Category Archives: Leadership

A Peace with Nature petition, 2020

Over the last year or more, Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion have been demanding that we ‘follow the science’ – science that tells us how endangered we ourselves are becoming. But solving this is not easy or simple. It’s not just a question of a few nature reserves or recycling plastic bottles. Rather, the whole attitude that people are in charge and that nature should fit under human needs is just plain wrong. Nature is far more powerful than we are, and she is starting to respond to abuse with fires, floods, storms and new diseases. This response can only get worse if we continue to abuse nature, paying little or no attention to the science of ecology (see: Ecological Risk and the Climate emergency).

With this in mind, I started a petition on 8 March 2020, calling for Peace with Nature to be written into national constitutions, starting with Scotland’s. This would declare an end to humanity’s suicidal war with nature by acknowledging the supremacy of ecological reality and our dependence on nature. The key practical point is that a Court of Ecology would be established to which citizens would have the right to appeal for any law to be examined for ecological safety, and struck down if it is considered unsafe. This would provide an essential protection for citizens, future generations, non-human species, and nature as a whole, against unsafe decisions by politicians. The effect of this would be to place ecological law at a higher level than human law, and establish that the people are sovereign while nature is supreme (see Towards a Peace with Nature Constitution). This is a new constitutional idea, since other national constitutions make either the people or parliament both sovereign and supreme, with the result that all power lies with humans. This is clearly wrong if you accept that nature is more powerful than us. By accepting it, Scotland would set a new standard for other countries to follow. And people are starting to accept that the world is not there just to be exploited by us.

By 31 March 2020, the petition had been viewed 1,103 times, shared 186 times, and signed by 358 people. I decided then to draw the process to a close, and forward the results to the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament and media. My aim was to put some new ideas ‘out there’ for public debate, and comments from some who have signed the petition show that we are indeed thinking in new ways: “this is essential for sustainable life on earth”, “the concept of a Court of Ecology is staggeringly powerful”, “we have lost so much already globally, and Scotland is well placed to lead by example”, “this is what is needed – human rights need to be balanced with responsibilities and social good, and of course the right of other species to exist and flourish”, “this is something that should have been done decades ago – but better late than never”, “this is THE most important issue of our time/of all time”, and finally “though Scotland is not my home, Earth is, and we all share the same planet – we need to lead by example, to show how it can be done.”

The text of the Petition:

“This is an appeal to include within a new Scottish constitution an Article on Peace with Nature. The Article would declare the end of ‘war’ against nature and seek cooperation with like-minded peoples and governments. In practical terms, it would also establish a Court of Ecology, the role of which would be to decide, on behalf of the country’s citizens, whether or not any law is safely compatible with ecological sustainability, and possessing the authority to strike it down if not. It would help to safeguard the people and biosphere against dangerous mistakes by politicians. A constitution that establishes the supremacy of ecological law over human law, and that offers a practical and cautious way to put it into effect, would also set a new, replicable and deeply hopeful standard for all other countries.

“Natural ecosystems sustain water supplies, environmental security, pollination of crops, fisheries and soil fertility, and many other irreplaceable things. Yet these ecosystems are deteriorating fast, exposing people, farms and settlements to severe risks and costs. All the living systems that provide food, water and security for people and businesses are failing, as indicated by spreading deserts, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, mudslides, epidemics, extinctions, famines, and political crises induced by them. Ecologists know these to be connected into one worldwide pattern, and also as manifestations of ecological tipping points, which threaten us all, along with our children and everything else that we love about the world.

“They are all signs of humanity’s ‘war’ with nature, which must end with ‘peace’. But peace with a superior power such as nature, with which one cannot negotiate, in practice means ‘submission’. This would require us to stay carefully within the boundaries of peaceful behaviour if our existence is to continue. To explicitly align the principles of ecological sustainability and good governance at a constitutional level is necessary to take the pressure off nature definitively, and encourage and enable natural regrowth to occur. Citizens who think that a law may violate ecological sustainability should have the right to petition for it to be reviewed, debated by experts, and struck down if it is unsafe. This new and empowering approach is founded on the hope that steady progress towards ecological sustainability will be fast enough to save the biosphere and humanity.”

