Charter of Ecological Responsibilities: Affirmation and Critical Analysis

Glen T. Martin

CCEAM/WCPA Educational Forum Address: 26 March 2022

The Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities is being promoted worldwide to the UN, to governments, to media organizations, and to the public. I personally helped with the writing of the Charter as part of the Children Now committee that developed it. I also helped with its promotion by narrating a two-minute audio advertisement featuring the Charter [1]. The Charter is concise, directed, and powerful in its focus. In this presentation, I would like to go over certain key features of the Charter and ask the question about what else must change, what must be the civilizational background, the structural changes, if these features are to be actualized.

The Charter envisions an ideal.  This ideal is presupposed throughout but is expressed explicitly in its Introduction and its Conclusion.  The Introduction reads, “As a global society that should be founded on respect for nature, concern for present and future generations, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace, it is imperative that we declare our responsibility to one another, to our planet as a living whole, and to the future generations.” Similarly, the Conclusion to the Charter reads, “…For it is only as a global community acting in concert that we can protect and restore our precious planet for the dignity of all persons and the flourishing of future generations.”

Within the framework of the ideals expressed in the Introduction and Conclusion we find a statement of Purpose, a Preamble, and five Articles detailing specific responsibilities— first, responsibility of business, second, responsibility of governments, third, responsibility of parents and educators, fourth, responsibility of individuals, and, fifth, responsibility of media. The details of these sections articulating specific responsibilities are meant to help actualize the ideals given in the Introduction and Conclusion. How do we actualize a “global community acting in concert on behalf of the dignity of all persons and future generations”? 

This question is fundamental. However, the creators of this excellent Charter were faced with a dilemma. In today’s world there is always a dilemma between the need to make ideas more popular and hence influence change in this way and the need to make ideas penetrating, critical, and illuminating. The more penetrating and critical ideas become, the less they will conform to the dominant ideology and popular opinion, and the more they will be marginalized or ignored by the media and mainstream thought. That dilemma of course impacts this Charter—in it we attempted to say something as real and meaningful as possible and at the same time influence as many people and leaders as possible. There is no correct solution to this dilemma. The more penetrating and honest about the system one becomes, the more ignored and marginalized they are likely to be. Each Article in the Charter involves a compromise in the face of this dilemma.

Below, I will select one or two specific responsibilities from each of these categories as examples. I will treat Articles 1, 3, 4, and 5 first and leave Article 2, on the responsibility of governments, to the last. In each case, I will examine whether the ideals of the Introduction and Conclusion can really be actualized by the responsibilities given in each of these five categories. Or is there something missing?  Are untenable assumptions being made that need supplementing with an adequate structural analysis of the world-system being addressed by our Charter?

Article 1 on the responsibility of businesses declares that businesses must “reduce, reuse, and recycle natural resources.”  They must “manage natural resources efficiently,” and they must “prioritize the well-being of people and the planet.” The background to these statements of responsibility is, of course, global capitalism. Almost everywhere on our planet global capitalism is the enforced norm. It is enforced by the world’s greatest imperial power which actively attacks any country that attempts to establish a socialist alternative, from Guatemala and Iran in 1954, to Vietnam in the 1960s, to the Soviet Union for many decades, to Chile after 1970, to Nicaragua during the 1980s, to the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, to Cuba and Venezuela today [2].

The capitalism that is forced upon the world requires competition among businesses and governments for resources, markets, and also among governments themselves.  The competition among businesses is for private profit on behalf of investors. The company management is, within the USA, even required by law to act so as to maximize the profit for investors. The notion of “efficiency” of capitalism does not mean (as this declaration of responsibility assumes) the careful use of resources so as to minimize waste and overuse.

“Efficiency” under capitalism means cutting labor costs, and acquiring materials and other production costs as cheaply as possible in order to maximize profits for investors. It has little or nothing to do with the careful use of scarce resources. If Exxon-Mobil, for example, poisons the jungles of Ecuador while sickening and causing the deaths of the indigenous peoples in the area of its mining operations (as actually happened in this famous case), under capitalism this is precisely efficiency, for the profits of investors are increased to the extent that money is not wasted on protecting or repairing the environment around its mining operations [3].

In sum, Article 1 on the responsibility of businesses lacks a critical analysis of the economic system that it is addressing with this exhortation of responsibilities. Let us take one more example: the famous Bhopal Disaster of the Union Carbide Company in India on December 4, 1984, in which 46.3 tons of deadly poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas escaped causing the deaths of 8,000 people that night with some 500,000 more injured and some 50 to 70,000 of those injuries permanent.

