Why should we think beyond our humanness to a worldly, earth perspective? Does the earth have a right to exist independently from humans? Do animals, plants and even inanimate objects have rights? How should humans interact with the earth and ecosystem, not as owners of the earth, but as caretakers of the planet?
As we celebrate the 69th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2017, let us take a moment to appreciate the bounty that the earth provides for humanity. It is a time to reflect, not only upon human rights, but also upon the rights of the earth itself. It is time to reflect upon how our human rights are dependent upon environmental rights. And it is time to reflect upon humanitys duty to protect the earth.
Global warming, ozone depletion, rising sea levels, soil erosion, habitat destruction, species extinction, drug, pesticide, plastic and petroleum toxins in groundwater, pollutants in the air, landfills and oceans, deforestation, etc. These human created problems impact all life on the planet and pose a threat to all beings existence. We must consider how our human actions are violating that most fundamental right the right to exist. Although the focus of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) pertains specifically to human rights, several Articles in the Declaration can be construed to provide a basic legal framework for considering environmental rights and duties as part of our human rights and duties.
The Human Focus of the UDHR
In 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed, humans were not fully aware of how our use of the earth and its resources could negatively impact the world. The link between human rights and environmental rights was not yet established. The UDHR focuses specifically on human rights, and only indirectly on environmental rights, for several reasons:
The UDHR was created immediately after World War II when the rights of millions of people were violently, and for many lethally, violated. The UDHR was a reaction to the war, to develop laws of peace as an adjunct to the laws of war, with the expectation that once human rights are fully respected, humans would be less inclined to behave aggressively toward one another.
The framers of the UDHR wanted to focus on human interactions how we treat each other in order to build a peaceful world.
The conceptualization of other third or fourth generation rights (such as environmental rights) had not yet come into mainstream thought. The earth had for so long been looked upon as human property to exploit solely for human advancement.
The scientific studies that reveal how treatment of the environment can impact our ability to claim and exercise our rights had not yet been conducted.
Even though the framers of the UDHR do not directly mention environmental rights, these rights can be deduced from Declaration.
The UDHR and Environmental Rights
We can extrapolate rights related to the earth from five articles of the UDHR: Articles 3, 25, 28, 29 and 30.
Article 3 of the UDHR affirms the rights to live, to freedom and to security: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person. We now know that if the earth dies, we humans die with it. To affirm our life, liberty and security, we have the duty to act towards nature sustainably and indigenously.
Article 25(1) of the UDHR affirms the rights to health and to fulfill basic needs: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. To advance the standard of living for humanity, we must respect the web of life that supports our health and well-being. To have abundant food and to fulfill our basic needs, we must nourish the land and maintain clean air and water. While considering standards of living, we must also be mindful of how the priority of continuous economic growth, and its concomitant resource usage, negatively impacts the environment. The earth is facing greater and greater strain from human activities that exacerbate natural phenomenon such as hurricanes, wildfires, and seismic activity. When we are not mindful and respectful of natures infrastructure, nature will wreak havoc on our human infrastructure.
Article 28 of the UDHR affirms the goal of living in a world of order rather than entropy: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized. What does a social and international order look like, that allows us to fully realize our rights? That order will come from a holistic world system that equally values both human and environmental rights. That order will come from advocating for the earth. We humans must speak up for the earth, using our reason and conscience (as Article 1 states) to voice and implement what the earth needs in order to heal and flourish. That order will come from the awareness of both our rights and duties as world citizens to each other and to the earth.
Article 29 of the UDHR affirms that we humans have duties to each other and the world around us: (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. We must expand the notion of duty to the community to mean duty to the earth as a whole, rather than only to the human community. We must secure the recognition of rights of others with the consideration that others includes the environment. We must exercise our rights only to the extent that this exercise does not damage the earth.
Article 30 of the UDHR affirms that humans cannot engage in any activity or perform any act that destroys our rights: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. In this final Article of the Declaration, we find our ultimate human duty to the planet. Destruction of the environment eventually destroys our rights. More than any other human activity, war violates human rights and despoils the environment. Our human rights, and ultimately world peace, are dependent upon healthy, sustainable natural and human environments.
Moving Beyond the UDHR
As our understanding of humanitys link to the earth has evolved, activists and lawmakers have established environmental laws in an attempt to regulate human interaction with the environment. More than 80 declarations, treaties and multilateral conventions have been ratified over the past 75 years in an effort to protect various aspects of the environment. Several of the most well-known, though not yet well-implemented, include the 1972 Stockholm Declaration on the right to a healthy environment, the 1992 Rio Declaration on the protection of the integrity of the earths ecosystem, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gases, the subsequent 1997 Kyoto Protocol and 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 1998 Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. In 2015, 193 countries adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, of which 8 directly pertain to the environment. National governments have given themselves until 2030 to try to achieve these goals.
As environmental activists have seen nation-state treaties come and go with big fanfare but little positive change, other attempts to declare the rights of the environment have come to the fore. In 2010, at the World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth proclaimed the rights of the earth and all beings and the duties of humans to the earth. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have signed a petition in support of this rights of nature declaration. Activists plan to present more than a million signatures of support to the United Nations on the 70th anniversary of the UDHR next year with the expectation that the UN will adopt the Declaration. As with many declarations and treaties, relying upon the UN or individual nations to enforce their provisions has had limited success.
