JOHN D LIU: KNOWLEDGE IS NOT A COMMODITY

Filmmaker and ecosystem restoration champion John D. Liu joined the NIOO earlier this year as a visiting fellow. He tells us his thoughts about the NIOO, the failure of universities and Dutch karma.

John D. Liu’s documentaries show deserts coming back to life in China and elsewhere, thanks to efforts to restore the huge damage human activity has done. It’s a miraculous process that Liu describes as the great and urgent work of our time.

That’s why he’s disappointed that so many of society’s best and brightest go to university not knowing what to study or what to do with their lives.

Getting big heads

“Are we studying to get a really big head or differentiate ourselves as individuals? Because I don’t think that’s very important right now. Look at Darwin or Einstein, their contributions were much bigger than some sort of personal thing that they could somehow patent and buy and sell. The purpose of knowledge is not to commoditise it, but to improve humanity and increase our understanding and our collective consciousness.”

Scientists and academics, says Liu, are indispensible for solving the problems of our time.

“When you realise that climate regulation, biodiversity loss, hydrological disfunction and human population are all interrelated, you realise that solutions have to be found and the science of this is of urgent importance. Elite educational institutions at this time are called, are required to address these issues. If we fail, we will be reacting to the disintegration of the systems we rely on.”

Community of scholars

At the NIOO, Liu has found “a real awareness and feeling of responsibility”, he says. “It’s institutions like this where there is a willingness to look at all the different aspects and also the synergy between all the different systems.”

Lui believes that joining the NIOO will also help him with his own work.

“My research takes me all over the world looking at different biomes and analysing them based on what I understand. Because I use broadcast-quality film equipment, I can then analyse what I’m observing together with others. We’re talking about some complex scientific issues, and it’s absolutely necessary to get it right. So it’s important for me to be in a community of scholars.”

Champions of sustainability

There is a kind of poetic justice to the fact that he’s found these kindred spirits in the Netherlands of all places, believes Liu.

“I think some of the problems the world faces originated here. If you look back at the creation of monetary systems, mercantilism, maybe slavery, you can’t really say that’s all fine. So yes, this is the place where the champions should come from, who are fully aware of the mistakes because they live them. Knowing this and creating a way forward that is sustainable and fair, is something I’ve noticed Dutch people really want to do.”

And that’s a good thing, Liu believes. “A really, really good thing…”

Via Nederlands Instituut voor Ecologie

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