Tag Archives: War with Nature

On Waging a Losing War with Nature

The obsidian scalpel

To mention nature is to invoke an infinite, mysterious, and supremely powerful universe, part of which is our own home-world. As story-telling mammals, it is easy for us to think of nature as our mother, and to describe our evolution as stages of growth or initiation. In this metaphor, we spent our childhood in the hard school of the Pleistocene era, under repeated stress from severe ice ages, and our adolescence in the less turbulent Holocene, in which we learned to think of nature, most of the time, as tolerant and generous.

But the Holocene is now ending, largely due to the impacts of our careless numbers, needs and technologies. The tolerance of nature – which once seemed, like the oceans, boundless – has run out. We might hope to be forgiven one day, but there is ample evidence that our mother is seriously angry with us. Worse, we suddenly realise that nature has many other children to look after, and that we are not as special as we had thought. Perhaps this unexpectedly steely-eyed mother will drag us to the altar, to face the obsidian scalpel of extinction that has ended so many of nature’s vast family before us?

But maybe not. We have no way of knowing what’s really going on or why, beyond the discoveries of scientists and the intuitions of mystics. But it does seem certain that we’re in for at least a thorough flogging, and our defensive gestures are far too feeble to do us much good. Nature cannot respond to appeal or negotiation, apparently cares nothing for inflicted suffering, and requires only compliance with her own laws. No, the only thing that might work is for us to understand our punishment, and to hope that we can guess how we are expected to behave in future, in case we get another chance.

And therein lies our hope or faith: we did learn, we did adapt, we are capable, we can survive. But first we must set aside the notion that we have powers that are greater than those wielded by nature herself. Powers we may have, for none of nature’s offspring are so quick to be clever, inventive and cooperative as we are when we need to be. The question is: can we understand how to use those skills to earn a survival niche, somewhere, in nature’s great coral reef, while nature grows back around and within us?

Origins and lessons of warfare

Much will be said about this, as the struggle unfolds. Meanwhile, we can contemplate some lessons from another rich metaphor: human warfare. This is an activity to which we are driven often, perhaps in line with behaviour inherent to one part of our evolutionary heritage as great apes – the ‘chimpanzee’ side with its tendency towards inter-group warfare, which stands in eternal tension with our more pacific ‘bonobo’ heritage. Thus we can imagine that humanity has been waging ‘war’ against nature for millennia, and that nature has now unleashed a ‘war’ against us.

But both are strange kinds of war, by human standards, being fought out by accident between adversaries who are largely unconscious (people) or entirely so (nature) of what they are doing and why. Moreover, it is between those who are grossly ego-inflated (people) and entirely ego-less (nature). And it is also absurdly one-sided according to any rational metric, leaving us with a losing war to endure and learn from, rather than a victory to attain.

Still, warfare is familiar to people, so there may be some concepts and experiences here that can point towards the terms of an eventual peace. In this spirit, I explore here a few lessons from A History of the World War 1914-1918, by B.H. Liddell Hart (Faber & Faber, London, 1930), and draw attention to what they might mean for us in our conflict with nature. I start in Table 1 by setting side by side the opening of Liddell Hart’s book and a statement by myself on the origins of the present climate and ecological emergency. My aim is to show that many years of barely-conscious effort were needed to prepare both the continent of Europe and the whole biosphere, respectively, to the point where a single spark could ignite calamity.

Table 1: Origins of a human war, and of war with nature, compared.

Origins of a human war (1930).

Origins of a losing war (2020).

“Fifty years were spent in the process of making Europe explosive. Five days were enough to detonate it. To study the manufacture of the explosive materials is within neither the scope nor the space of a short history of the World War.

“On the one side we should have to trace the influence of Prussia on the creation of the Reich, the political conceptions of Bismarck, the philosophical tendencies in Germany, and the economic situation – a medley of factors which transmuted Germany’s natural desire for commercial outlets, unhappily difficult to obtain, into a vision of world power.

“We should have to analyse that heterogenous relic of the Middle Ages known as Austria-Hungary, appreciate her complex racial problems, the artificiality of the governing institutions, the superficial ambitions which overlay a haunting fear of internal disruption and frantically sought to postpone the inevitable end.

“On the other side we should have to examine the strange mixture of ambition and idealism which swayed Russia’s policy, and the fear it generated beyond her frontiers. We should have to understand the constant alarms of fresh aggression which France had suffered since 1870 [and] study the regrowth of confidence which fortified her to resist further threats.

