Book Review of Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller Glen T. Martin

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) is sometimes called the “Leonardo di Vinci” of the 20th century. His inventions and innovative design principles are known and used worldwide. But beyond his great insights into the fundamental principles of geometry and 20th century science, Fuller was also a profound philosopher whose ideas remain of direct relevance to our endangered human situation in the 21st century.

Of his 10 or so books, Critical Path, published toward the end of his long life, is meant to be an overall synopsis of his vision and the meaning of his work in service to humanity. In this review, Part One will try to articulate what I take to be the most central ideas of Critical Path. Part Two will attempt to extrapolate from Fuller’s thought what is most relevant to our present situation in the year 2019 in relation to the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Part One

Like many serious thinkers, Buckminster Fuller’s books always reflect the multi-faceted thought of their author.  When he was a boy, Fuller recalls, his inquisitive mind was always investigating and asking questions. His elders did not encourage this kind of independent questioning. They told him to listen to his teachers and learn from his elders. But Fuller soon understood that this is precisely what we must not do. We must learn to think for ourselves. One of the great tragedies of our endangered world in the 20th and 21st centuries is that we imbibe ideologies and beliefs from our elders that obscure and derail the intuitive, innate wisdom that each individual can bring out of himself and use as a guide for life.

As a young man Fuller tried his hand at business, but was an abject failure.  He realized that the deeper problem was that in business he was working for himself, for private profit. In World War One he was in the US Navy, commanding ships. He was good at this, he says, because he was not doing this work for private profit. He realized eventually that each of us should be working for humanity, for what is universal in the universe and in human life. Private profit, like war on behalf of this or that nation-state, is destructive of our common human project. In Critical Path he declares: “It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete” (p. xxv).

If we want to survive, he said, we need to be thinking beyond the ideologies of communism and capitalism. We also need to be thinking beyond the ideologies of sovereign nation-states. We need to be thinking in terms of human evolution as a whole, which is itself a product of cosmic evolution. All the different nations, cultures, races, and language groups around the world are now obsolete by the 20th century.

We need to bring all these “differently competing entities into a completely integrated, comprehensively interconsiderate, harmonious whole” (p. xvii). We must make the world work satisfactorily for all humans (p. xix).  You need to become “spontaneously enthusiastic about everyone having everything you can have” (p. xxxvii).

Fuller understood the paradigm shift that emerged in the 20th century away from the Newtonian conception of an “inertial,” static cosmos and toward the Einsteinian conception of an integrated, evolving universe always in dynamic, harmonious motion. There is no longer any up or down. The sun does not move around the Earth. The world is a sphere with no boundaries, only one human civilization everywhere. The human mind can understand the “the generalized principles” governing the “eternally regenerative Universe” (p. xxxvi) and act on these principles to make planet Earth a successful, beautiful place for everyone to live.

Mahatma Gandhi organized his life around “truth experiments.” Early on, while in South Africa, he realized that life needed to be conducted as satyagraha, clinging to truth, continuously making “experiments in truth.” For the whole is truth: God is Truth. And the consequence of this action of “clinging to truth” was nonviolence in thought, word, and deed—love of the whole (God as Truth) and every person as a child of that Truth.

 

A similar love animated the life of Buckminster Fuller:

We can sense that only God is the perfect—the exact truth. We can come ever nearer to God by progressively eliminating residual errors. The nearest each of us can come to God is by loving the truth. If we don’t program the computer truthfully with all the truth and nothing but the truth, we won’t get the answers that allow us to “make it” (p. xxxvii).

Whereas Gandhi focused on the all-embracing truth in terms of nonviolence and social struggle, Fuller focused on the eternal laws of the cosmos revealed by Relativity Theory and Quantum Physics, and the amazing human mind that can comprehend these laws.  The evolving universe has itself evolved a creature that can comprehend its laws and thereby use these laws to solve its problems of survival and flourishing on planet Earth. We must love the truth (God) and thereby use our computer technology for the benefit of all persons on the planet.

