Global Problems, Human Needs, and the Earth Constitution

   Glen T. Martin      

Secretary-general, World Constitution and Parliament Association       

Professor of Philosophy, Radford University, Radford, VA 24141  

Keynote Address in the “Challenges to Global Peace” program, Jaya College of Arts and Sciences, Chennai, India, June 21, 2011

The past several decades have been characterized by a planetary awakening, the emergence of a planetary consciousness, and the sense of living within a holistic planetary ecosystem and planetary human civilization. A significant factor in the emergence of this universal consciousness has been the increasing awareness that human beings face global problems on the Earth, problems that exist beyond the scope of national boundaries.  At the same time, awareness is growing worldwide of our common human needs.

Increasingly, people around the world, even in the remotest regions, are aware of the planetary problem of war and militarism, the problem of growing fresh water shortages, the problem of the disappearance of agricultural lands for growing food, the problem of global pollution, the planetary problem of ever-growing poverty and misery for the majority, and the terrible problems of global warming, climate disruption, and pending climate collapse.

To date the feeble attempts to address these problems through divisive UN conferences and the development of unenforceable UN treaties have resulted in complete failure. The excellent aspirations called “Agenda 21” that came out of the 1992 Rio conference on climate change were recognized as unfulfilled ten years later at the 2002 climate conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. The 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen was similarly a failure.  War and militarism continue to plague the people of Earth, fresh water and agricultural lands continue to disappear, pollution overwhelms ecosystems, forests, and oceans, poverty and misery continue to mount, and the consequences of climate disruption become ever more devastating.

The Earth Federation Movement (EFM) has understood the dynamics of these global problems for more than fifty years.  It alone, among all the citizen movements that have developed in response to our multifaceted global crises, has focused on the central holistic solution that must be actualized if we are to survive and flourish on our precious planet Earth.  The World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) was founded in 1958 with the understanding that global problems cannot be addressed by fragmented political and economic institutions more than three centuries old, institutions created when the conditions on the Earth were entirely different than they are today, when people living on the Earth never even dreamed that there could be such a thing as planetary crises. global problems, or a population of seven billion people.

The Earth Federation Movement was born out of the World Constitution and Parliament Association and today has spread worldwide.  Since 1958, our movement has drawn on the brightest and best international lawyers and thinkers from around the world to create the magnificently designed Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  The Constitution was completed in 1991 and today the Earth Federation Movement works night and day to promote the ratification of the Earth Constitution by the people and nations of the world.

Today, I want to suggest four fundamental principles that should be the basis of all our thought and action if we want to create a decent future for the Earth and humanity.  I will list the four principles first and then discuss each of them briefly.   The first principle is that we must recognize and keep in mind that all our global problems are interdependent and interconnected.  Second, we must recognize that the only possible solutions to these problems must also be holistic, integrated, and interconnected.  Third, we must keep our focus on our basic human needs that all people everywhere have in common and ask how these needs can best be addressed.  Finally, we must recognize that the Constitution for the Federation of Earth holistically addresses both our global crises and our human needs. 

First, therefore, we must understand deeply that our global problems are interconnected and interdependent. The problem of war and militarism is universal because it arises from a system of so-called sovereign nation-states more than three centuries old and from a global economic system that benefits from war and military competition among nations. Today, more than one trillion US dollars per year are poured down the toilet of militarism by the nations of Earth, while poverty and environmental collapse increase daily. 

The system itself (our planetary economic and political system) fosters war and militarism, and this is the same system that fosters poverty and misery and environmental destruction worldwide. The system of militarized sovereign nation-states is integrated with global corporate capitalism fostering economic and military rivalry and competition among peoples and nations. Big nations colonize trade privileges and concessions, backed up by neo-colonial influence and the threat of force just as they once colonized the world by direct military conquest.  Without the rule of non-military, democratically legislated, enforceable law for the Earth, neither peace, nor elimination of poverty, nor protection of the environment are ultimately possible.

Study after study have shown that poverty negatively impacts the environment as poor people search for wood for cooking fuel and cut down trees to grow food for survival. A major source of deforestation and environmental damage is poverty, planetary poverty caused by the same political and economic system that diverts resources toward war and militarism in order to protect the wealth and power of the few. Peace cannot be achieved through ever- more violence, and a war system that creates conflicts around the world, a world that needs more than anything else cooperation and dedication to protecting the environment, insuring adequate resources, and eliminating poverty.

