(Published in the on-line news journal of the Democratic World Federalists for Oct.-Nov. 2014)
The largest environmental protest march in history, demanding action against climate change, took place in New York on September 21st. Some 400,000 people marched from Columbus Circle, through Manhattan’s West Side, along a route ending on 11th Avenue. The march attracted a very broad range of participants, in part because it made no specific demands but only asserted that people were concerned about climate change and the environment.
The march was intended to send a message to participants in the U.N. Climate Conference scheduled to convene in Paris in November. They want the participants to know that people are deeply concerned, and that progress must be made toward protecting our planet. However, in a September 14th article, Chris Hedges points out that the march had many corporate sponsors, including British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, and that the U.N. itself has been colonized by these corporate interests. The climate conference meeting in Paris, while officially a meeting of sovereign nation-states, will necessarily have the participation of such multi-national corporations that have colonized both the economic policies of the U.N. and the political processes of their respective nation-states.
People are becoming ever-more aware that the future of their children is in jeopardy, along with the possible demise of the entire human project. They want to act, to express their concern, to do something positive to save the environment. The march included a number of famous environmentalist spokespersons such as Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Jane Goodall, and Vandana Shiva as well as concerned political leaders such as Senators Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
However, all the concern, protest, and the making of speeches in the world will not save the environment if people do not care to change the root causes of the destruction of our planetary environment. It is likely that not one speech at the climate march by these leaders even touched on the root causes of environmental destruction. And those who will be meeting in Paris in November (representatives of sovereign nation-states and their corporate backers) will never mention these root causes, and so the likelihood of there being any progress in Paris is close to zero.
The root causes of climate collapse are not ignorance, and they are not lack of good will to protect the climate. We know a great deal about ecosystems, pollution: how the destruction works. And probably most corporate leaders, politicians, and citizens genuinely care about the environment. Neither are the root causes due to lack of popular support. Everywhere people are trying to recycle, conserve energy, and minimize their ecological footprints, and governments are offering tax incentives for environmentally friendly technology. But none of this will prevent climate collapse.
The root causes of environmental destruction are not primarily psychological but structural. It is not primarily a question of will and caring but a question of the modern world system itself. The people meeting in Paris to discuss climate change will be representatives of a global capitalism inextricably interwoven with a system of sovereign nation-states, each state promoting its own multi-national corporations and competing with the others for power, influence, position, resources, and markets.
These representatives of this system have long known the disturbing facts of climate collapse. The first U.N.
environmental conference took place in Stockholm in 1972. These disturbing facts were ever-more scientifically confirmed and known to the giant U.N. environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Its famous document “Agenda 21” was in many ways right on target in its demand for significant reduction of greenhouse gases by the dawn of the 21st century. The U.N. worldwide environmental conference that followed this, in Johannesburg in 2002, recognized the near total failure of the nations and corporations of the world to meet the Agenda 21 goals. The same recognition was there in the 2009 U.N. environmental conference in Copenhagen. The nations of the world, colonized almost exclusively by global corporate capitalism, have been unable to make any significant progress in preventing or slowing climate collapse.
Why don’t we get the picture? It is not that we don’t know the facts, and it is not that we lack the will to protect the environment. How much more obvious can it be that the world system of global capitalism integrated with sovereign nation-states ensures that the kind of changes needed to protect the planetary ecosystem are impossible. The problem is a planetary problem, and some 193 sovereign nations can never act as a legal planetary organization to regulate corporations or restrain all the nations simultaneously and equitably. To be a sovereign nation means to recognize no enforceable law above itself. In a competitive system of lawless sovereign nations, there can never be consistent global laws protecting the environment or restraining the greed of corporations.
To prevent climate change we need system change. The present world system makes climate collapse inevitable. In my 2013 book, The Anatomy of a Sustainable World: Our Choice between Climate Change or System Change, the frightening facts about the on-going destruction of our planetary ecosystem are laid out through the words of the climate scientists themselves. The book shows what is necessary for a sustainable world system: a world parliament legislating enforceable environmental laws and economic principles that end the rape of the planet’s forests, oceans, and fossil resources and convert everyone: all 7 billion people, 193 nation-states, and multi-national corporations, to sustainable ways of producing, recycling, and drawing on renewable clean energy sources. This book shows in detail how this sustainability system has been carefully designed within the Earth Constitution.
It has to be everyone or it will be no one. The U.N. can be the vehicle for this system-transformation, if its unworkable Charter, premised as it is on the absurdity of lawless sovereign nation-states, is replaced with the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. The Earth will then have a World Parliament, a World Court system with universal jurisdiction, and a civilian World Police that can make sustainability happen, protecting the future of our planet and our children. All the nations will then flourish as democratic units within this Earth Federation. But this conversion based on the simple truth that it has to be everyone or no one simply cannot happen under the anarchy of lawless, militarized sovereign states who put environmental concerns way down on the list while they promote their influence, power, struggle over natural resources, and competition for markets.
The Paris Conference in November will be a failure, and all the environmental protests and marches in the world will be a failure, as long as we fail to demand the conversion of the world from a fragmented war and greed system to a coherent Sustainability System, under a democratic World Parliament and enforceable world law. This must be the basis of our protests, our speaking out, and our influence as citizens. We must demand system-change, for the present world system is inherently destructive of the climate and our future. And the most practical means for true system change will be to replace the present U.N. Charter with the Constitution for the Federation of Earth, transforming our present planetary disorder to a system that is truly democratic, sustainable, and free.
(Glen T. Martin is President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), President of the Institute on World Problems, and Professor of Philosophy at Radford University in Virginia. Author or editor of 10 books, he is a member of the Board of the Democratic World Federalists and a frequent contributor to progressive on-line