Sufficiency and Human Fulfillment

An Excerpt from Conversation Four of Knowing Our Worth

By Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Daisaku Ikeda

Renewable Energy

IKEDA: The approach you cited—the gradual, pragmatic approach of setting long-term goals—is, I believe, the crucial third leg of the tripod, along with transforming the consciousness of each individual and expanding a global consensus, which we must establish in order to solve the global problems we face. With regard to this gradual, pragmatic approach, I am reminded of something Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said to his student Johann Eckermann during their conversations: “The main point is to have a great will, and skill and perseverance to carry it out.” (1) And an oft-quoted verse by Goethe contains the lines “Like the stars, without haste, but without rest, let each one go his rounds with his own burden.” (2)

I believe that such an indomitable will, persevering conviction, and sense of responsibility and commitment to making the supreme effort to achieve the goal are essential to solve our environmental problems, which will demand an enormous degree of time and work. Finding solutions to our environmental problems resembles, in a way, the negotiations to reduce nuclear arms, also a stubborn problem in which perceived conflicts of national interests often take priority. Speaking of the history of nuclear disarmament, Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization has said, “The history of disarmament is a process of governments adopting norms and policies only after sustained campaigning from civil society,” (3) attesting to the fact that the people’s voices seeking peace were the agents of change. As we have repeatedly confirmed, the ceaseless efforts of citizens’ movements are also the key to making the breakthrough for change with regard to environmental issues.

In our previous conversation, you discussed Germany’s adoption of renewable energy sources. Germany’s focus on offshore wind energy is well known throughout the world, and Germany has also adopted an environmental tax, which has been applied to creating jobs, hasn’t it?

WEIZSÄCKER: Since roughly 2005, big hopes have been placed in offshore wind energy. The Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Belgium actually built the first large-scale offshore wind parks, and since then, Germany as well as China are also becoming major players in the field. Due to construction challenges and the need for long-distance transmission lines, offshore wind power is estimated to be roughly twice as expensive as onshore wind power.

Germany used the energy tax revenues chiefly to reduce indirect labor costs, such as business contributions to social insurance programs and so forth. This operation seems to have created or secured roughly 250,000 jobs, according to the German Institute for Economic Research. (4) The tax shift made the hiring of people while “firing” kilowatt-hours a profitable operation in many cases. Rising energy prices also induced industry and homeowners to reduce energy consumption, giving jobs to craftsmen for home renovation and to engineers for redesigning industrial processes.

IKEDA: The German experience is valuable not only to Japan but to other countries seeking to shift to renewable energy sources. Germany is generating electricity from a variety of renewable energy sources, with wind turbines in the lead, followed by biomass plants, hydroelectric plants, and photovoltaic sources, in that order.

Denmark was the first to employ wind turbines to generate power. Hans Henningsen, a Danish educator who served as principal of Ask Folk High School, told me that the scientist Poul la Cour experimented with wind power there in 1891.

When I spoke to Mr. Henningsen of the Buddhist view of life—consisting of human beings, nature, and the environment as a whole—and the importance of a symbiotic coexistence between humankind and nature, he said, “Within a Christian context you cannot consider the relation between nature and human beings as something religious in itself” (5) but added that, in light of the Lutheran teaching of the universal presence of God in all things, “there is no point in making a division between the lifeless and the living, . . . or for that matter between things and nature.” (6) This observation made a deep impression on me.

The Danish people have a highly developed environmental consciousness. Throughout Europe, there is a general, widespread movement to adopt renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy is not just a means for individual nations to acquire stable energy sources but is also directly linked to preventing climate change on a global scale. UN Human Development Reports have repeatedly sounded the warning that “no one country can win the battle against climate change acting alone. Collective action is not an option but an imperative.” (7) As I said earlier, every part of our world is at risk, to a lesser or greater degree, from the abnormal weather patterns and other effects of global climate change (see Conversation Three).

It is absolutely critical for those of us living today to take responsible action for the sake of future generations. What roles, in your opinion, can Japan and Germany play in this regard?

WEIZSÄCKER: My present idea, which I am publicly advocating, is that Europe should join with East Asia, including China, in going ahead with a threefold environmental policy: 1) real climate policy chiefly based on “factor five” technologies; 2) cyclical economy concepts based on the Japanese 3R principle (which was adopted by China in 2009); and 3) the long-term ecological tax reform I have previously outlined, which would make the participating countries pioneers in sustainability technologies.

All developing countries that are poor in energy and other natural resources would be attracted by this new alliance. Europe, East Asia, and the relevant developing countries represent some 80 percent of the world population. If Japan and Germany would initiate a movement in their respective regions for such a new alliance, it would be tremendously exciting and promising, both economically and ecologically.

Ethical Responsibilities

IKEDA: Japan needs to begin to make comprehensive, systematic efforts to build a sustainable society. I also think it’s important for Japan and Germany to share their experience and know-how in this area with other nations in a coordinated fashion.

Based on your many years of experience with environmental issues, what are your thoughts on scientists’ ethical responsibilities? With the global environmental issues we face, the scientific community’s ethical responsibilities seem to be becoming weightier, don’t you think?

WEIZSÄCKER: If you are posing this as an abstract ethical question, then my answer would be yes. Scientific and technological advances must be guided by the welfare of society—and nature. But the reality today is that plenty of jobs for scientists are in conventional industry or business stemming from a historical phase of overexploitation of nature. This is the case in the United States and to a slightly lesser extent in Germany and Japan. In many scientific domains, such as biotechnology, you are an outcast if you do not adopt an industrial orientation in your practice of science. This is of course a tragedy but not something that can be changed by moral or ethical exhortations to scientists.

