After more than a decade since its completion the Earth Charter remains for me the most holistic recipe for a sustainable future. Perhaps the two most important words in the document are "respect" and "care". Of the four general principles under which16 specific principles are delineated, both used in the first core principle - Respect and Care for the Community of Life. If we hope to get down to basics and build a sustainable future my gut tells me we have to start here. Such words imply a recognition that others, human and non-human, have 'intrinsic' value, not simply 'instrumental' value.
PreambleWe stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.
Are we ready to "declare our responsibility to one another, to the community of life, and to future generations? Over the past couple of months I've been assisting others with their efforts to get institutions they are members of to divest from fossil fuel companies. On the face of it, our continued support of these firms that seek to profit off of spewing CO2 into an already overburdened atmosphere seems morally, if not economically and environmentally bankrupt. Yet as one begins to address questions from various players you quickly realize that there are some who may feel these decisions more than others.
Like the impoverished Crow nation in SW Montana that just signed a deal with a major coal firm to mine the coal beneath their feet for a significant sum of money. The prospect is that the coal mined will be sold to China. But to get there the coal will have to leave from West coast ports and numerous Native American communities there are dead set against it. Or the employees working in refineries, or the communities that receive taxes from the activity that allow it to support education, police, fire, etc. There are ways to address the concerns. See the model ordinance for divesting from fossil fuels here for a good example of a more nuanced approach.
But if we care about the future together and the others we share this planet with as exhorted by the Earth Charter, we must be willing to share in the sacrifices needed to get there and to enter the discussions with respect and care for the community of life.