“Finally, we should have to trace Britain’s gradual movement from a policy of isolation into membership of the European system and her slow awakening to the reality of German feeling towards her.”

“Seventy years were spent in destabilising the biosphere, and now only a few days are enough to gestate storms, fires and epidemics that make life a misery for scores of millions at a time. Conditions have so ripened that these calamities and others are poised to unite in a devastating global riposte to humanity’s abuse of nature’s intricate living systems.

“To understand how these conditions arose, we should have to consider on the one hand American and Russian power at the end of Nazi Germany, their subsequent influence on their respective client states and non-aligned rivals and dependencies, including the UN, their proxy wars and arms races, and their competing visions for the regulation of human enterprise.

“We should have to note the proving of capitalism as the most efficient way to turn natural resources into surplus production, consumption, armaments, and pollution, the haunting fear among its owning classes of disruption by the externalities of social and environmental breakdown, and their frantic quest for eternal, super-normal profits.

“On the other side, we should have to examine the periodic growth and dissipation of ecological and social-equity movements since the late 1960s, but also a growing confidence among the neoliberal freemasonry in the permanence of their own power.

“Finally, we should have to trace the rise of social surveillance and control technologies that hold people against their will ever closer to the cutting edges of a doomed machine civilisation.”

Disaster overhang and transition

In the event, the ‘disaster overhang’ that had accumulated in Europe by 1914 took two world wars and 31 years to exhaust itself, like a forest fire that finally ran out of fuel after flaring and smouldering for decades. Similarly, it will take many decades to unravel and dissipate the poisonous overhang that threatens the current biosphere. Moreover, in the case of Europe a wholly new American-Russian hegemony was needed to stabilise the situation after 1945, combined with a post-war economic boom to replace imperialism as a source of elite profits, and social democracy to replace nationalism as a source of stable governance. These arrangements prevailed into the 2010s, followed by the start of a transition through chaos towards, one hopes, a more stable configuration based on new ideas of citizenship, governance, equity and sustainability. In mid-transition, however, as powerful forces both conscious and unconscious strive together with increasing violence, it is hard to foresee any particular outcome.

Practicalities of warfare

Table 2 explores three practical strategies that Liddell Hart considers key to military success:

  • elasticity in defence, against a locally-overwhelming onslaught that will exhaust itself in due course if the defenders can withdraw far enough while retaining their coherence;
  • duality in attack, where multiple blows from different directions can confuse and entangle the opponent as they try to respond to them; and
  • surprise in attack, where an action manages by some means to catch the opponent unprepared and vulnerable to shock and confusion.

Table 2: Some war-strategy concepts and their application to a losing war with nature.

Concepts and observations (1930 and 2020).