We must repudiate our nation-state loyalties, our political ideologies, our racism and our greedy, self-interested capitalism. God is truth and truth embraces all of humanity. “Personal integrity” transcends all these ideologies and propaganda systems through the “discovery of truth and the interrelationship of all truths. The cosmic laws with which the mind deals are non-corruptible. Cosmic evolution is omniscient God comprehensively articulate” (p. xxxviii). Personal integrity mirrors cosmic integrity.

Fuller corroborates the idea of our common human evolution through developing his own account of the “speculative prehistory of humanity” as well as the evolution of technological developments from ancient times to the present. He makes many interesting points about these developments, but it is important to keep his purposes in mind. He is showing (1) that we have always been one common human civilization developing around the planet (even before people were in communication with one another) and (2) that technology has evolved in concert with our understanding of fundamental cosmic principles (the laws of nature) to bring us to a point in the 20th century at which we can use that technology for the benefit of all humans in one harmoniously planetary civilization.

The alternative, if we continue with our divisive ideologies or our fragmented system of sovereign nation-states, is extinction, planetary omnicide. When he published this book in 1981 (at age 86), it was already very clear to thoughtful people like Fuller that this was the choice that confronts us. Today, in 2019, we are very close to passing the point of no return.  Even with very rapid immediate changes in the fossil fuel, polluting, greed invested, nation-state competitive economy of the world, it is not clear whether we have entered the period of runaway global warming which human technology and ingenuity will be unable to stop.

In his small book Grunch of Giants, published two years after Critical Path, Fuller presents his analysis of the absurdity of a capitalism run by the super-rich for the benefit of the super-rich while the entire planet heads for omnicidal disaster. It is a system of greed, of unrestrained debt, and of political manipulation by the super-rich titans of capitalism. But it does not have to be that way. Fuller writes: “I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive.” (pp. xiv-xv). He continues:

Humanity is the experimental initiative of the Universe. The experiment is to discover whether the complex of cosmic laws can maintain the integrity of eternal regeneration while allowing the mind of the species homo sapiens on the little planet Earth to discover and use some of the mathematical laws governing the design of the Universe, whereby those humans can by trial and error develop subjectively from initial ignorance into satisfactorily informed, successful local-Universe monitors of all physically and metaphysically critical information and thereby serve objectively as satisfactory local-Universe problem-solvers in sustaining the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe (p.xxiv).

Fuller had, of course, been making these points for many years. In Critical Path, he wrote: “Cosmic costing makes utterly ludicrous the selfish and fearfully contrived ‘wealth’ games being reverentially played aboard Earth…. Since realization and fulfillment of that responsibility [to think from a planetary point of view] involve evolutionary discovery by humanity of the cosmic stature of its mind and the inconsequentiality of its muscle, the planting of humans on Earth may not bear fruit” (p. 119).

Fuller recognized that our minds (our deep minds—not corrupted by ideologies, dogmas, personal selfishness, or ignorance) are direct expressions of the cosmic mind come to consciousness in us. Our selfish “wealth games,” like our ludicrous “nation-state games,” block deep mind. This means that we are heading toward an omnicide in which the planting of humans on the Earth by the Universal Mind “will not have borne fruit.”  Our cosmic destiny will not have been fulfilled, and the human project may well fail.

Part Two

During the years 1968 to 1991, the period during which Critical Path was being written and distributed, other world citizen thinkers were busy writing and refining the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Fuller’s best known book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, was published in 1968, the same year as the First Constituent Assembly in Interlaken, Switzerland at which the project for writing the Earth Constitution was formally initiated (see Martin 2011).

The Earth Constitution sets up a global democracy on precisely the principles that Fuller developed during his long life, principles in which the “integrity” of his own mind was progressively conforming to the “integrity” of the cosmos. One of the issues often focused on by contemporary writers about the planetary environmental crisis is the issue of “scale.”  Global trade (based on shipping made possible by fossil fuels), some claim, will have to be scaled back, and local communities will need to become more self-sufficient by growing their own food and dealing with their own technical issues (see, e.g., Heinberg 2011).

