Sound and vision blog

08 August 2022

Recording of the week: Stockholm 1972: Fifty years on

This week’s selection comes from Andrew Ormsby, Audio Project Cataloguer at the British Library.

Smoke from a small chimney in fog

Above: Smoke coming from a small chimney at H-Fönster factory in Gåseberg, Lysekil Municipality, Sweden, on a foggy day. Photo by W.carter. Used under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.  

Fifty years ago, in June 1972, a giant blue and white placard depicting a human figure was raised above the old parliament building in Stockholm. The figure with outstretched arms – ‘to encompass the globe’ – symbolised the world’s first major environmental summit, which was about to take place in Sweden’s capital city.

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was the world’s first major environmental summit and the first global attempt to co-ordinate international co-operation on the complex range of issues arising from the threat to the world’s ecosystems from pollution and industrialisation.

Rex Keating, a radio producer working for UNESCO, recorded many of the conference’s debates and speeches, as well as the activities of the campaigners and non-governmental organisations who went to Stockholm in order to present alternative solutions and influence the official delegates.

The first clip is taken from an interview with an unnamed member of the Hog Farm, a hippy commune whose members came over to Sweden from the USA in order to act as a peacekeeping force in case of unrest, as they had done at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. In the end their efforts were not required: the predicted riots did not happen and the commune’s members settled in Skarpnäck, an airfield outside Stockholm.

In the featured clip the interviewee mentions the group’s ‘whale parade’ march into Stockholm and the presentation of a document to the conference secretary Maurice Strong, calling for ‘a ten-year moratorium on the killing of people’.

Listen to clip one

Download Rex Keating transcript - clip one

In the second clip you can hear Keating’s description of the dismantling of the conference’s emblematic placard. He sees the splitting of the figure as a symbol of future difficulties. Fifty years later, as the effects of climate change become ever more frighteningly apparent, it’s hard to disagree with his gloomy assessment.

Listen to clip two

Download Rex Keating transcript - clip two