Elasticity. “Then on the 16th [April 1917] the main withdrawal began, the German forces marching back unhurried to the new line called by them the ‘Siegfried’ and by the Allies the ‘Hindenburg’ line. A consummate manœuvre, if unnecessarily brutal in application, it showed that Ludendorff had the moral courage to give up territory if circumstances advised it. The British, confronted with a desert, were cautiously slow in pursuit, and their preparations for an attack on this front were thrown out of gear.” (p. 391). When nature attacks, she overwhelms or finds a way under or around any fixed defensive position, requiring humanity to give way, fall back, absorb and dissipate the energies of the advance until the thrust becomes manageable with the counter-measures and resources available on site. Thus we abandon floodplains and coastal zones to water, storm and salt, and resettle on the boundaries of new habitability, where we re-establish barriers and plantings that are shaped by the lessons learned in the withdrawal. At the margins of habitability we can dig in and stabilise the front for a while, and maybe push back a little over time.
Duality. “Now duality is the very essence of war, although curiously overlooked. Duality of objective enables the attacker to get the opponent on the horns of a dilemma, and, by mystifying him, to obtain the chance of surprising him, so that if the opponent concentrates in defence of one objective the attacker can seize the other. Only by this elasticity of aim can we truly attune ourselves to the uncertainty of war.” (p. 574). When nature attacks, she often does so in one dimension after another, or else in multiple dimensions at the same time. Water-born or mosquito-born diseases and waterlogged fields all follow floods, giving us hunger and sickness as well as demoralisation and discomfort. Our fields may be seared by drought, our old and young slain by heat, and everything we know burned to ash by fire. Then the top-soil and ash may be blown away, or scoured by sudden floods, destroying soil structure and fertility. Such combination blows are terribly effective, and are the frequent means by which nature forces us to abandon places where we have been comfortable for decades or centuries. Property values collapse, tumbleweeds roll across deserted highways, real estate crumbles into the sea, and the poor gather in cities far away, where the lights are still on. Having many lines of simultaneous attack bestows overwhelming advantages upon nature as an opponent. Counter-attack requires a capacity to understand each of the weapons used against us, and how they work in combination so that they can all be neutralised to the extent possible. A gradual restoration and reoccupation of the devastated area might then become feasible, but the peace-building response would be to try to understand fully what provoked the attack, and promise never to do it again.
Surprise. “This final year [1918], indeed, read in the light of previous years, affords fresh proof that surprise – or, more scientifically, the dislocation of the enemy’s mental balance – is essential to true success in every operation of war. A lesson oft repeated, oft ignored. At the bar of history any commander who risks the lives of his men without seeking this preliminary guarantee is condemned.” (p. 526). “Now, to cut an army’s lines of communication is to dislocate its physical organization. To close its lines of retreat is to dislocate its morale. And to destroy its lines of ‘inter-communication’ – by which orders and reports pass – is to dislocate it mentally, by breaking the essential connection between the brain and the body of an army.” (p. 555). When nature attacks, a complete failure of morale can result from the ‘dislocation of our mental balance’ through unanticipated impacts or threats in new places, and/or overwhelming force majeur  (the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 being a case in point), especially when each push reacts on and reinforces the others so there seems suddenly to be nowhere to turn and no hope of survival.
Blockade. “Helplessness induces hopelessness, and history attests that loss of hope and not loss of lives is what decides the issue of war. No historian would underrate the direct effect of the semi-starvation of the German people in causing the final collapse of the ‘home front’.” (p. 588). Now imagine nature causing a progressive breakdown in the opportunity to travel and trade, and in the supply of goods and services from beyond one’s immediate vicinity, and consider the decline in confidence, narrowing of imagination, and eventually the erosion of physical and social well-being from monotonous and inadequate diets. The 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland suspended air travel around Europe for a few days, while the 2020 coronavirus pandemic had far greater impacts on trade and transport, both being examples of natural ‘blockades’. It is not hard to imagine the dangers of social breakdown under the stresses of unfamiliar deprivations, as exploited by malign opportunists, nor the effectiveness of counter-measures that promote solidarity and the strengthening of society through education, networking, mutual aid, and fair rationing.

A false sense of security

In each case in Table 2, I have mentioned their implications for people in reacting to the supreme powers of nature, and finding ways to survive, minimise our losses, and buy time to seek a stable outcome, ideally through some kind of peace. I added blockade because this is a potent strategy for demoralising populations, can result from nature’s inhuman processes or her reaction to abuse, and because counter-measures can transform society and help to build peace. In all cases, the point is to consider what the situation would look like if nature was a human opponent, and what we as humans might do to protect and advance what we consider to be our own interests in the short or long term. The following might have been included as well, all of them with war-fighting and peace-building implications:

  • invention, including natural mutations among pathogens and pests, and the technological counter-measures that people design under pressure of necessity;
  • innovation, in war including the use of gas, tanks, submarines, aircraft, and guerrilla tactics, which can confer sudden advantages and help win battles;
  • learning from the past, where history and anthropology are rich sources of invention and innovation, and biology can teach us about the extraordinary creativity of nature in setting up and striking down survival strategies through evolutionary ‘arms races’; and
  • learning from each other, where networking with peoples experienced against certain threats can help naïve peoples obtain new ideas, again as a rich source of invention and innovation.

But all these human responses carry the risk of creating a false sense of security. They all offer tactical advantages, allowing ‘battles’ to be won and giving hope of ‘victory’, but by so doing they can discourage the asking of strategic and policy questions like whether we should really be at war at all. In a human context, those who speculate that their side’s commitment to war makes no sense, are likely to be condemned for ‘treason’.

More questions than answers

The war has become history, and can be viewed in the perspective of history. For good it has deepened our sense of fellowship and community of interest, whether inside the nation or between nations. But, for good or bad, it has shattered our faith in idols, our hero-worshipping belief that great men are different clay from common men. Leaders are still necessary, perhaps more necessary, but our awakened realization of their common humanity is a safeguard against either expecting from them or trusting in them too much.” (page 587). This paragraph in the book’s Epilogue is deeply relevant to our own current experience of the coronavirus pandemic, which raises such major issues of public policy as:

  • whether a country is better off on its own or in a network of cooperating countries;
  • whether the institutions of unregulated capitalism are ever capable of solving unexpected problems with major social and environmental dimensions without massive state subsidy;
  • whether spontaneous local mutual aid is a durable source of resilience and social well-being, both in a stressed society and once the stress has passed;
  • where are the political constraints on lying and hero-worship among leaders who have been caught out advocating irrational and antisocial agendas at times of social crisis; and
  • what are the hall-marks of good and necessary leadership at these and other times?