However, we at the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), point out that the Earth Constitution integrates the holism of human civilization and the planetary biosphere with the need for local initiative and empowerment.  Only this combination will be sufficient to provide what James Gustav Speth (2008) calls “the bridge at the end of the world.” Anarchist visions of local empowerment will not be sufficient to regulate the whole, equitably and justly, for the good of the biosphere and future generations.

Fuller recognized the need for a comprehensive, focused global authority dedicated to the common good of humanity and future generations:

It was not that the problems could not be seen by others, but society was preoccupied with individual, national, state and local business-survival problems, which forced its leaders into short-term, limited-scope considerations—with no time for total world problems. The presidents of great corporations had to make good profits within a very few years or lose their jobs. The politicians, too, were preoccupied with short-range national, state, or municipal survival matters” (Critical Path, p. 127).

Spaceship Earth needs to be democratically run by elected people who see and understand the whole, the oneness of civilization and our cosmic responsibility to make a flourishing planetary civilization. The Earth Constitution, with its designed unity in diversity for all its agencies and structures, is optimally suited to make this happen. Local empowerment is necessary and excellent but under of system of exclusive local authorities there will be no global authority to direct the planetary protection of the biosphere and assure the equitable well-being of all the world’s citizens and future generations.

Fuller lived at the time when computer compilation of information, and computer modeling and projections, were just coming into widespread use. In Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Donna Meadows, et. al., chronicle the development of computer modeling over the period 1974-2004. The early computer models of climate change are now seen to be largely correct. Their prediction of increasing global temperatures, global droughts, global superstorms, and changing weather patterns were borne out during these three decades.

Today, the worldwide Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN uses the ever more sophisticated data, variables, and projection power to model local and global climate change over a wide variety of parameters. Under the Earth Constitution, the work of the IPCC can be harmonized with the Integrative Complex that includes global agencies dedicated to exactly this monitoring, coordination, and dissemination of information to localities around the world. This appears to be exactly what Fuller had in mind in declaring that we need to begin responsibly operating our “Spaceship Earth” and overcome the fragmented system of autonomous nation-states and self-serving economic corporations.

The IPCC has been warning the nations and business corporations since its founding with the United Nations in 1988. Yet because the UN is not a constitutional government but rather a treaty of sovereign nation-states, its warnings have gone largely unheeded and its predictions of increasing climate disaster have come true.  We need not only heed the warnings of the scientific community, we need to heed these warnings though major changes in the economic and political structure of the world system, a structure that now inhibits the ability of people everywhere to deal effectively with climate change.

The UN system does not embody the paradigm-shift that Fuller envisages. It holds back the process of human self-transcendence (Martin 2018). Its Charter rests soundly on the principle of national sovereignty and makes clear that the UN has no authority over the affairs of these nations. How does humanity create a system in which the deep mind, universal mind, is more likely to emerge in our leaders and many citizens?   How does humanity create a system in which agencies and global authorities can implement and promote the insights of deep mind throughout planet Earth?   The answer lies in ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Fuller describes the result of this paradigm shift to the holism of the cosmos, the biosphere, and all humanity. This will apply precisely to the world as organized through the Earth Constitution. The system itself will promote universal “synergy”:

Earth planet-based humanity will be physically and economically successful and individually free in the most important sense. While all enjoy total Earth no human will be interfering with the other, and none will be profiting at the expense of the other. . . . They will be free in the sense that they will not struggle for survival on a “you” or “me” basis, and will therefore be able to trust one another and be free to co-operate in spontaneous and logical ways. (p. 95)

Contemporary physicist Henry Stapp, commenting on the philosophical and human significance of quantum physics, writes of the vast transformation occurring as new insights in science “lead us away from the egocentric bias” of classical physics to a new “image of the self, not as a local isolated automation but rather as a nonlocalizable integrated aspect of the creative impulse of the universe” (1988, 57).  The human mind is an expression of “the creative impulse of the universe.” God is truth, Fuller declares, and we draw ever closer to God though discovering our “integrity,” our deep mind beyond ideology, greed, and nationalism.