Updates to supporters:

27 March 2020. Delivering the future. In the last few weeks we learned a lot about humanity’s truly precarious position in the biosphere, and the value of cooperation and foresight. Meanwhile our petition was viewed or shared 1,200 times and signed by 330 people. I’ll circulate it now for one last weekend before sending it to the citizens’ assemblies, media and parliament. Maybe this Spring we have planted an idea that will germinate, shatter the concrete of modernity, and one day bear fruit. There is certainly new hope in the air. Peace with Nature!

20 March 2020. Moving the Earth. As we grow in numbers, the Secretariat of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland has replied that the Assembly “is not geared up to consider petitions”, but that an Assembly on climate change is being planned and may be open to new ideas. My feeling is that we should keep agitating for these assemblies to consider Peace with Nature, while reaching out to parliament, the media, and society as a whole. We should accept that we are now a movement, one calling for peace and peace-keeping with nature to be written into all national constitutions everywhere, starting with Scotland. This is a logical step from our calls to follow the science, to restore the biosphere, and to rebel against extinction. What do you think?

19 March 2020. Baby steps. The coronavirus continues to break hearts while promoting mutual aid and new thinking on our place in nature. It’s the latest in a succession of ecological (fire, flood) and social (economic, political) hammer-blows that have hit us since 2008, knocking the stuffing out of our certainties, and calling into question the true sources of security and risk in our world. They all remind us that reason and reality are the things to pay attention to, and that cooperation and foresight are the things to value. One supporter wrote that a ‘Peace with Nature’ Constitution is only a baby step, and that is true. But if baby steps are all we can do right now, we must still do them.

17 March 2020. Imagine. One supporter wrote “This is THE most important issue of our time/of all time.” It reminds us that the galaxy may be littered with the remains of species who were clever enough to ruin their home worlds, but not wise enough to live at peace with nature. We can see the truth of this, and its power of warning. But the question remains: how to regulate ourselves to fair prosperity and ecological sustainability? A Peace with Nature Constitution is one part of the puzzle, and a Court of Ecology is another. But the aim is not to anticipate every ruling of such a Court, whatever our priorities. It is to empower and trust wise people to understand ecological reality and protect all living systems. Imagine having the right of appeal to a Court comprising people like Naomi Klein, Mark Carney, Hilary Mantel, Patrick Vallance, Margaret Atwood, Chris Whitty, and Brenda Hale. Add some serious ecology training and that’s what I imagine. It gives me hope, and joy.

16 March 2020. Healing new ground. We are now in uncharted levels of support for a wholly new constitutional idea: that the people are sovereign but nature is supreme. Also that powerful, practical means are essential to protect future generations, non-human species, and the web of life on Earth. Brilliant comments like this are coming in: “Excellent – this is essential for sustainable life on earth”, “the concept of a Court of Ecology is staggeringly powerful”, “We don’t have the option *not* to move forwards like this – we have lost so much already globally, and Scotland is well placed to lead by example”, and “Yes, this is what is needed. Human rights need to be balanced, responsibilities, social good, and of course the right of other species to exist and flourish.” So our movement is growing roots. Peace with Nature!

14 March 2020. Progress and principles. To recap, in this petition we are asking the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland to ensure that a Scottish Constitution includes an Article on Peace with Nature. This would end humanity’s suicidal ‘war’ with nature by acknowledging the supremacy of ecological reality and our dependent status with respect to nature. The key practical point is that a Court of Ecology would be established to which citizens would have the right to appeal for any law to be examined for ecological safety, and struck down if it is considered unsafe. This would provide an essential protection for citizens, future generations, non-human species, and nature as a whole, against unsafe decisions by politicians. The effect of this would be to place ecological law in principle at a higher level than human law, and establish for constitutional purposes that the people are sovereign while nature is supreme. This would set a new standard for everyone on Earth, with Scotland leading the way to a pragmatic but transformative solution to our existential crisis.

12 March 2020. Next steps to make peace with nature. Thanks so much for signing our petition to end the war against nature and set a new constitutional standard for keeping the peace. There are nearly 150 of us now, with lots of overseas support. But our aim is for Scotland to inspire the world by showing how to protect the biosphere and humanity, so it would be wonderful to boost the number of Scottish supporters. Therefore, please forward the petition and an encouraging note to anyone you know who might want to help, including any Scottish citizens and groups based in Scotland. We could then hope to make even more of an impact with the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland and the national media. Many thanks again. Peace with Nature!

