Glen T. Martin
(Speech prepared for World Intellectual Forum meetings, 21 June 2022)
Part One. Climate Disaster.
Climate disaster is engulfing our planet. We are no longer in a period of dire projections and frightening predictions as we were in the 1960s and 70s. Today, book after book and, report after report from the worldwide Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) document our on-going planetary disaster. Massive heat waves regularly engulf entire nations. In addition to causing immediate deaths, these heat waves induce drought and massive crop failures. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. My recent book on the environment entitled The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet (2021) reviews this literature in some depth.
At the same time agricultural lands are shrinking around the planet while the population continues to skyrocket toward 8 billion inhabitants. Agricultural land is over-cultivated due to the ever-increasing demand for food, just as grazing lands are over-grazed. Both steadily degrade in productivity.
Devasting storms and superstorms are generated by the heat and increase annually in frequency, as are rising ocean levels and the flooding of coastlines. The billions of tons of CO2 that human activities dump into the Earth’s atmosphere annually do not only intensify the greenhouse effect. Much of that CO2 is absorbed in the warming-acidifying oceans, contributing to the death of fisheries and vast oceanic dead-zones. The global fish-catch has been steadily declining since its peak in 1985 (Speth 2008, 71-72).
The heating of the planet has led to unprecedented spread of insect pests and tropical diseases. The Pine Bark Beetle, for example, has destroyed millions of acres of Northern forests in the past few years alone. The only defense against these voracious insects has been the very cold winters that are now past. Every year winters get milder and the ecological balance that keeps such dangers in check is broken.
Massive extinctions of the world’s living creatures have been going on for decades as the ecosystems that support life unravel at an ever-faster pace. The largest physical structures on our planet, its ice caps, barrier reefs, and rain forests are disappearing before our very eyes. (McKibben 70). The Greenland ice sheet, two miles thick is melting at extreme speeds and the gigantic Antarctica ice cap (also two miles thick) is becoming unstable portending ocean level rises that will flood all the world’s major coastal cities and destroy untold millions of acres of coastal croplands.
Top environmental experts no longer issue dire warnings. Today they speak in apocalyptic terms. It is happening now, all around us. Environmental scientist James Gustave Speth declares that “we are looking into an abyss.” Leading environmentalist Bill McKibben (2019) observes that “civilization is beginning to falter.” Widely known environmental writer Donald Wallace-Wells speaks of “the coming uninhabitable Earth.” Tipping point after tipping point has been passed during the last 50 years, that is, points of no return. The effect is no longer a linear one of progressive worsening but is a cascading effect of compounding disaster after ever-worse disaster (Wallace-Wells). McKibben writes “This is our reality right now. It will get worse, but it’s already very, very bad” (2019, 25-33).
Yet none of this has had a significant impact on the world’s dominant preoccupations. It has not prevented businesses from practicing business as usual, nor the peoples of Earth from burning fossil fuels. It has not prevented nation-states from preoccupying themselves with militarism and war further destroying the environment while wasting astonishing amounts of fossil fuels. Nation-states continue to collectively spend some 1.9 trillion US dollars per year on weapons and war.
As Naomi Klein documents in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Environment, the mass media (themselves businesses and owned by the rich) have largely marginalized the issue and many big oil corporations have intentionally spent millions of dollars instilling doubt in people’s minds regarding the overwhelming scientific consensus. Nor has this world’s environmental crisis prevented think-tanks around the world, such as this World Intellectual Forum, from occupying themselves with trivialities and secondary issues. On all fronts, Nero fiddles while Rome burns.
Part Two. Criteria for Sustainability.
It is not that there is significant ambiguity about what must be done. We must stop pouring CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Primarily, this means we must stop burning fossil fuels. We must stop the destruction of rain forests around the planet and begin protection and restoration. We must stop over-fishing the oceans and over-cultivating the farmlands.
We must reduce population growth. We must restore and regenerate soils and ecosystems as much as possible. We must free ourselves from the “dogma of growth” and develop a steady-state economics that operates in harmony with our planetary biosphere. None of this is being done on any significant scale. Every year that goes by without action on a planetary scale, compounds (multiplies) the severity of the disasters to come, possibly leading to human extinction. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not only impossible but insane.
The specific criteria for a sustainable world system involve two interrelated dimensions: The first dimension is the one focused on most by environmental activists. It requires practical planetary programs of monitoring, continual adjustment, replanting, and regeneration, planetary conversion to clean energy sources, and the building of local communities dedicated to sustainability. The second dimension required for sustainability, often ignored by environmental activists, involves the transformation of the three dominant global institutions that have caused the climate crisis in the first place. These three interrelated institutions are: (1) globalized neo-liberal capitalism, (2) a world fragmented among competing, militarized sovereign nation-states, and (3) a global monetary system based on debt and the institutionalized repayment of debt.