The answers to these questions can perhaps encourage and enable us relinquish our war with nature as unwinnable, and to use the powers that we do possess to make a lasting peace.

© Julian Caldecott, 2020

Towards a Peace with Nature Constitution 2

The UK is exceptional in lacking a written constitution. Among its component nations, at least Scotland is contemplating independence, and with it the need for a written constitution to spell out the principles by which it defines and governs itself, relates to others, chooses its own priorities for justice and development, and reminds its citizens of the full range of their roles, rights, and responsibilities. As this process unfolds, it is worth noting four points.

  • First, that those who frame new constitutions, whether ‘founding mothers’ or ‘citizens’ assemblies’, have the opportunity to learn from history and from elsewhere to create a new high-water mark in the evolution of human society.
  • Second, that constitutions are long-term guiding documents, and should use prescriptive detail sparingly while also having built-in flexibility to allow for amendment and interpretation over time.
  • Third, that a constitution must be widely understood and supported, so it should be built through inclusive processes of consultation, debate, participation, referendums and ultimate ratification by the people, and thereafter maintained through public education.
  • Finally, that there are vital subjects at special risk of being missed in drafting a constitution, because they are little known publicly, or are only recently subjects of scientific certainty. These include Inherently ecological issues such as the causes, consequences, and potential mitigation of climate chaos, ecological collapse and mass extinction.

The last is my starting point, since the extent of mutual dependence between the well-being of a country’s people and the health of its ecosystems is now better understood the ever before. This knowledge comes from the science of ecology, which is the study of the living systems that comprise the biosphere. A constitution that does not start from the specific premise that ecological health is essential, and must be maintained, will therefore be obsolete before it is written. But ecologists have seldom been seen as sources of necessary guidance in public affairs, and this note aims to safeguard against the possibility of ecological neglect.

What follows is an appeal to include within any new constitution an Article on Peace with Nature. This 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 with the authority to strike it down if not. This goes far beyond the constitutional platitude that ‘nature is the patrimony of the nation and should be safeguarded for the benefit of future generations’, to which many countries subscribe even while being in ecological free-fall due to neglect of their own living systems.

Draft text for a ‘Peace with Nature’ Article is given in the following table with explanatory notes. It would only be a fragment of a constitution, however, and those framing a complete one would need to address many other issues, including property (e.g., whether terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems may be privately owned), rights (e.g., of citizens and other people, future generations, and non-human stakeholders), political participation and representation, and the aspirations and purposes of statehood and sovereignty. But all, ultimately, will need to be consistent with each other and with ecological sustainability.

Draft text of a Peace with Nature Article Explanatory notes
By:

  • Recognising that humanity has persistently violated the rules of ecological sustainability over many centuries and with particular intensity over the last several decades;
  • Perceiving that these violations are tantamount to acts of war by humanity against nature;
  • Affirming that grievous damage in the form of ecological collapse, mass extinction and climate chaos has been done by humanity to the natural systems of the biosphere;
  • Believing that such damage endangers all human life, well-being and development, along with the ability of the biosphere to support most life; and
  • Acknowledging that the capacity of nature to harm humanity is infinitely greater than our capacity to evade the consequences of harming nature,
 

  • Natural ecosystems sustain water supplies, environmental security, pollination of crops, fisheries and soil fertility that cannot be replaced by other means. These ecosystems are deteriorating fast, exposing people, farms and settlements to severe risks and costs, as shown by spreading deserts, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, mudslides, epidemics, extinctions, famines, and political crises induced by them [Note 1].
  • These events are typically reported as individual ‘natural disasters’, but ecologists know them to be connected into one worldwide pattern, while also being manifestations of ecological tipping points, some of very large scale and including irreversible deforestation in the Amazon, Borneo and Sumatra, and the precipitate melting of the Arctic [Note 2].
We resolve:

  • To declare Peace with Nature;
  • To concur with the need to be guided by scientific understanding of all ecosystems;
  • To restore as quickly as possible mutually supportive relations between humanity and nature;
  • To maintain permanently thereafter a healthy relationship between humanity and nature;
  • To cooperate with countries everywhere that are of like mind in establishing and maintaining Peace with Nature.

