In addressing the opening session of the COP-21 session in Paris, President Obama has called for “A world that is worthy of our children. A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress. A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited.”
Lofty aspirations designed to engender a spirit of cooperation make excellent rhetoric. The reality is quite different. America retains an “All of the above” energy strategy, as reported in the 2015 Energy Outlook by the EIA: “While the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years. Recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas have prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but the predominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.” The effects of the Clean Power Plan noted by President Obama in his remarks in Paris are not included in the 2015 Energy Outlook, and in fact the CPP was rejected by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. Our country is a house divided, conflicted and distracted in its focus. Climate change remains a partisan, divisive issue, with no consensus on action in sight.
Changing the frame of reference of the discussion may be helpful. While the political forces vie over the pace of continued exploitation of fossil resources for fuels, the systems of the living planet earth show signs of breaking down. If the Milankovich cycle estimates are accurate, our planet is in the period of its orbital cycle most closely spherical, a period between ice ages when life flourishes. But, this period of stability has been compromised by the combustion of fossil reserves for fuel, and the simultaneous destruction of oxygen producing forests and phytoplankton. The components of the planet that provide the life support system of oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the complex biodiversity that connects all living things are being compromised by human actions. The negotiations at COP-21 in Paris focus on sharing rights and responsibilities among nations, and seeking compensation and balance for development in differing economies. There is no discussion about the rights of the living earth on which all of humanity depends.
The People’s Movement for the Rights of Mother Earth are bringing the following Universal Declaration to the negotiations at COP-21 with a tribunal on December 7th. Here is the preamble to that declaration:
We, the peoples and nations of Earth:
Considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny;
Gratefully acknowledging that Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well;
Recognizing that the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change;
Convinced that in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth;
Affirming that to guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her and that there are existing cultures, practices and laws that do so;
Conscious of the urgency of taking decisive, collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth;
Proclaim this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and call on the General Assembly of the United Nation to adopt it, as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations of the world, and to the end that every individual and institution takes responsibility for promoting through teaching, education, and consciousness raising, respect for the rights recognized in this Declaration and ensure through prompt and progressive measures and mechanisms, national and international, their universal and effective recognition and observance among all peoples and States in the world. ( See full text here of the Articles of the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth)
This declaration was created at the People’s Climate Conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010, signed by 288 organizations from around the world, and carried to the COP-21 talks with even greater support of nations, individuals and more organizations.
We must recognize that only by preserving and protecting the ability of the living earth to serve the vital ecosystem functions will we survive and thrive on this planet. The services that generate oxygen-rich air, filter and purify water, create food and fiber from photosynthesis, and many others, come from the interconnected operations of the living systems of the planet. Humans are one part of that interconnected web of life. Extracting resources without any thought to replacement, restitution of disruptions, or protection to vital components has brought our civilization to the bring of extinction. From billions to none can happen within a generation, as is evident from the loss of creatures such as the passenger pigeon. We are witnessing the extinction of nearly 25,000 species this year alone.
Recognize this challenge to control the excesses of consumption and waste. Seek to unleash the imagination and aspirations of the most wise among us in the ways of living within the constraints of the resources of the living earth, without continuing to exploit non-renewable components of the earth’s crust. Apply technology with the goal of regenerating and renewing the life support systems of the living earth, not subduing and suppressing them. If we in America can apply our ingenuity and expertise to solve the issue of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, stability and prosperity will follow. Greed is the enemy. It is time for a just transition to a renewable and sustainable way of living.