It means that we need to call for ethical responsibility not just from scientists but from the system itself. We need to insist that science be a quest for truth, not profit, and that its results should benefit the public, not restricted commercial interests.

IKEDA: Many of the threats we face today are actually the results of our science and technology. Environmental pollution, for example, is the result of our relentless pursuit of convenience and affluence, which has blinded us to the self-evident principle that we are part of nature and need to live in harmony with it. Nichiren wrote, “As the poisons of greed, anger, and foolishness gradually intensify, the life span of human beings gradually decreases. . . .” (8) The advancement of modern civilization based on science has exacerbated and amplified the greed for possessions and dominance inherent in human beings, until they are on the verge of destroying our natural environment and threatening life itself.

In order to prevent further environmental destruction, it is important to have accurate information regarding the actual severity of the threat constantly presented to the public and to take the necessary legal and policy measures to deal with the problem. Not only experts in the field but the general public must constantly be on the alert and monitoring the actions taken by government and business.

WEIZSÄCKER: Precisely. If the sciences are about truth, they cannot avoid looking at the effects of science and technology. When a scientist develops a pharmaceutical agent, he or she should feel obliged to investigate its side effects, both the benign and the harmful ones. A lack of such curiosity can mean overlooking the possibility of terrible side effects. It is therefore not justified to define “good science” as narrow fact-finding within one’s own discipline.

Technologies have typically been financed and further developed if they carried the prospect of some further expansion of desires and convenience, because that would make them successful in the market. Scientists and engineers, like other human beings, have a tendency to do what they are being paid for. We can’t blame them for that. Teachers, priests, and craftsmen are also paid for what they do. But once we realize that further conventional economic expansion is no longer benign, and that contraction is necessary to save what remains of climate stability and biodiversity, we ought to think of new avenues for science and technology.

If we manage to extract five times more human well-being from a kilowatt-hour or a bucket of fresh water, we can theoretically provide pleasant lives and convenience to one billion people in the rich countries with one-fifth of today’s energy and water consumption and also offer a fivefold increase of economic wealth to people in the poor countries without increasing their energy and water consumption. Scientists learning about such opportunities tend to become excited and engaged in finding practical ways to make them a reality. This has been my daily experience at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. The next important step is to reflect on the institutional conditions needed to make such fabulous improvements truly profitable.

IKEDA: Concerning scientists’ responsibility, Dr. Rotblat told me that while many scientists take no responsibility for how their scientific discoveries are employed, he considered this a fundamentally immoral stance. He added: "The world’s scientists can make a definitive statement about the application of scientific knowledge in society because they have had such an immense impact on people’s lives and have played a major role in shaping contemporary society." (9)

Dr. Rotblat was an advocate of the need for scientists to have a strong moral conscience and an awareness of their mission as scientists.

I am also reminded of something that the father of modern chemistry and great peace activist Linus Pauling said to me:

Since I believe in democracy, I prefer to see no single group—not even scientists—running the world. Scientists have an obligation to help their fellow citizens understand what the problems are but must not form a controlling oligarchy. Decisions must be made by the people as a whole. (10)

It is important, I believe, for scientists to work with civil society in order to build a healthy society.

It is equally important for institutes of higher learning, in order to foster astute, capable young minds with an abiding sense of social responsibility, to provide an education with high moral values. This is why I want to ask if you would offer a few words of encouragement not only to the students of Soka University, which you once visited, but to all the women and men dedicating themselves to the invaluable task of learning in their youth.

WEIZSÄCKER: Soka University contrasts with other universities in that it has not allowed itself to be incorporated into the Wall Street mindset. It aims at providing its students with a firm intellectual foundation and encourages them to examine and cultivate an understanding of history, religion, and morals. This I find to be very positive.

My general impression is that Soka University generously cultivates liberal and interdisciplinary approaches, reminding me of the great days of German universities during the nineteenth century, based on the liberal arts and science principles of Wilhelm von Humboldt. (11) I regret to say that these virtues have been gradually sacrificed and replaced by a narrow focus by students on career preparation and by faculties on highly specialized methodological scholastics. I wish to congratulate Soka University for following a broader road.

My personal message to young people is to be intellectually hungry, bold, and responsible.


1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Peter Eckermann, and Frederic Jacob Soret, Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann and Soret (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 65, 1850), p. 420.

2. James Simpson, Matthew Arnold and Goethe (London: The Modern Humanities Research Association, 1979), p. 151.

3. “People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition, Commentary by Tibor Tóth on the SGI President’s Peace Proposal” (accessed at <> on September 15, 2011).

4. Weizsäcker, et al., Factor Five, p. 320.

5. Translated from Japanese. Hans Henningsen and Daisaku Ikeda, Asu o tsukuru kyoiku no seigyo (Shaping the Future: The Sacred Task of Education) (Tokyo: Ushio Publishing Co., Ltd., 2009), p. 295.

6. Ibid., p. 296.

7. Human Development Report 2007/2008 (accessed at <> on October 15, 2011).

8. Nichiren, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1120.

9. Rotblat and Ikeda, A Quest for Global Peace, p. 91.

10. Linus Pauling and Daisaku Ikeda, A Lifelong Quest for Peace (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), p. 37.

11. Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt (1767–1835): Prussian philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of Humboldt University of Berlin.

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