 Corporate profits from the business of war amount to hundreds of billions of dollars annually, while there are few corporate economic incentives to eliminate poverty or protect the environment. War and militarism itself are among the most environmentally destructive of human activities, generating every year millions of tons of toxic wastes and millions of tons of destructive explosive chemicals and such poisons such as depleted uranium weapons. Poverty within nations of the global south supplies corporations with cheap labor and cheap resources in order to maximize their profits, profits at the same time protected by the global system of militarism and war.

We live within centuries old nation-state systems and a global economic system predicated on scarcity, a scarcity that causes greed and competition to dominate and control scarce resources.  Nation-state militarism (such as that to which the big imperial nations are dedicated) is directed toward controlling the world system and weaker nations in favor of their own interests for oil, water, cheap labor, and other natural resources.  The reason why our planetary problems are all interrelated and interdependent is because our global economic and political systems are at the root of them all. It is not bad leaders or a corrupt human nature that is the problem.  Human corruption is primarily a symptom of the deeper structural political and economic roots of our global system.

My second point today is that the interrelation of these global problems requires a solution that understands their interdependence and addresses the entire range of global crises together. These problems are caused by economic and political systems developed centuries ago that were never designed for a world of modern weapons with a global population of seven billion people. Similarly, you cannot solve the problem of militarism and war without also addressing the root causes of poverty and misery.  You cannot protect our planetary environment and our precious natural resources using economic and political structures directed toward control and exploitation of these resources within a system of competition leading to absolute winners and losers.

Since our crises are global, clearly any solution must be global. It is not enough for citizens to conserve water resources locally if these resources are not also conserved by communities around the planet.  It is not enough for citizens to reduce CO2 emissions that cause global warming if CO2 emissions are not also controlled on a planetary scale. Not only must the solution be global, it must also be systemic, that is, if the global economic and political system lies at the root of our interconnected crises, so that system must be altered in a holistic way to address simultaneously the systemic roots of these global problems. Preventing war and demilitarizing the planet must result from the same systemic changes that protect the environment and eliminate poverty.

Science has discovered the holism of our planetary ecosystem and human life on Earth. Our global problems are rooted in political and economic systems that are fragmented and foster fragmentation. The only possible solution will be conversion to economic and political systems premised on the holism of nature and human life.  Interdependent global crises can only be addressed through a holistic economic and political system that simultaneously eliminates war and militarism, protects the environment, preserves resources for the benefit of all, and eliminates poverty and misery from the Earth.

Similar conclusions follow if we examine basic human needs, which is the third point that I wish to make in this talk. Every person on Earth clearly has the following needs:

  1.  Nourishing food of a sufficient quantity for health.
  2.  A reasonable quantity of fresh water for washing, cooking, and drinking.
  3.  Decent housing with basic sanitation facilities.
  4.  An adequate infrastructure supplying sufficient energy, transportation, roads, hospitals, schools and other vital physical resources.
  5.  Opportunities for education and personal development.
  6.  Opportunities for family, friendship, and community.
  7.  Security of person within a framework supporting the liberty of political and economic  participation for all adults.
  8. All of the above within a social and legal framework protecting the natural environment and establishing world peace.

The last item on this list makes it clear that our basic human needs cannot be satisfied without a conversion of our world system to one which prevents war and protects the natural environment, since both peace and a protected environment constitute the framework and the condition for all the rest.  Article 28 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that the people of Earth have a right to an international order that protects and promotes the entire set of rights given in that declaration. It should be clear that the UN Charter does not and cannot give us such an international order. The UN Charter is premised on these same fragmented, centuries old, economic and political systems.

It should also be clear that none of these eight basic human needs can be satisfied under the present system of 192 militarized sovereign nation-states operating within the globalized economic framework of neo-liberal corporate capitalism. Today, the resources of the planet in the third world are largely becoming the private property of corporations centered in the first world. The natural wealth, as well as the created wealth produced by cheap labor in the third world, is syphoned from the poorer regions of the world to serve the exorbitant consumer desires (not the needs) of the 10% of the global population who benefit from this unworkable and immoral economic and political world system.

This entire system is protected and promoted by the military might of first world nations under the deceptive code-word of “promoting investment stability” around the globe on behalf of multinational corporations, the IMF, and the World Bank. The United States trains military personnel is some 80 countries worldwide in “counter-insurgency warfare,” that is, in the methods and techniques of repressing their own populations that are being hurt by this global system of exploitation.