Life is not about your or my personal ego and its selfish interests. It is about all of us together: our common humanity. Physicist and philosopher Ervin Laszlo writes that “Ours is an in-formed, purposively evolving universe, and with our body and consciousness, we are an intrinsic part of it” (2017, p. 43). This is the fundamental cosmic truth for which we should all be striving. We should all live as self-aware embodiments of the Cosmos. This is Fuller’s fundamental principle.

Mahatma Gandhi led a life of satyagraha, “clinging to truth,” that understood nonviolence as the universal principle of truth that must inform all our human relationships and institutions. Gandhi also advocated democratic world government, going beyond the militarized nation-state to global law-making authorities. The nation-state, he declared, was “violence in a concentrated and organized form” (1972, 132).

Fuller likewise led a life of clinging to the a priori truths of physics, that is, to the revealed mind of God, mind which is evolving to fruition in human consciousness. These truths must also inform all our human relationships and institutions.  Like Gandhi, Fuller advocated democratic world government, going beyond a chaotic world in which “hundreds of chiefs” attempt to independently and competitively pilot our one Spaceship Earth.

One of Fuller’s central thoughts was that we begin playing “the world game” rather than our current practice of “war games.” One key consequence of playing the world game was his idea of a “Global Energy Grid” that could bring electrical power to every person on Earth. Such a grid would make peoples interdependent worldwide, promoting peace. It would improve the standard of living for everyone, providing refrigeration for food and the many other benefits of electricity.

Fuller realized that high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines could link the nighttime half of the world and the daytime half of the world (the daytime half always experiencing plentiful solar energy), making the rotating world itself an energy generation and distribution grid benefiting everyone. Today (2019) HVDC long distance transmission capacity has greatly improved and is being used to link off-shore and island based wind farms to the electrical grids of Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany and other locations. Engineers are also looking into using deserts for massive solar arrays that can generate the electricity to locations worldwide through long distance HVDC links. Potentially, the Sahara Desert could generate enough clean, non-fossil fuel power to serve all of Europe (Jones and Westman, 2007).

The Earth Constitution is ideally suited to oversee and implement this sort of planetary coordination as human beings convert from fossil fuels to clean energy. A system of local empowerment of self-sustaining communities alone would be wholly inadequate to use the rotation of our planet from night to day to provide a global energy grid that would empower and protect every person on Earth.  Buckminster Fuller saw our immense human potential for linking the global and local levels within a dynamic synergy.

The Earth Constitution embodies both the visions and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Buckminster Fuller. It gives us both a well-designed system for progressively reducing violence in all human affairs and it gives us the infrastructure to use science and technology equitably for the benefit of all.  As Fuller expresses this, our choice today is between “utopia or extinction.”

The Constitution provides Fuller’s “operating manual” that can lead us into a nonviolent, technologically advanced and efficient, world system government informed by deep, universal mind. Universal mind effortlessly transcends competitive, selfish, power-hungry interests as well as nation-state fragmentation and war-making. Universal mind demands a planetary civilization under the rule of democratically legislated universal laws. The most effective thing we can do to save humanity, prevent nuclear war, and address climate change is ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Fuller, R. Buckminster (1968). Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. New York: Pocket Books.

Fuller, R. Buckminister (1981). Critical Path. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Fuller, R. Buckminster (1983). Grunch of Giants: “Gross Universe Cash Heist.” Santa Barbara, CA: Design Science Press.

Gandhi, Mahatma (1972). All Men Are Brothers. Ed. Krishna Kripalani. New York: UNESCO and Columbia University Press.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Jones, Peter and Bo Westman (2007). “HVDC Transmission from Energy Source to Consumer,” http://www.renewableenergyfocus.com/view/3567/hvdc-transmission-from-energy-source-to-consumer/

Laszlo, Ervin (2017). The Intelligence of the Cosmos: Why Are We Here?  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Martin, Glen T. (2011).  Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2017). “Gandhi’s Satyagraha and the Earth Constitution.” In Examining Global Peacemaking in the Digital Age: A Research Handbook. Ed. Bruce L. Cook. Hershey, PA: IGI Global Publishers: 361-371.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-transcendence: The Power of the Future for Human Transformation.

