farmer in New Zealand--but no one who has any feeling for the beauty of nature or any concern for his fellow human beings could have been unaffected by what we heard.
Scientists told us the grim story of acid rain--of how in Scandinavia and here in Canada thousands of lakes and great areas of soil have been poisoned by sulphurous fumes released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burnt.
I learned with concern of the carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. There is still debate on this topic but one thing is clear--the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and changes in land use. Dr. Robert White, of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in the United States, forecasts that in sixty years the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have doubled and the average world temperature will have increased by four or five degrees. This, he believes, will melt enough Antarctic ice to raise the level of the oceans by fifteen feet, flooding many of our great cities.
Perhaps the reports most depressing to me were the ones with which I was more familiar. Desertification of the world's arable land threatens agriculture on every inhabited continent. Desertification, we were told, means any ecological change that saps a land of its ability to sustain agriculture or human habitation. It is seen, perhaps at its worst, in Africa. It can be controlled, the experts assured us, but only through substantial international effort: making changes in herding practices and land use, building fences, developing firewood alternatives, stabilizing sand dunes with hardy vegetation, and so on. Effective action on a global basis, we were told, would require a commitment of several billion dollars a year from now to the end of the century. Inevitably, it was pointed out that if only a tiny fraction of the world's armament bill was devoted to the environment then the world could bloom again.
And then there is the ocean! Famous personalities like Jacques Cousteau and Thor Heyerdahl expressed their conviction that the oceans were becoming severely polluted with serious consequences for the future of the world. Their arguments were very convincing.
There were many other topics discussed: disposal of atomic waste and even war itself, the pollution of the atmosphere and the destruction of huge areas of the world's tropical forests.
After the first day of the conference I walked rather sadly out of that London City Council Hall and into bright sunlight and a clear blue sky. With rising spirits I strolled across the green grass and beautiful trees of St. James Park. The world was still very beautiful, I told myself, whatever the future might hold. Every effort must be made to preserve it.
The second day of the Conference was devoted largely to discussing what practical action could be taken to alleviate these environmental problems. The International Conference on the Environment came to certain major conclusions:
that the problems were severe and required urgent action, and time was desperately short;
that the task could only be tackled on a global scale and would require very substantial sums of money;
that governments would be reluctant to institute such dramatic action unless they were pressured by strong and well-informed public opinion. It was felt that the NGOS (the non-government organizations) had a very important role to play in the education of the public and in pressuring governments.
At the conclusion of the Conference the distinguished members were each asked a simple question--are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of our world? Hardly one person in this international gathering was completely optimistic. All had varying doubts and concerns. But not one person was completely pessimistic either.
I came away from the Conference with the firm belief that the future is entirely in our own hands; we can make the world what we will--a paradise for all or a barren desolate globe spinning endlessly through space. It is all up to us!
But the problems are certainly enormous. Regional and commercial interests exert tremendous pressure to mould government views, often with little interest in the long-term view and the welfare of our future generations. Our only hope for the future must lie in a strong and well-informed public opinion and in those devoted people who work so energetically to protect our world from unnecessary exploitation and pollution. In the long run it is all up to us!
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by The Right Honourable Roland Michener, Past Honorary President of The Empire Club of Canada.