Despite the plethora of laws and scientific guidelines for humans to follow to be good stewards of the earth, national governments and corporations have blocked progress toward an ecologically sustainable world. It is not necessarily a question of making new laws, which national and corporate leaders will likely ignore; rather, it is a question of enforcing the laws already on the books, engaging the public in protecting the environment, and summoning a united political will. We need to work with one human voice to govern how we treat the earth and all its inhabitants.
Universal Human Rights Require Universal Environmental Rights
Human rights, peace, and environmental activists must work together to achieve universal awareness and respect for all rights. In the future, we may adopt a Universal Declaration of Universal Rights and Duties, a compendium encompassing all human, environmental and other rights and responsibilities. For now, though, uniting as world citizens to implement universal human rights side by side with universal environmental rights is the key to survival of humanity and the earth.
Why Do We Call Ourselves World Citizens?
"I speak an open and disinterested language, dictated by no passion but that of humanity... Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world..."
--Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man
157 years after Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man, and after dropping bombs on cities as an air force pilot in WWII, Garry Davis voluntarily gave up his national citizenship and claimed world citizenship. In his autobiography, My Country is the World, he wrote, "Man's deadliest, self-imposed, restrictive device is nationalism. You and I may be fellow humans, but we are not fellow nationalists. I am a fellow who willfully withdrew from the co-partnership of citizen and national state and declared himself a world citizen."
Why did Garry Davis call himself a "world citizen"?
Garry Davis, like Thomas Paine, called himself a "citizen of the world" or "world citizen" because he saw the earth and humanity linked together as one unit, not just as a biosphere or ecosystem in which we are passive onlookers. He saw a human and political governing system sustainably integrated into the environment. He saw the possibility of humans working together to achieve a greater goal, to be more than the sum of individual parts.
He realized that if we humans were to move beyond aggression and war, then we would need to recognize that we are already one human family. We would need to claim a higher citizenship, a higher allegiance to each other and to the earth.
Citizenship is the expression of our rights and duties within a particular communal framework. World citizenship is the recognition that our communal framework is the world as a whole, that we carry our rights and duties with us wherever we are and that the world we share already unites us.
Why should we call ourselves "world citizens" rather than "global citizens"?
The term "global citizen" is a misnomer. The word "global" derives from "globe," meaning ball or sphere. "Global" is an adjective describing a location or place. A global citizen is an individual who happens to live on the earth.
"World citizen," two nouns together, describes an action. A "world citizen" is who you are, what you do, and to what you pledge your allegiance. The word "world" derives from Old English and Dutch, meaning the "age of man." "World" pertains to the life of humans, human existence, humanity, society, civilization, human institutions and the web of interactions among humans and with the environment.
As both a noun and an adjective, "world" is a system. The word "world" describes both the place where humans are and what, together, humans have done with and can make from our surroundings. The "world" is an interconnected system of our actions, reactions, and abilities to transform our relationships with one another and the earth. The word "world" focuses on the human aspect -- the structures and institutions -- of our existence.
You wouldn't say "citizen of the globe." That is not a system. That is a description of where someone finds themselves on a spherical shape or geographic mapping. "Citizen of the world," however, does engage the idea of people working together for a common goal. So, to be a world citizen means that you consider rights and duties of everyone individually and of all of us together towards each other and the planet. It's not just a location. It's not just a description. It is a political statement.
World citizenship is an idea put into action; it is ideals made real. World citizenship embraces action to develop an ethical framework for fulfilling our rights and duties. We have to conceive of the world framework that we want.
This conception of a functional world system requires principle, ideology, strategy and tactics of world citizenship. For a world citizen, the principle is one human family; the ideology is universal rights and duties; the strategy is education of universal principles, rights and duties; and the tactics are the symbols and tools that we engage to promote comprehension of our need to be committed to our planetary and human status, to the rights and duties that we have in the world that we create for each other.
Why is this distinction between "global" and "world" important?
Unlike the term "global," the term "world" constitutes the ethics, structures and institutions of the humenvironmental system that we can choose to create and develop sustainably.
We must claim world citizenship status. National governments cannot prevent us from doing so. They can only restrict horizontal citizenship -- from one nationality to another. They cannot restrict vertical citizenship that transcends the nation.
If you have a "right to a nationality," you also have a right NOT to have a nationality. You have a right to claim a higher allegiance to humanity and the earth. Or you can consider the idea of "nationality" to take a broader perspective of identity, meaning world citizenship status -- meaning the world is our country.
We are citizens of everywhere and everywhen -- wherever and whenever you find yourself in all times and situations. We are each a citizen of everywhere (the whole world). And we are each a citizen everywhere. In other words, wherever you are, wherever you find yourself, you are already a citizen -- with rights and duties, no matter whether you were born in that specific place or not. Having a "state" identity is irrelevant to our innate and unalienable rights that we carry with us wherever we go. The problem with the nation-state, as a challenge to a functioning world system, is that it attempts to exclude; it places "others" outside of its own framework of local law.
As world citizens, we rely on world law, such as Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law." We have rights and duties inherent to being a world citizen, which must be respected everywhere and for everyone.
We use "world citizen" and not "global citizen" because we need world law -- law for a world system to help us govern ourselves peacefully and sustainably. Global law only pertains to the environment, an ecological framework. World law relates to humans, to our human world, to the myriad of interactions that we have with each other as well as with the planet.
Once the framework of world citizenship is secure, we can unite at an even higher level. With a sustainable system in place in this world, we can then become citizens of the universe.
Why do we claim and must we claim world citizenship?
In a future blog, I will discuss the idea of world citizenship as an organizing principle for a successful, sustainable humanity -- why we do claim and must claim world citizenship.
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