Meadows, Donna, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows (2004). Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.

Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Stapp, Henry. 1988. “Quantum Theory and the Physicist’s Conception of Nature.” In The World View of Contemporary Physics. Ed. Richard F. Kitchener. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press: 38-58.

Book Review of The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg

Glen T. Martin

 

This is one of the very few books that I would characterize as a “must read.”  Richard Heinberg has mastered a broad series of scientific studies and literatures in economics, including analysis of the 2008 world economic bubble and collapse along with an analysis of the global economic system of banking, money creation, growth, and debt. He has studied the literature on energy sources, their economics, use, and limits, on world production and trade issues in various major countries, and on resource extraction and use, including peak oil, food, and water. He cites the extensive literature on climate change and environmental limits, including pollution, environmental decline, and natural disasters.

He also describes what many thinkers have said about how we can adapt to this new reality with resiliency and a minimum of suffering. He expertly puts all this information together to make a formidable argument that we are at the end of the line for growth, that is, for the global economic system as we have known it for at least two centuries. We must urgently adapt to a post-growth world in order to avoid an inevitable planetary collapse that will cause devastation to human well-being throughout our planet.

The climate crisis cannot be addressed through further growth but only by transition to truly new age of steady-state economics, politics, and culture.  Part One of this review will summarize Richard Heinberg’s major arguments.  Part Two will examine his recommendations for adaptation to a steady-state, non-growth world system and assess the adequacy of these. It will point the ways in which he omits the urgent need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Part One

Chapters 1 and 2 of The End of Growth examine the most recent worldwide economic collapse that began in 2008 with the collapse of the real estate market in the U.S. Heinberg examines the dynamics of this collapse. Citing many studies that have been done of the collapse, as well as the global capitalist system itself, he shows that this collapse went far beyond a U.S. real estate bubble to the very structure of the globalized banking, debt, and money creation system. Capitalism famously cycles through the creation of economic bubbles and collapses, including the big collapses of 1873, 1907, 1929, and 2008, with many small recessions in between (pp. 39-40).

Under this system, growth  (continued economic expansion) is an essential feature. Today, most money is created by banks under the fractional reserve system.  Under this system banks are required to keep on reserve a certain proportion of the money they lend to borrowers, say 3%.  This means that a bank may lend up to 97% beyond whatever actual assets it possesses. The money lent beyond its assets is created on a balance sheet and exists nowhere else. It is created as a virtual asset to the bank and as debt to the borrower, who promises to repay the loan with interest. In this system, banks are leveraged far beyond their actual assets and, if there are major defaults on these loans or a run on the bank by its clients, the bank fails and all this money and credit are lost, unless there is a bailout by the Federal Government or some larger bank swallows the failed bank and its toxic assets. This is not only true of individual banks but of the system as a whole: it is leveraged by debt far beyond its actual assets.

The assumption behind this entire system (today’s capitalism), therefore, is perpetual growth of the economy.  Loans are made in the fractional reserve system with the expectation (and assumption) that the borrower will be able to prosper (grow) in such a way as to be able to pay back both the principle and interest on the loan. Capitalism requires investments, continually renewed and growing investments. Most investments in new production initiatives or existing industries require borrowing with the expectation on the part of everyone that the enterprises will grow, flourish, and be able to pay back their loans with interest.

A bank will fail if it cannot make such loans and have them paid back through economic growth or sustained income on the part of the debtors. Similarly, nations operate under a similar debt system in which nations themselves borrow from the world banking system in order to invest in infrastructure and growth initiatives with the expectation that growth (measured in ever-increasing GDP) will allow them to pay back, a least eventually, the principle and interest on the loan. “The end of growth,” he writes, is the ultimate credit event, as everyone gradually comes to realize there will be no surplus later with which to repay interest on debt that is accruing now” (p. 103).

