Tag Archives: Constitutional reform

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:

22 April 2020. The spirit flares again! Earth Day 2020 marks fifty years since the 1970 epicentre of a peak in environmental consciousness and efforts to improve the relationship between humanity and nature. Between 1968 (‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ by Garrett Hardin), and 1972 (‘The Limits to Growth’ by the Club of Rome), new environmental institutions were set up and laws passed around the world, the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment occurred, and the UN Environment Programme was born. The spirit of those times has flickered and flared ever since, and on 22 April each year we remember that the struggle continues, most recently through the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Extinction Rebellion, and the inspiration of Greta Thunberg, among many others. The petition to write Peace with Nature into national constitutions is a push in the same direction, and to help continue it you can join us on the Peace with Nature Constitution Facebook group.

17 April 2020. A ‘Peace with Nature Constitution’ Facebook group. In the run-up to Earth Day on 22 April, I’ve set up a group on Facebook called ‘Peace with Nature Constitution’, aiming for Scotland to lead a new deal between humanity and the living world. Do join and invite others to join. Let’s not forget that the coronavirus is only one threat among an infinite variety that we are just beginning to stir up. It’s time to pay attention to the rules of ecology, to forget everything we were ever told about humanity being in charge of the world. We are not. We must live more modestly and in peace if we are to survive.

6 April 2020. Waves of support. Ten days have passed and people keep signing this petition. We are all distracted by the lock-down at the moment, so I now plan to keep the petition open until Earth Day on 22 April. Maybe we can reach a magic number by then, but comments received meanwhile make it clear that the new idea that ‘people are sovereign while nature is supreme’ has real traction, and that meaningful constitutional protections for the ecological safety of all citizens, future generations, non-human species and the biosphere as a whole are desperately needed. The struggle continues.

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!

On Citizens’ Assemblies

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a growing movement among those willing to take or support non-violent direct action to reform ‘business as usual’ (BAU) in order to fix global heating, ecological collapse and mass extinction. It’s allied with like-minded movements and blessed by the gurus, priests and shamans of numerous faiths and philosophies. I joined XR because after so many years pushing for ecological system change around the world, here at last was a global mass movement that might be able to create political momentum for serious reform. It has three demands which I summarise and interpret as follows.

  • First, the governing elite must tell the truth about the state of the biosphere, the ways of the BAU that threaten its integrity, and their implications for humanity and nature.
  • Second, the governing elite must act effectively and with extreme urgency to address and resolve all threats to the integrity of the biosphere.
  • And third, a new system of leadership and governance must be installed, to guide and supervise reform of the current BAU, so as to ensure effective change and maintain the spirit of inclusiveness and democratic accountability.

Meeting the first demand means building public understanding and support for decisive action, while accepting that depression and fear are natural responses to truth about the world that we have made. Meeting the second demand means making deep and far-reaching changes to the BAU system, going far beyond anything so far agreed but consistent with the true situation that has resulted from past inaction. The third demand is the one that strikes most directly at the ability of the governing elite and BAU system to resist, delay and undermine reform efforts.

It is based on the reasonable beliefs that the ecological problems confronting humanity are too complex and urgent to be handled effectively by current decision-making arrangements, that the BAU system cannot be trusted to reform itself, and that the existing party-based political arrangements are too influenced by those who control BAU to be able to take the necessary hard decisions. This is not to say that individual legislators and businessmen are incompetent or untrustworthy, but it does recognise that established systems of interest and privilege tend to paralyse or misdirect change, at a time when urgent, directional reform is essential.

How decisions are made is important, as it sets the tone for future relationships among people and between people and nature. So any new decision-making forum should be inclusive in its construction, while also being informed and free of undue influence in its deliberations, and able to reach clear, quick, wise and useful decisions. Taking these factors into account, XR proposes to put in place a new Citizens’ Assembly to make strategic decisions. Members would be chosen through ‘sortition’ – that is random selection, like in jury service. The several hundred members would then be given access to expert advice (including a crash-course in ecology and planetary systems science) before deciding how we should proceed.

I speculate that such strategic decisions might focus on how to ensure that ecological reality always takes precedence over human laws (e.g. a Peace with Nature Constitution), or on how to protect the interests of vulnerable and future people and non-human species in all decisions (e.g. the appointment of Tribunes with veto powers). But they would certainly include priorities for combating climate change and mass extinction that are binding on all institutions and sectors. In short, for the specific purpose of making hard decisions to solve the problems of climate change, ecological collapse and mass extinction, a Citizens’ Assembly offers a way to combine the democratic strengths of informed public opinion with the serious responsibilities of jury service. This seems to me well worth demanding. See you on the streets!

© Julian Caldecott

Justice

From the Latin iūs (‘law, right’), justice describes a feeling that a dispute has been resolved satisfactorily.  Disputes range in intensity from polite through raised voices, to the threat or actuality of violence.  The pathway depends on how high the stakes are, whether a compromise can be imagined, proposed, agreed, and put into effect, and whether the process of negotiating a settlement is seen as unbiased, transparent, and respectful. The end-point of ‘justice having been done’ depends on enough stakeholders being satisfied enough by the outcome for everyone to lose interest and go home quietly. But when we are considering feelings it is always wise to look at the behaviour of monkeys and small children, and in both there is ample evidence that individuals pay close attention to the distribution of favours and disadvantages among their fellows. Perceived injustices prompt squeals of protest until the individual learns its status and adjusts its expectations, becoming subdued and unassertive, or articulate and demanding, as habits are formed through hormonal and neurological mechanisms interacting with family and cultural traits, and with educational and self-realisation processes.

Codifying justice as law, whether traditional, religious or constitutional, has always been a major preoccupation of human societies, since it is a way (alongside language and myth) for groups to assert their identities in competition with other groups.  Thus, receiving ‘the law’ is an important part of the founding story that groups tell themselves, whether it was delivered by prophets direct from a god, or handed down from generation to generation over millennia by the accredited agents of tradition, or devised by ‘wise people’ long ago.  What is seen as valuable is critical in all this, and history is largely driven by changing perceptions of what is valuable enough to fight over. Fertile lands, gold and religious orthodoxies were early and perennial contenders, but as groups have competed with one another problems have arisen from tensions rooted in different perceptions of value.  A landscape means very different things to people who see it as the abode of Dreamtime beings and their own ancestral spirits, or their source of wild meat or water, and to those who see it as good ranching or mining country, and finding ways to settle disputes other than by force is endlessly challenging.

In the modern world our priorities tend to focus on the distribution of tax burdens, market access, public services and elite privileges, but we are becoming increasingly interested in the value of freedoms from environmental pollution, water shortages, and climate change.  Every now and then, every culture needs to review and re-codify its system of justice and laws to ensure that it accurately reflects prevailing perceptions of what is valuable.  The modern world is certainly due for such a fundamental re-think, either before (i.e. as a way to head off), or after, a major breakdown.  A revised constitutional (ethical, legal, etc.) settlement will be hard enough to achieve even if humans perceive themselves as the only stakeholders, but many argue that justice should be broadened to include not only future generations (unborn people) but also non-humans and living systems.  We know that we are evolved organisms living in and dependent upon ecosystems whose health, vitality and diversity are essential to us, so these additional elements in a codified system of justice are indeed necessary to our survival.  And with survival at stake, there is the urgent question of how to reconcile the demands of survival and justice.  Both will be advanced by people caring about justice being done to the unborn, the non-human, or the ecosystem, but in the modern world such feelings are hardly encouraged.  This will also need to change, adding a huge educational agenda to the task now facing us.

© Julian Caldecott