 

  • By destroying the ecosystems that sustain us, we are in effect waging a suicidal ‘war’ with nature. The alternative to this is ‘Peace with Nature’, an idea from Costa Rica which in 1948 gave up its armed forces in favour of public health care and education, and committed itself in 2007 to resolve all conflicts between nature and its citizens [Note 3].
  • To align the principles of ecological sustainability and good governance at a constitutional level is necessary to take the pressure off nature. But we should distinguish between the boundaries of sustainability, and the ability both of capitalist enterprise to create shareable wealth and that of the state to improve enforceable equity. Survival requires us to live within boundaries, but contentment requires us to achieve effective political settlements within them, and both are important [Note 4].
To put these aims into effect, we further resolve:

  • To establish a Court of Ecology with powers exceeding those of parliament and with sufficient staff and other resources to obtain, manage and consider evidence on all subjects in the zone of tension between law and ecological reality.
  • To accept that no law or regulation issued with the authority of the legislative or executive branches of government, or precedent established by the judiciary, shall have effect if it conflicts with the requirements of ecological sustainability as determined by the Court of Ecology;
  • To grant all citizens the right to petition the Court of Ecology to review, consider, hold hearings concerning, and make a decision on the validity or otherwise of any law, regulation or precedent;
  • To appoint a number of qualified Judge-Ecologists to comprise the Court of Ecology [e.g., seven, selected according to their ecological wisdom and appointed until they reach 80 years of age, or until six members of the Court agree that a deterioration of mental health precludes participation by the seventh member].
 

  • The Court would consider evidence in order to decide whether an existing law can or cannot safely be allowed to stand [Note 5].
  • Many practical and procedural questions would need to be resolved as this system is developed [Note 6].
  • The intention is for those who think that a law may be in violation of ecological sustainability to have the right to petition the Court for it to be reviewed, argued over by ecologists and ecologically-trained lawyers, and possibly struck down. This process would be a slow and incremental, so may not be fast enough to prevent global calamity, in which case we would have to think again. But meanwhile, establishing the supremacy of ecological law over human law, and offering a practical and cautious way to put it into effect, would set a new, replicable, and deeply hopeful standard for the rest of the world [Note 7].

Note 1 – ‘The Disasters of War’. Scientists organised through networks such as the United Nations Environment Programme, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), have shown humanity to be pushing at and breaking through the boundaries of ecological safety. Limits are known to have been exceeded in at least four areas: biosphere integrity, climate change, land-system change, and biogeochemical flows. Moreover, based on published evidence from many taxa, the Living Planet Index shows a decline of over 60% in wildlife abundance since 1970. In 2019, IPBES found that close to a million species are threatened by human actions, while other analyses imply that up to a million species are becoming committed to extinction each year due to trophic shifts and loss of co-evolved species. These signs add up to the key dimensions of climate and ecological emergency: climate chaos, ecological breakdown, and mass extinction. All have the potential to induce chaotic environmental change, which on the scale now foreseen could ultimately prove fatal to humanity.

Note 2 – Ecological tipping points. Natural ecosystems sustain water supplies, environmental security, pollination of crops, fisheries and soil fertility, among many other things that cannot be replaced by artificial means. Yet it is clear that these ecosystems are deteriorating fast, exposing people, farms and settlements to severe risks and costs. The truth is that 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. These are typically reported as individual ‘natural disasters’, but ecologists know them to be connected into one worldwide pattern, and also as manifestations of ecological tipping points. Several of these at the largest scale are now known and feared, including deforestation in the Amazon basin, which at over 20% of land area is very close to the point where there will be insufficient rainforest to maintain the region’s moist climate. Sustained and repeated drought would then permit the rapid replacement of all forest by fire-maintained grassland. A similar scenario is in prospect in Borneo and Sumatra. In all three cases, forest and land fires are underway and consistent with the tipping point prediction, with catastrophic implications for tropical biodiversity, environments and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, a potential Arctic tipping point poses a clear and present danger to all life on Earth. An Arctic ‘death spiral’ has been documented (Figure 1), so-called because it displays in spiral form the volume of sea ice in the Arctic ocean declining since 1979, its depth having been measured by military submarines and its area by satellite imagery. Here it is notable that before 1980 there was little seasonal variation in sea ice volume as so much of it was in the form of deep, multi-year ice. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s multi-year ice declined and seasonal effects became more marked, and after 1997 most of the ice became single-year and began dramatically expanding in the winter and contracting in the summer months. The declining minimum ice volume in September each year (the innermost line) is the key point to note, since from the trends visible this seems likely to approach zero in the early 2030s.