Under such a system, there is “a built-in expansionist imperative” (p. 37). Heinberg reviews the two main economic theories that developed with regard to this expansionist imperative in the 20th century. The great debate has been between the followers of John Maynard Keynes (Keynesians) and followers of “free market” thinkers like Friedrich von Hayek (often called neoliberals). The Keynesians advocate government regulatory intervention and significant spending in order to keep the system growing and healthy. Neoliberals advocate a free, laissez-faire market with minimum government interference. In both cases the assumption is that we need a “healthy” economic system premised on sustained growth.

Heinberg notes a number of contradictions within the system itself (pp. 40-41). But the most fundamental contradiction is the assumption that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet in which there are limits to natural resources as well as the capacity of the planetary climate to regenerate itself sufficiently to sustain an ever-expanding industrial economy, ever increasing use of fossil fuels, and an ever increasing human population. He writes:

One such error is the belief that economies can and should perpetually grow…. This fundamental logical and philosophical mistake, embedded at the very core of modern mainstream economic philosophies, set society directly on a course toward the current era of climate change and resource depletion, and its persistence makes conventional economic theories—of both Keynesian and neoliberal varieties—utterly incapable of dealing with the economic and environmental survival threats to civilization in the 21st century. (pp. 39-40).

Chapter 3 is entitled “Earth’s Limits: Why Growth Won’t Return.”  Using extensive sources and the latest scientific and economic studies, Heinberg shows how we have reached “peak oil,” peak water, peak food production, and peak extraction of certain essential minerals. He points out that “peak” does not mean the end of these things but indicates that point at which production “achieves its maximum rate before beginning its inevitable decline” (p. 107).

Resources are exploited according to the “low hanging fruit” principle, which means the most accessible are taken first and then those more expensive to access and mine are exploited later. Oil companies are now undertaking mining in the deep ocean shelves and in the inhospitable Arctic regions, even though these operations are very expensive, because the easy access oil fields are declining in output and yielding less than the global demand. According to a report of the International Energy Agency (IEA), global crude oil production will likely never surpass its 2006 level, and fossil fuels from all other sources such as natural gas will likely peak about 2035 (pp. 107-08).

Water is used in practically all production processes, often in great quantities for cooling. It is even used in the extraction of much fossil fuel production. People, of course, need fresh water for drinking, washing, and cooking, and immense amounts of fresh water are used for irrigation to grow crops. Yet worldwide there is a growing shortage of fresh water and ominous signs of a coming severe global water shortage. The main sources of fresh water are the melt from snowpacks and glaciers, underground aquifers, and the world’s major rivers. All of these sources are rapidly and visibly shrinking. Aquifers are depleting faster than they are recharging, rivers are shrinking and in some cases drying up entirely, and snowpacks-glaciers are melting at rates that will mean the end of these water sources within just a few decades (pp. 124-29).

And the production of food is running up against severe environmental limits to its growth and portending its inevitable decline. This production requires not only great amounts of water but immense inputs of fossil fuel to run farm machinery, transport food to processing plants (and run the plants), and then get the food to local markets.  Around the world forests are being cut down to plant more crops, pesticides and fertilizers continue to pollute wetlands, fresh water, and oceans, agricultural lands are over-farmed and soil fertility accordingly diminished.  Food production has peaked and is beginning to rapidly decline.

In addition, oceans are severely over fished and the ecological resiliency of nature seriously diminished from all these sources. Plants require phosphorus for growth, and worldwide phosphorus mining has reached its peak production and is declining (p. 135). This means that a global food crisis is looming since, in the very process of producing food, we are destroying the biological base that makes that production possible (pp. 129-138). In addition, there are increasing natural disasters and accidents (such as the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico), all of these limits working together to end the era of economic growth forever, a growth dependent on the very fossil fuels that are causing major climate change:

The billions of tons of carbon dioxide that our species has released into the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels are not only changing the global climate but also causing the oceans to acidify. Indeed, the scale of our collective impact on the planet has grown to such an extent that many scientists contend that the Earth has entered a new geologic era—the Anthropocene. Humanly generated threats to the environment’s ability to support civilization are now capable of overwhelming civilization’s ability to adapt and regroup. (p. 145)

Heinberg spends all of Chapter 4 addressing the dogma of economics that claims these crises can be surmounted because of three key economic principles: substitution, efficiency, and innovation. Mainstream economists claim that energy, mineral, and other natural resources can find endless substitutions. Human creativity under a free market will endlessly be able to meet these challenges. Similarly, the market promotes ever increasing efficiency (for example, engines that burn fossil fuels more efficiently, machines that use less electricity per unit of power, or turbines in dams that produce more electricity per unit of water that drives the turbines).

