The weakness – and strength – of the Earth Charter www.earthcharter.org lies in its all-encompassing scope. Nothing, it seems, is excluded from its four key categories: Respect and Care for the Community of Life;
Ecological Integrity; Social and Economic Justice; Democracy, Non-violence and Peace.
Who could not subscribe to its values – ‘idealistic nonsense,’ the Leader of Bournemouth Council thought until he decided that, though idealistic it was not nonsense and so endorsed it with his Cabinet.
But its 16 Principles – and still more, its 61 sub-principles – are more demanding, particularly in the range of issues that they cover. They are not only ‘too much’ to take in; how can we act in the face of so many inter-connected expectations, for so are they phrased: ‘respect,’ ‘recognize,’ ‘affirm,’ ‘care’ and so on.
This, however, is a Charter for our responsibilities to Earth and future generations at a time when it is much needed. All over the world, we face breakdown: financial, resources (water, oil,
minerals, food), biodiversity, over-population, climate change, trust in institutions (media, politicians, police, religion.)
The Charter provides a framework which reminds us that ‘We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.’
Who, faced with such a statement, can fail to recognise not only its truth but, equally importantly, that it provides a way of understanding the holistic or systemic nature of the challenges that face us and that we need to see their interconnected nature?
But if we do not merely wish to understand but to change the world, we are faced with a much harder challenge. Where and how to begin? Buber suggestion that we begin with ourselves but not aim at ourselves is certainly a good one since it ensures that we constantly take account of our own situation, our attitudes and behaviour to those around us.
So, too, is the Transition Town prescription that in order to prepare for the enormity of the changes that face us, building capacity and resilience in the local area is essential – necessary but not sufficient. The global perspective remains vital since we are all inter-connected.
There are some initiatives which attempt to bridge the divide, to begin to develop the Global Citizen approach. One, emanating from North America, the Great Transition Initiative or Widening Circles, has the Earth Charter as its foundation document. In conjunction with WWF and other major NGOs, it convened a meeting in London under the title of SmartCSOs (Civil Society Organisations) earlier this year, but the conclusion which emerged was that most organisations are so concerned with keeping themselves going that they have little energy for collaboration, however much they believe in the concept in principle.
In an earlier blog, I wrote a little about working on the allotment and I have been astonished by the generosity as well as the fecundity of Earth, which together with sun and rain, produces extraordinary crops for so little effort. But contrast this picture with the one above!
Once again, I want, finally, to link this with the equally amazing development of the internet, including social networks, blogs, twitter and all the rest since it seems that it is this that is most likely to enable the changes for which the Earth Charter calls as well as, most obviously, providing us with the opportunities and methods to link local and global.
Let me give an example. I am lucky enough to be writing this in the Reading Room (Humanities 2, to be precise) of the British Library in London – I could show you, easily, if I were a little more proficient with my IT by taking a photo and pasting it in but will content myself with a view from google:
That was so easy to do – and I paused to take a brief look at twitter, which immediately linked me to the world outside, a chance to dialogue and collaborate in drawing attention to the auction this evening of Church House Museum, Barnet. This, now, is work on which I wish to concentrate: how is it possible to develop local and global networks which can deliver change?