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Maurice Strong is a Canadian businessman, environmentalist and diplomat.

The National Academy of Sciences has named a Canadian businessman and environmentalist as this year’s winner of its Public Welfare Medal. Maurice F. Strong becomes the first foreign-born recipient of the medal, which the academy has awarded annually since 1914 to people who best use science to improve the public welfare.

The Academy chose Strong because of his international leadership on environmental concerns by linking scientific and technological resources, spokeswoman Barbara Rice said Wednesday.

“He has worked to balance the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow,” Rice said.

In addition to holding senior level positions in various energy and financial corporations, Strong has served as undersecretary-general of the United Nations since 1985 and has worked closely with the scientific community on environmental and economic issues.

In 1972, Strong was chief organizer and secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, and organized the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that led to international conventions on climate change and biodiversity.

Born in Oak Lakes, Manitoba, in 1929, Strong said he became enthralled by the relationship between humans and the environment as a schoolboy and often skipped classes to spend his time in the Canadian outdoors.

“I reveled in nature,” Strong said, and told his teachers he learned more out there.

Strong said the environment is in a current state of decay, potentially affecting economies, the social environment, as well as climate change.

“We are prime actors in the evolution of our environment,” Strong said.

Some governments may try to sidestep environmental issues, but the power of nature will force them back on the public’s agenda, he said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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