If there is to be a sustainable world-system, it must be a united world system. The militarized competition among nation-states comprising, at the moment, a global struggle led by Russia, China, and Iran against a dollar-dominated global system led by the USA and its lackies, makes solving the environmental problem impossible. Militarism and weapons production alone are extremely destructive of the environment and, in the eyes of national security systems, militarism and war always trump environmental concerns.
Secondly, the system of corporate domination of the global economy must be transformed. The largest corporations have assets greater than many nation-states, and their charters require them to put profit first before both human welfare and environmental considerations. Under World Trade Organization (WTO) and free-trade agreement rules, they can even sue national governments that put laws in place cutting into their profit margins. Like the sovereign nation-states, global corporate power lawlessly dominates global economics. These systems coincide in that the economic interests of nations are routinely placed above undertaking the transformations necessary to create a sustainable future. Today, for example, the US is in a self-proclaimed economic war with China.
Third, again intimately linked with the first two environmentally destructive systems, is the global monetary system predicated on money as debt. As Ellen Brown pointed out in the Web of Debt, 99% of all money in the world is currently created as debt. Business entrepreneurs take out a development loan from a bank, and the money is simply created on a computer screen as debt to the bank, taken at a certain interest rate. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, both located in the global imperial center of our planet, Washington, DC, create money as debt lent to poor nations ensuring their poverty and slavery to this system.
Richard Heinberg’s book The End of Growth (2011) describes this reality in great detail and shows how and why this debt system requires growth on the part of businesses or national economies. Without growth the principal and interest on this debt cannot be repaid. If there is to be a sustainable world system, he shows, endless, system-wide growth must end. Money will have to be created debt-free and by and large interest-free. The global economy will have to become what economist Herman E. Daly (1996) calls a “steady-state economy.”
In a global, steady-state economy, extraction of natural resources, especially non-renewables, must be reduced to a minimum, production must be for durability and repairability rather than for endless consumption and disposal of throw-away goods. Transportation must be minimized and converted away from the fossil fuel system and globalized trade. Discharge of heat and waste into the environment by all these processes must be reduced to an absolute minimum, with the majority of what is produced recycled and repaired. In addition, the population that relies on this system must be small enough to allow for a real steady-state situation. Leading environmentalist, Jeremy Rifkin, for example, estimates a sustainable planetary population to be about 5 billion persons (2013, 349). Today, we are approaching 8 billion persons.
The question inevitably arises at this point about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Do these goals meet the criteria for sustainability outlined above? Let us briefly review the UN’s history with regard to environmental protection. The first UN conference on the environment took place in 1972 in Stockholm. Scientists from around the world testified that humanity was in great danger and recommended immediate, drastic changes. 20 years later in 1992, people from around the world gathered once again in a world environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro. That group recognized that little had been done to change the destructive world-system.
The “Agenda 21” program was agreed upon at Rio—requiring drastic changes before the 21st century began. The next big UN environmental meeting took place in Johannesburg in 2002. Again, participants recognized that little had been accomplished toward making the world-system sustainable. So the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were formulated to be in force until the year 2015. In 2015 another big environmental conference took place in Paris. It was widely recognized there that the MDGs had badly failed, so another, more comprehensive, plan of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 subgoals was put in place aiming for comprehensive change by the year 2030.
From this history it should be clear that this new plan will not be successful. It is voluntary for governments, and, worse, the plan challenges neither capitalism, militarism, uncontrolled population growth, nor global debt-based banking. We are now 7 years into the SDG time frame of 2015 to 2030. The demand for oil and natural gas has increased during these years, not decreased. These SDG goals are bound to fail. My book on climate change details why this is so.
As Chapter 6 of my book The Earth Constitution Solution shows in depth, the UN is predicated on the present world system of militarized sovereign nation-states, globalized capitalism, and planetary debt-based money creation. The text under each of the 17 SDGs makes this very clear. Militarism is never mentioned, capitalism is assumed, and debt (on “fair terms”) is offered to poor nations to help them achieve their SDGs. Neither do the SDGs consider the problem of an exploding planetary population. There is silence on all these issues. Hence, this document guarantees its own failure and sets the stage for the cascading tragedies mentioned above, including possible human extinction.
As Bill McKibben (2019) points out, the enormity of our situation is beyond the comprehension of most persons, including those in the UN and thought leaders worldwide. We simply do not want to hear it. We cannot cope with facing up to the enormity of the truth of what must be done if we want to salvage what is left of the planetary ecosystem and prevent possible extinction. The climate is literally collapsing all around us.