Defnders of unending growth and “free markets” also often claim that innovations can be potentially limitless, for example, inventions to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or to purify ocean water into fresh water. However, these arguments ignore that fact that there are absolute limits built into the laws of nature. For example, the second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy determines that all forms of “organized” energy will run down, leaving unorganized thermal waste (e.g., burning the “organized” energy in fossil fuels inevitably produces,
“unorganized” waste in the form of heated gasses such as carbon dioxide). Hence, there are hard and fast limits to innovative improvements:

While we are never likely to reach zero in terms of time and cost, we can be certain that the closer we get to zero time and cost, the higher the cost of the next improvement and the lower the value of the next improvement will be. This means that, with regard to each basic human technological pursuit (communication, transportation, accounting, etc.) we will sooner or later reach a point where the cost of the next improvement will be higher than its value…. For many consumer products this stage was reached decades ago. (pp. 176-77)

Chapter 5 reviews the evidence for these contentions in terms of “competition and relative growth in a finite world.” Heinberg reviews the China growth phenomenon, geopolitics, currency wars, population stress, and the post-growth conflict between rich and poor. His informed discussions of each of these issues corroborate the central thesis of this book: growth has ended, and, while relative growth is possible here and there, the global economy, energy consumption, debt and loan development scenarios, indeed, the entire idea of endless economic “development” is at its end, never to be revived.

The last two chapters (6 and 7), address the ways we can manage the inevitable contraction, and the ways in which the concept of growth will necessarily change from quantitative growth (of Gross Domestic Product, GDP) to qualitative, non-economic growth (improvements in the quality of life, the meaningfulness of communities, and focusing on meaning and value rather than economic growth and expansion. If we continue in denial, however, and continue thinking that growth can be resumed with the right stimulus measures in the form of interest rates, tax deductions for investors, etc., then we may well experience a catastrophic global meltdown unlike anything ever previously seen in history (pp. 233-36).

Recognizing the dynamics of our current situation, however, could lead governments to take measures that would not circumvent the crisis, which is impossible, but at least minimize its impact and more justly equalize the painfulness of the contraction. It would require “a radical simplification of the economy,” for which a general reorganization and transformation would be required. Two options stand out. First, we could “slice a decimal place off everyone’s debts,” including businesses, while at the same time protecting assets below a certain level (to protect the poor). Those who have little or no debt could be compensated accordingly with money added equitably to their accounts. This would be very painful, but would constitute a necessary “re-set” in the relationship between the rich and poor in terms of real assets (p. 238).

Secondly, as Ellen Brown suggests in The Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System, we could convert to public banking with the government creating debt-free money to address the crisis and ensure that neither chaos nor corruption would ensue.  Some combination of these two options might make our economic and financial systems “more sustainable and resilient” to face the inevitable climate limits and disasters to come. The present debt-driven system of financial speculation and borrowing with the intention of perpetual growth would need to be given up entirely. We would have to “reinvent money” in ways that did not make its value dependent on speculative money markets.

Part of Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 examine the new “post-growth” economic systems proposed by various thinkers within the growing literature on this subject.  Heinberg cites a number of thinkers who have proposed an alternative economics relevant to the present crisis: Frederick Soddy, Henry George, Thorstein Veblen, E. F. Schumacher, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Herman E. Daly, etc. He quotes Daly concerning a “steady-state economy” which consists of “an economy with constant stocks of people and artifacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance ‘throughput,’ that is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy from the first stage of production to the last stage of consumption” (p. 250).