Leadership

Leadership is the skill with which a group’s needs and desires are detected, shaped, and steered. This is worth thinking about, because we are surrounded and blathered at by people claiming to be ‘leaders’ – of political parties and countries especially – but few of them are any good at it. As a result, we are in a real pickle – doomed to being driven mad (e.g. by Brexit) and then extinct (e.g. by climate change). In short, we need good leadership, and urgently. But how to recognise it?

The idea of leadership. The  verb ‘to lead’ comes from the Old English lǣdan (‘lead’) and lād (‘journey’, ‘way’, ‘course’), and it’s linked to ‘load’ (things you carry on a journey) and ‘lode’ (as in lodestar and lodestone, things that guide you on a journey). People have been migrating for scores of millennia (from Africa to Australia and the Americas), and even settled peoples can never afford to forget how to do it as there is always the risk of drought, sea-level rise and invasion. So the idea of a person responsible for starting and steering a journey must be utterly primal. But a group must be ready to travel before a leader can shape a vague motivation to move into enthusiasm for a journey in a particular direction, with all its dangers and labours. And physical travel is only where the idea of leadership came from originally; it now covers other kinds of journey, ones that involve change and progress in relationships between people, and between people and their environments. All require similar skills in managing conflict by dispensing justice, managing relations with other groups, understanding and articulating the needs and desires of groups, and choosing directions and destinations. Leadership is the artistry in doing all these things – and ‘good leadership’ means doing them well.

Why is leadership so hard? Because it brings together every other mental capacity. It requires all signs in the environment to be seen and understood, including the moods of people, nature, and the spirit world, the behaviour of animals, the crying of babies, the texture of grass and soil, and the frequency, intensity and content of social disputes. Many of the clues are subtle – the bad temper of white-tipped reef sharks just before an earthquake, for example – while others (such as the dust of an approaching army) are anything but. In any case, there is a long list, from which particular indicators are chosen (as influenced by culture, itself shaped by experience in that particular environment), and their significance marshalled into a story that can help the group’s ideas and desires take form. These will have been influenced by the same signals that the leader has detected, but perhaps not organised so well or in the same way.

Why do leaders have to be brave? Many important environmental and social signals cannot be appreciated without knowledge and attention to detail, so they may only be recognised by a few people. This applies often in large, complex or fragmented societies in which there are many distractions, and especially involve environmental threats (such as slowly-deteriorating ecological conditions) and social threats (such as slowly-growing inequality, corruption, and political polarisation). Here, if the threats are severe and solutions are needed urgently, but there is little public appreciation of the need for action, an essential quality of leadership is a willingness to act decisively to safeguard the group but in advance of public opinion.

Leaders must make sense of complexity. Modern societies comprise millions of people in political systems and billions in economic ones, and have complex distributions of power among class, caste, gender, ethnic, ideological, and other groups. Distilling useful messages from so many people now requires very selective listening (to focal groups, poll samples, and factional leaders), and very crude messaging about the intentions of the leadership. One-size-fits all price signals, slogans and binary choices tend to replace the subtleties of social discourse, and minorities that cannot build alliances to form large voting blocks tend to be ignored. Only through universal, high-quality education can good minority ideas (such as equity and sustainability) spread widely, and only through local empowerment and decentralisation can accountable governance be maintained in ultra-large political systems. But both education and localism are needed, since otherwise leadership in large societies produces non-inclusive and polarised outcomes. And when these outcomes are challenged by dire events in the social sphere (e.g. through insurrection by the dispossessed), the economic sphere (e.g. through technological or market changes), or the environmental sphere (e.g. through the consequences of climate change), then polarised outcomes can quickly turn into despotic ones. Then we end up with warlords rather than good leaders running the world.

So what are we looking for? Good leadership must include the competence to identify key challenges, the attention given to diverse signals about them and how they are likely to affect the group, the intelligence needed to seek, discriminate and absorb sound advice about what to do about them, the articulacy to explain and build support for a collective course of action that will minimise harm and maximise benefit for most people in the long run, and the flexibility to maintain alliances while adapting to events. So a good leader must be competent, attentive, intelligent, articulate, and flexible, and in the modern world all this must be combined with a surety of touch in communicating with very diverse audiences. How many of those who claim to be leaders come close? Have a look at the UK parliament right now, and see what you think.

© Julian Caldecott