In his book, The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World (2007),philosopher Joel Kovel describes the background for the accident:

The plant was losing money because the demand for pesticides was down…. This led to an effort to cut costs, beginning in 1982: “such cuts … meant less stringent quality control and thus looser safety rules…. They could do with less (including using instruction manuals in English, which few could read)…. By late 1984, only six operators, rather than the original twelve, were working with MIC. The numbers of supervisory personnel also had been halved; while there was no maintenance supervisor on the night shift. Thus, indicator readings were checked every two hours rather than hourly, as required. [4]

The Bhopal disaster was not some unpredictable, bizarre accident. It was ultimately caused by the very essence of capitalism: the need to maximize profits by cutting costs (that is, by “efficiency”) at the expense of both people and the environment. The Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities never mentions the word “capitalism.”  The ideals it expresses in its Introduction and Conclusion, it is assumed, can be actualized through the specific responsibilities identified in its five articles. But now we see that there is an immense cognitive disjunction here. Perhaps this is a difficulty that all people of good-will face who want to protect our global environment for future generations.

The responsibilities attributed to “businesses” are incongruent with the real structural and institutional demands on businesses. Capitalism structurally demands that profits be pursued regardless of people or the environment. That is why the subtitle of Kovel’s book is “the end of capitalism or the end of the world.”  There are many excellent scholarly books making this same point.[5] Critical analysis of the system is ignored by this Charter, perhaps necessarily, if it wants to become popular.

Article 3, Responsibility of Parents and Educators makes the excellent point that “global citizenship and the sense of planetary responsibility” must be promoted. It declares that youth must be educated to be “critical thought leaders,” and thus parents and educators must “instill real understanding of the limits to economic growth as well as planetary population growth.”  These salient points reflect the scientific consensus detailed, for example, in such classic books on ecological economics as Herman E. Daly’s Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development (1996), Donella Meadows, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (2004), or Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (2011).

The Charter was written with the very important understanding that “you cannot have endless growth on a finite planet,” and Article 3 apparently wants parents and educators to instill this understanding in our young people. But there is an important qualification. In the words of Richard Heinberg:

We have created monetary and financial systems that require growth. As long as the economy is growing, that means more money and credit are available, expectations are high, people buy more goods, businesses take out more loans, and interest on existing loans can be repaid…. The end of growth is a very big deal indeed. It means the end of an era, and of our current ways of organizing economies, politics, and daily life. [6] 

The end of growth, therefore, necessarily means the end of capitalism. Under capitalism, businesses and individuals take loans from banks on the assumption that growth in income will be such that the loans can be repaid with interest. Similarly, nations still estimate their economic success according to growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and nations themselves take out development loans from such first world imperial sources as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund [7]. But the end to the growth imperative that is destroying our planetary ecosystem means the end of this entire cycle of investments, loans, growth, and repayment.

No more debt-based monetary system. No more investments with expectation of a return in profit. No more development loans to be paid back through growth of a business. No more measuring success for governments as increase in GDP. As Daly insists: capitalism must be replaced by a “steady-state economy” based not on quantitative measurements of success (growth, extraction of resources, profits) but on the quality of life and harmony with the natural environment.

If Article 3 of the Charter wants parents and educators to promote “critical thought leaders,” we parents and educators must ourselves understand why “understanding the limits to economic growth as well as planetary population growth” is “a very big deal indeed.” Critical thinking means penetrating the dominant, self-justifying ideology of the system and describing the system for what it is. Parents and educators must themselves become critical thinkers before they can teach this to our children.

Article 4 of the Charter on the responsibility of individuals says that we must emphasize “our collective right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment,” and that we must “think and act holistically as global citizens within a sustainable world civilization.”  These are indeed important responsibilities, along with the responsibilities that we ourselves make “lifestyle changes” to reduce as much as possible our carbon footprint.  Are there impediments to having our collective right to a healthy environment recognized?  Are there cultural and structural impediments to our thinking holistically as global citizens? Indeed, there are.

The Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities was intentionally kept as succinct as possible in order to provide an effective guide and powerful statement. It is not a philosophical treatise, nor should it be. Nevertheless, analysis of the world system dominated by global capitalism and militarized sovereign nation-states would seem also to be an imperative if we are to think holistically and advocate for our collective right to a healthy environment.  Does the dominant world system fragment our thought and action?  Does it inherently deny our collective rights?