The global economic system working in tandem with the system of sovereign, militarized nation-states has little interest in creating a holistic world system that establishes peace, protects the planetary environment, and satisfies the basic human needs of all persons. Indeed, NATO, under the leadership of the US, has become the new neo-colonial dominator, sending troops to destroy the lives and infrastructures of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere in the service of the global empire.  The 2% of the world’s population who own 50% of its wealth must be protected from the vast majority of the world’s citizens who live in insecurity, poverty, and ever-increasing misery. The title of a recent book calls the Earth: “planet of slums.”

In sum, we have a series of interrelated global crises that the present global economic and political system cannot deal with, for you cannot create holistic solutions from fragmented and fractured economic and political systems.  Next, we have a list of eight very basic and fundamental human needs that cannot be addressed by the present global economic and political systems. Scholars have estimated that clean water and sanitation could be supplied to every person on Earth for merely US 400 billion per year, less than half of what the world spends annually on militarism.  The present fractured world disorder cannot effectively deal with either our problems or our needs.

Planet Earth is an ecological whole, and the human species is a biological and civilizational whole, merging ever-more closely as travel and communications unite the world.  Our global crises, and our inability to deal with the satisfaction of basic human needs are a direct result of fragmented economic and political institutions never designed to address our situation in its wholeness. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is a holistic document designed to address both these fundamental aspects of our human situation – our global problems and our basic human needs.

My fourth and final point in this presentation, therefore, is that we need to ratify this Constitution, which is designed as a holistic peace system, a prosperity system, a justice system, a freedom system, and a sustainability system for the Earth.  Addressing our basic human needs requires the same holistically designed system as required to address our global crises.  The rule of democratically legislated law is the foundation of any possible peace system, just as within nations where there is democratic law a peace system has been established in which conflicts are resolved nonviolently through dialogue, mediation, courts, and due process of law. Under the present international war system, there is no rule of enforceable law over the nations or the leaders of nations as individuals, and hence no possibility of establishing peace for humankind.

Protection of the environment, careful assessment of technology and human productive activities, research designed to foster efficiency, development of renewable energy and resources, and the holistic rule of law governing the Earth in the service of sustainability and the ecological health of the planet are built into the Earth Constitution in a multiplicity of ways. Article one of the Earth Constitution lists the purposes of the Earth Federation as follows: (1) prevent war and secure disarmament, (2) protect human rights worldwide, (3) create the conditions for universal prosperity, (4) regulate and protect world resources, (5) protect the environment and the ecological fabric of life, and (6) devise solutions for all problems beyond the scope of national governments and plan for the future.

 The same is true with regard to basic human needs. The Constitution identifies the range of basic needs in a variety of its articles and institutionalizes their satisfaction within Articles 12 and 13 as fundamental human rights. It creates a democratic world system designed to holistically address these needs while the same system establishes peace and sustainability.  It recognizes that world peace and environmental sustainability provide the necessary framework for satisfying all other human needs. All these factors go together as products of a holistic political and economic system for the Earth: peace, sustainability, and the satisfaction of basic human needs.

Similarly, the opposite of these three factors is the manifest result of the current fragmented economic and political institutions of the planet: war, unsustainability, and the inability to meet basic human needs.  Modification or evolution of the present fragmented system, for example, through attempts to reform the United Nations, cannot address our human situation adequately.  It cannot produce a peace system, a sustainability system, or a prosperity system directed toward satisfying our basic human needs and can only lead to continuing disaster. Under the Earth Constitution the viable agencies of the United Nations are integrated into the ministries of the Federation of Earth, so what is valuable about the UN is not lost but empowered to really address our human situation.

In conclusion, then, the Constitution for the Federation of Earth offers our best hope for creating a holistic system for the Earth before it is too late.  Attempting to draft a new constitution or proposing some alternative would amount to trying to reinvent the wheel, since so much work has already been accomplished and disseminated throughout the world regarding the Earth Constitution. The Constitution can be ratified in three measured stages according to Article 17, and provisional world government can be initiated here and now at the same time that the process of ratification is moving forward. Ratification is doable, practical, and it is the compelling need of the hour.

We must act with determination and vision to end the institutional fragmentation that is the root of our planetary crises and to create the holistic solution that alone will make possible a decent future for humanity. Tomorrow is too late, and the time is now to organize and promote the ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.