In a world striving for sustainable development, the Earth Charter emerges as the UN's beacon, emphasizing harmony, ecological balance, and equitable progress. However, the practicality of these ideals in the face of capitalist economies and current power structures remains a significant concern. Can the dream of global interdependence and mutual responsibility align with today's reality?
The charter of the Earth and the realities of earthlings
Today, the main document declaring the commitment of the UN to the cause of sustainable development is the Earth Charter. It was adopted in its current form at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in March 2000. The Charter is divided into four sections (“pillars”) and proclaims sixteen basic principles, followed by a conclusion entitled “The Way Forward”. The pillars are as follows:
- Treat all living things with respect and care
- Ecological integrity (integrity)
- Social and economic justice
- Democracy, non-violence, and peace
The full version of the Charter with all the primary and additional principles can be read here. You can, however, not read it: everything there, believe me, is very complacent and, on the whole, reasonable, humane, and progressive. But I will quote some points to dwell on them especially.
From the preamble
Current methods of production and consumption are leading to ecological devastation, resource depletion, and a massive extinction of species. The benefits of economic development are not available to everyone, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflicts are widespread throughout the world and cause much suffering. The unprecedented growth of the world’s population is increasing the pressure on ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are under threat. These tendencies are dangerous, but they can be changed.
From the part “Treat all living things with respect and care”
… Strive to achieve social and economic justice, based on providing each person with a reliable and sufficient means of subsistence, while maintaining a favorable ecological environment.
Recognize that the freedom of action of each person is determined by the needs of future generations.
From the ecological integrity part
Manage the extraction and use of non-renewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels, minimizing their depletion…
In the part “social and economic justice”
Recognize the need to eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.
Promote a fair distribution of material wealth within each state, as well as between different countries.
Is everything right? Seems to be yes. But how, Holmes? By what methods and using what mechanisms can all this be achieved in the conditions of the modern world economy, in the conditions of a free market, competition, and consumer society?
The Charter itself proposes: “to oblige persons or organizations that carry out actions that can harm the environment to provide evidence of the environmental safety of their actions”, and “to promote the formation of such lifestyles that would correlate the quality of life and the material goods consumed with the possibilities of our limited world”, “protect the vulnerable, help the suffering and create conditions for them to develop their capabilities and realize their aspirations”, “strive to ensure that all world trade contributes to the sustainable use of resources, environmental protection and the establishment of progressive labor standards”, etc. In short, the UN concept of sustainable development assumes that participants in the world and national economies will become good ones and will manage and trade responsibly and accurately, without destroying the environment and sharing with those who, for one reason or another, they say, did not fit into the market. Is such beauty possible? Doubtful. The capitalist economy in principle presupposes competition, the importance of profit over everything else, and the displacement of less fortunate market participants to the margins of the “space of struggle”. Combining universal competition and planetary consolidation is not easy. It is worth looking only at the largest corporations: here they seem to join forces and jointly develop a certain unit, gadget, or standard, but now they are dragging each other through the courts, bringing billions of dollars in lawsuits over patents, preventing the implementation of competitors’ developments in the processes of partners, etc. One step forward and two back.
Governments? Bourgeois representative democracy in the conditions of developed electoral technologies and election results, which are significantly dependent on the money invested in these technologies, is not at all obliged to serve the global consolidation. The right has just won elections in France and Israel. And the rightists, let me remind you, are people who are generally not particularly inclined to “promote a fair distribution of material wealth.” Rather, they simply have an idea of a fair distribution that looks like this: whoever is rich is worthy of this wealth, and if he is not worthy, the market will regulate everything, and wealth will flow to those who are more worthy, more initiative, talented, quick, and toothy.
It is foolish, of course, to represent all supporters of economic liberalism as such predators. Undoubtedly, among these people, many are kind and compassionate, perhaps even the majority. But they exist in the logic of the current world economic and political system, and it is all imprisoned more for the struggle than for cooperation. And trying to make it sustainable is like trying to drive screws with a hammer or even drive nails with a screwdriver.
It is not for nothing that the authors of the first reports to the Club of Rome noted the need for a fundamental change in the methods of economic management accepted in the world. By the way, the third report to the Club of Rome, published in 1976 and consisting of recommendations to the world community in terms of changing the principles of behavior, economic and political activity, etc., noted that the difficulties of mankind are rooted in the structure of the power structures of developed countries and the “corporate society”. Instead, the authors of the report proposed a society of universal interdependence and mutual responsibility, which they called “humanistic socialism”. It is interesting that having taken the very idea of interdependence from the reports to the club, the authors of the Earth Charter did not include specific recommendations on the reorganization of the world community, remaining at the level of wishes.
In the current conditions, most of the wishes of the “Earth Charter” look very utopian. Yes, the hope that sooner or later everyone will listen to these wishes and start looking for some ways to consolidate remains. But do we have time to wait until “late”? And will it come “too late”? How effective is the persuasion power of sustainable development advocates? After all, a film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s cannibal bestseller was watched by thousands of times more people than they even heard about the existence of the reports to the Club of Rome, and about the aspirations of the UN dreamers.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.