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948, does not mention any collective right to a healthy environment, even though this may be implied by such affirmations as Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  Clearly, life, liberty, and security of person require a healthy environment even to be possible. However, the UN Declaration is binding on no nations. It has zero enforcement mechanisms. In the light of this, Article 28 of the UN Universal Declaration may in some ways be the most important: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”

The Charter of Ecological Responsibilities, in part because of the dilemma mentioned above, does not mention the “social and international order” of the world into which it projects its lists of responsibilities.  But clearly, our entire world system violates Article 28 of the UN Declaration.  There have been some 150 wars since that declaration was passed, and the human rights of hundreds of millions of people have been and continue to be violated, and our planetary environment is well on the way to being destroyed forever.  We need a new world system.  The UN Declaration is just another set of ideals with no means of enforcement. We need a world system that actualizes and enforces our environmental and human rights.

The Charter of Ecological Responsibilities gives us a coherent set of responsibilities for businesses, educators, individuals, and media, but I argue that the most fundamental responsibility of all is to actualize a new world system that gives us a social and international order in which our rights and freedoms can be indeed fully realized.  The present world system not only fails to fulfill the entire list of rights in the UN Universal Declaration. It is also actively destroying our planetary ecosystem.  If we truly educate our children as critical thinkers, they will recognize this. We must also educate them for the courage to say and do what is unpopular and forbidden by the dominant system. Without young leaders who can do this, the new system will never emerge.

Article 5 on the Responsibility of Media tells us that the media must “foster planetary perspectives and global consciousness.” But the dominant media are primarily capitalist. Their job is not to impart truth but to make a profit for the owners. In the light of what we have seen above, then, it is next to impossible for media to give us the truth about the environment or to foster planetary perspectives.  Lies can be more profitable than truth, especially if the truth is frightening (as is climate collapse).  Glossing over and trivializing environmental problems is much more profitable, and vast economic interests (like the oil industry or the weapons industry) do not want us to know the truth about climate collapse and their roles in exacerbating it. They spend many millions of dollars using the media to block and suppress the truth. [8]

The media have been an instrument of the capitalist oligarchy that actually runs the so-called “democracies” of the world going back to the 1920s. Helen Caldicott in If You Love This Planet has an excellent chapter on the history of the moment when the ruling class realized the power of the mass media for control of the minds of the people. [9] Noam Chomsky has also done classic studies of the capitalist media and its destructive consequences on democracy in such books as Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies (1989) and Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (2002). 

The bottom line is that if we want to inform the world of their ecological responsibilities, an idealistic set of responsibilities such as that contained in the Charter of Ecological Responsibilities may have a chance of becoming promoted by the mass media as long as it does not question the structural background of the world-system that blocks progress toward genuine sustainability.  I make this argument in a detailed form with regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Chapter 6 of my new book The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet [10].

The name of the game in the capitalist media is not truth, but what is today called “infotainment.” Profit does not come from facing hard truths, or from revealing the failed structure of the world system, it comes from sensationalism, appealing to emotions, sexual innuendo, and whatever people want to eagerly “consume” as entertainment. Truth does not matter to capitalism, nor to the system of militarized nation-states. Again, we see that the Charter faces an uphill battle in its quest to inspire the world to protect the Earth and future generations.

Finally, there is Article 2 of the Charter, the responsibilities of government. It states that governments must invest in initiatives for adapting to climate change; they must protect oceans and forests; they must protect the rights of every individual to a healthy environment, promote global cooperation, hold local and international businesses accountable, and establish principles of greenhouse gas reduction. The Charter says nothing about the global war-system, nothing about the 1.2 trillion US dollars spent annually by the nations of the world on militarism and wars, and nothing about the on-going slaughter of tens of millions of people in endless wars since the end of WW 2.

The capitalist propaganda system has now migrated into vast “cyber-warfare” systems run by all the big imperial governments.  Sound-bits, social media, calculated distortions, lies, trumped-up charges, character assassinations, nationalist propaganda, and slander fly back and forth around the world in the billions of postings per day. All the big nations have an entire division of their governments systematically projecting this propaganda into cyberspace [11].  Capitalism is not the only culprit in the propaganda system. The other main criminal system is that of sovereign nation-states in gigantic propaganda and media wars with other such sovereign states. The territorially bound system of militarized sovereign nation-states is inherently a war-system and there cannot be real truth in the world, nor any effective dealing with climate-collapse, as long as this system is in existence.