Figure 1: The Arctic ‘death spiral’

The melting of ice and burning of permafrost peat in the Arctic since 1979 is from the small amount of global heating so far, as a result of carbon emissions from industry and deforestation since about 1950 when the ‘carbon balance’ tipping point was reached for the biosphere as a whole. With no ice to absorb extra greenhouse heat in the 2030s, Arctic water will heat up much faster than before (considering the 80-fold difference between the heat capacity of water and its latent heat of fusion), accelerating the melting and decay of permafrost peat, and release of methane. Methane is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, and the sudden release of trillions of tonnes of tCO2e during the 2030s and 2040s would greatly amplify the worldwide greenhouse effect, causing total climate chaos, decades of starvation, war and refugee movements, and the transformation of all societies and businesses.

Note 3 – Peace with Nature. The notion that we have been destroying the very ecosystems that sustain us can be expressed by saying that we are in a suicidal ‘war’ with nature. The alternative to this is ‘Peace with Nature’, an idea from Costa Rica, which in 1948 gave up its armed forces in favour of public health care and education, and committed itself in 2007 to resolve all conflicts between nature and its citizens. But Costa Rica is exceptional, due to its history of equitable land settlement (since the 16th century), official pacifism (since the 1940s), and innovative environmentalism (since the 1980s). Green investment over 30+ years has put Costa Rica in a strong position, but most of the rest of the world has run out of time to copy them. Inspiring leadership under the ‘Peace with Nature’ slogan, backed by real systemic change, is now needed globally to mobilise citizens and reshape institutions and economic systems. 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. Knowing where the boundaries are is a complex issue, for which it would be wise to trust (within reason, and under collective supervision) those with deep ecological knowledge. 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.

Note 4 – Rebellion, reaction, and bounded freedom. Many believe that ‘war’ with nature is inherent to the modern world, from its cosmology and values to its business models and technologies. They therefore prefer to strengthen communities and links between them and the ecosystems that sustain them. Coupled with a call to ‘follow the science’, this commitment is at the heart of the Extinction Rebellion and Climate Strike movements. Now tens of millions of citizens are demanding change, and the anxiety-motivators of this demand will only increase since ecosystems across the world really are disintegrating. Experience suggests that reaction to demands for systemic change will be limited to cosmetic tinkering until ecological sustainability is placed at the heart of governance, for which a constitutional provision is uniquely suited. But it is important to distinguish between the hard boundaries of ecological sustainability, and the ability both of capitalist enterprise to create shareable wealth and that of the state to improve enforceable equity. The boundaries are knowable through ecological science, and protectable through reason and the precautionary principle, but sharing and equity depend on values that are cultural and mutable. Our survival may require us to live within ecological boundaries, but our contentment requires us to achieve effective political settlements and freedoms within those boundaries. These are very different aims, and a constitution should recognise that they are both important.

Note 5 – The Court of Ecology. Here the draft suggests how to make Peace with Nature a practical reality. It does this by calling for a Court of Ecology to defend the boundaries of ecological sustainability by considering evidence and deciding whether existing laws can or cannot safely be allowed to stand. The Court would offer an accountable way to safeguard society and nature by reviewing and if necessary vetoing unsafe laws, through transparent deliberation, debate and collective decision-making.

Note 6 – Composition and powers of the Court. Numerous issues would need to be resolved as the new system is developed, including those to do with the selection and accreditation of ecologically-trained judges and advocates, the rules of evidence, subpoena and other powers of the Court, and the enforceability of its decisions. One suggestion on the appointment of Judge-Ecologists is contained illustratively in the draft text.

Note 7 – The right to petition the Court. The strategic intention is for those who think that a law may violate ecological sustainability to have the right to petition the Court for it to be reviewed, debated by experts, and possibly struck down. This process would be slow, algorithmic, and incremental, founded on the hope that steady progress towards ecological sustainability will be fast enough to save the biosphere and humanity. But if we run out of time we may have to think again, and rebuild human society guided by the precautionary principle and the need for urgent restoration of ecosystems. Meanwhile, though, a ground-breaking 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 set a new, replicable and deeply hopeful standard for all other countries.

© Julian Caldecott