Part Three: The Constitution for the Federation of Earth
My Earth Constitution Solution book shows how and why planetary sustainability (and probably human survival) is only possible under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth or some very similar system. The Constitution converts all three macro-features of the present world system, identified above as collectively responsible for climate collapse, to sustainable forms of governance and economics. The Constitution sets up a process of disarmament leading to a demilitarized world system. The Earth Federation government itself is non-military.
The Constitution puts the people of Earth (through their democratically elected representatives in the World Parliament and the World Financial Administration) in charge of regulating global economics to end vast wealth disparities, to create financial security for all citizens on the planet, with free health care, free education, adequate food and shelter, and secure a protected planetary climate. It affirms that a health climate is an inalienable human right. So-called “free trade” is converted in this manner into “fair trade” directed to economic flourishing for all the citizens of the Earth.
And the resources of the planet necessary for sustainability, today privately or territorially owned by corporations or nation-states, are made the collective property of the sovereign people of Earth. These include the oceans, the polar caps, the atmosphere of the Earth and its essential resources like rainforests. No longer can the resources necessary for sustainability be exploited for private or nation-state profit.
Let me give an example to illustrate this issue. The UN Sustainable Goals Document, in its introductory statement, item 18, states the following: “We affirm that every State has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activity.” Consider what this means. Under the UN system, every large state on Earth has the legal right and capacity to destroy the future of all humanity. The “lungs of the Earth” are located in Brazil. According to the UN, Brazil has the legal right to cut down the Amazon forests and destroy the lungs of the Earth to enrich its businesses or for whatever reasons.
By the same token, the US (the world’s largest polluter) had the legal right to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, an act that could have brought the entire global ecosystem down with it. Similarly, China has the legal right to burn all the coal and other fossil fuels it desires, even though the atmosphere over China circulates worldwide. The Earth Constitution for the first time in history puts governing in the hands of the sovereign people of Earth, for the good of the whole and not some part, and this alone can create a decent, sustainable future for everyone.
Third, the Democratic Earth Federation establishes a debt-free, interest-free planetary currency (valued the same everywhere), under Article 8.7, providing development monies for all sustainable and regenerative projects and making possible a true steady-state economy. All the structural elements causing the climate crisis and blocking solutions are transformed under this Constitution into institutions dedicated to human well-being and planetary sustainability.
The well-known book on climate change known as Limits to Growth by Donna Meadows, et al., was first published in 1972 and republished as Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update in 2002. The latter book details the failure of the nations of the world to heed the warnings issued in 1972. Climate collapse is now far advanced and urgently serious (so it declared 20 years ago in 2002). The book updates and reissues its requirements for sustainability and preventing possible human extinction. There are six requirements (1) Extend the planning horizon for the world, (2) Improve signals for monitoring the real impact of human activity, (3) Speed up response times, (4) Prevent erosion of renewable resources, (5) Use all resources with maximum efficiency, and (6) Stop the exponential expansion of population and physical capital.
The actions prescribed by this book could serve as a blueprint for the features of the Earth Constitution designed to specifically address the climate crisis. The planning time is expanded to the health of the planet (as a whole) for the next century and to future generations. Agencies are set up to monitor the health of the whole in real time, the impact of human actions, and to respond properly and effectively for the good of the planet and its future. Programs of regeneration and renewability are set up worldwide (see the amendments to Provisional World Parliament’s World Legislative Act number 6 made on 12 December 2021). Finally, the Constitution provides incentives for voluntary population control as well as providing legislative restraints on the expansion of physical capital.
On both a practical level and a system transformation level the Earth Constitution provides the system imperatives and infrastructure for a sustainable world. The UN, under its current Charter, cannot possibly achieve this, as we have seen. The best ecological action any person, group, or nation can take is to work for ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
There will be no sustainability without real transformation of both our spiritual condition of national and personal egoism and our world-system structures that cater to this egoistic domination and exploitation of nature and people by the few. Palliatives put forth by the timid and cowardly in the name of “being practical” are leading us into total disaster. Nothing short of ratification of a genuine Earth Constitution can salvage the ecology of our planet and help ensure the survival of humanity, in spite of an already severely damaged global ecosystem.
Brown, Ellen (2007). Web of Debt
Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.
Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Online at www.earthconstitution.world. In print with the Institute for Economic Democracy Press, Appomattox, VA, USA, 2010 and 2014. Legislative Acts of the Provisional World Parliament can be found on www.oneworldrenaissance.com.
Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Klein, Naomi (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Martin, Glen T. (2021). The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press.
McKibben, Bill (2019). Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? New York: Henry Holt Publisher.
Meadows, Donna et al. (2002). Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update.
Rifkin, Jeremy (2013). The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Speth, James Gustav (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Wallace-Wells, Donald (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Penguin/Random House.