The war-system in the world and the capitalist system go hand in hand. The most profitable business on Earth is the weapons manufacturing business. The actions most destructive of the environment on Earth are wars and the immense polluting and unecological production of ever more weapons, encouraged and supported by the fossil fuel industries. A major struggle in today’s world, that can be named “economic warfare,” is the conflict between the USA, Russia, China, and other big nations over markets, investments, and forms of economic integration. On all this, the Charter of Ecological Responsibilities is, perhaps necessarily, silent.  Popularity and honesty do not go together in this system.

The Charter is, therefore, very much like the UN Sustainable Development Goals or like the famous Earth Charter. It sets up a beautiful set of ideals that we really should be pursuing while ignoring the very world system (of global capitalism and militarized sovereign nation-states) that defeats these goals.  There can be no global ecological protection unless we create a planetary peace-system to replace the war-system.  There can be no ecological protection unless we replace the capitalist system with a democratic eco-socialism premised on human dignity and the quality of life rather than on private profit and quantitative growth.

Ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth, finalized at Troia, Portugal in 1991, is our only practical option [12]. It fulfills the rights given in Article 28 of the UN Universal Declaration by giving us a social and international order in which all the rights and freedoms of that Declaration can be fully realized. It is also a thoroughly green constitution. It explicitly gives us the rights to peace and to a protected planetary environment. By contrast, with respect to Article 2 of the Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities, we must ask how can any government “protect the right of every individual to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”?  In truth, they cannot.

This is structurally impossible under the system of militarized sovereign nations. No government is able to even protect its own citizen’s rights, let alone planetary environmental rights. This is because no government is independent of the world-system of global capitalism and militarized sovereign nation-states, a system that imposes limitations as well as imperatives on the decision-making governing body of every nation. Even the most powerful government cannot protect my rights to peace or a healthy environment. These are global problems. This fragmented system makes it impossible to protect holistic planetary rights of any sort. If my nation attempts to protect the local environment, your nation remains free to destroy it.

Planetary rights can only be protected by planetary government.  Similarly, we can only become “a global community acting in concert” if we politically, economically, culturally, and structurally become a global community.  The Earth Constitution institutionalizes human beings as just such a global democratic community.  The Earth Constitution is designed to protect our planetary rights that are beyond the scope of any and all nations.  It gives us a world system in which the environment and our ecological rights are protected precisely because the system is designed to do this. 

The present world system, designed for private profit as well as perpetual war, defeats these rights at every turn and is actively destroying the environment. To fully realize the ideals expressed in the Introduction and Conclusion to the Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities means to establish a world system designed to do this. We will only become a “global community acting in concert” when we unite under a democratic constitution making us into such a community. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth provides a template for an environmentally protected world system and for that global community.

The Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities is an important document. It needs to get out there. We also must recognize the need for transcendence of our present failed, fragmented world-system that is implied by the ideals articulated by this Charter.  This Charter powerfully implies the need for a democratic Earth Constitution, uniting us all under the principle of unity in diversity. For the Earth Constitution founds democratic world law on universal human rights and planetary environmental integrity, not on wealth, power, or territorial boundaries. Here lies the key to the truly “cooperative and sustainable human community” called for by the Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities.


[1] The Charter of Global Ecological Responsibilities is a product of a Symposium on “Youth Leadership and Climate Action,” July 7-9, 2021, Montreal, Canada, sponsored by Children Now of Montreal. Website:

[2] See Klien, Naomi (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books.

[3] See for example,

[4] Kovel, Joel (2007). The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? London: Zed Books, pp. 32-33.

[5]  See, for example, Daly, Herman E. (2014). From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Egar Publishing; Speth, James Gustav (2004). Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Environment. New Haven: Yale University Press; Wallace-Wells, Donald (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Duggan Books.  Also, the classic by Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. New York: Harper & Row, contains a powerful critique of capitalism and its effect on people and the environment.

[6]  Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, pp. 6-7.

[7] For the global system of exploitation through these loans see: Smith, John (2016). Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis. New York: Monthly Review Press.

[8]  Klein, Naomi (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster. See also Speth, James Gustav (2008). The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.

[9]  Caldicott, Helen (1992). If You Love This Planet. New York: W.W. Norton, Chapter 8.

[10]  Martin, Glen T. (2021). The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press.

[11]  McCoy, Alfred W. (2017). In The Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Chicago: Haymarket Books, contains accounts of these cyber-wars as does Valentine, Douglas (2017). The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press.

[12] Constitution for the Federation of Earth. On-line at or   Print version from the Institute for Economic Democracy Press in Appomattox, VA or from