Measures of success of such economic systems could not, of course, consist in increasing GDP. Heinberg reviews the several alternative models for success that have been developed—from the “Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)” to the “Gross National Happiness (GNH)” measure to the “Happy Planet Index (HPI).” For example, the Gross National Happiness measure assesses success across nine dimensions: “time use, living standards, good governance, psychological well-being, community vitality, culture, health, education, ecology” (pp. 256-259). Hence, “progress” can be made in all these dimensions and would no longer be simplistically reduced to economic growth of GDP.

The final chapter (7) explores a range of literature envisioning alternative community and lifestyle models that are consistent with sustainability. There are “transition towns,” “common security clubs,” and “community economic laboratories” springing up all around the world. People are cooperating at the community level to begin living without fossil fuels, off the electric grids of big utility companies, and out of the big commercial banking systems (and into community credit unions or other people’s run banks).

Others are forming food coops and often growing much of their own food. They are forming community health clinics independent of big government or corporate health systems. They are sharing tools, developing their own alternative currencies, engaging in labor/barter transactions. All in all, they are creating resilient and independent local communities that will be much more likely to flourish as the globalized economy fails and the great contraction and transition takes place.

Heinberg ends the book by placing our current crisis within a broad perspective of the great transitions that human civilization has previously made. First, was the harnessing of fire nearly two million years ago. Second was the development of language. Third was the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. Fourth was the industrial revolution about 200 years ago. The fifth transition is the great contraction of today:

Now we are participating in the turning from fossil fueled, debt-and growth-based industrial civilization toward a sustainable, renewable, steady-state society. While previous turning entailed overall expansion (punctuated by periodic crises, wars, and collapses), this one will be characterized by an overall contraction of society until we are living within the Earth’s replenishable budget of renewable resources, while continually recycling most of the minerals and metals that we continue to use…. The remainder of the current century will be a time of continual evolution and adaptation…which will itself be a dynamic rather than a static condition. (p. 284).

Part Two

 Richard Heinberg does not mention the industrial-military complex that has dominated the economics of the United States and most of the world since World War II. His book does not mention war or militarism or global state-sponsored terrorism in which the top-secret intelligence agencies of the major imperial nations set up false-flag bombings, assassinations, and sponsor proxy terror forces from ISIS to Al Qaeda in the interest of imperial power and domination (see, e.g., Engdahl 2016). Nor does this book mention nuclear weapons or the global development of other forms of weapons of mass destruction.

He cites a great deal of literature on alternative communities and local, self-sufficient transition towns but makes no mention of the probable need of these towns to defend themselves against aggression and terrorism.  How will they do that?  The only possible assumption (hidden behind Heinberg’s conception of the world in transition to a steady state) is through continued nation-state militarism, international conflict, mistrust, and espionage. He never mentions the absolute need to change this system.

Is what he recommends a truly steady-state world?  Or is it a world cloaked in assumptions about the nation-state system that are totally out of date and contra-indicated to a sustainable future?  An apparent background assumption, for Heinberg, involves the industrial military complexes of the world continuing in order to protect American or British territorial sovereignty and allow his “transition towns” to flourish and spread. But, of course, to retain the industrial military complex is to retain a significant portion of the old growth and debt economic system. Vast sums of debt-created money and immense waste of the world’s precious resources are inescapably necessary for all militarism.

What if Russia or China or Iran do not go along with the great contraction and downsizing?  What if they find ways to retain their military and nuclear weapons and pose a threat to the territorial sovereignty of the US and UK where transition towns are flourishing and spreading?  In that case, to defend these contracted, sustainable communities, their governments will have to spend 50% of their wealth to feed the military complex and will have to attempt to grow in order to finance this monster.  We have come right back to the fundamental contradiction. Heinberg recommends that we shave one decimal point off all debt, but he never recommends abolishing the military monster sucking dry the economies of every major nation.

The truth of the matter is that Heinberg does not envision a truly transformed world. He does not consider the fundamental factors of national sovereignty and security. Under the fragmented world of militarized sovereign nation-states, the transition envisioned by Heinberg simply cannot happen. There are always enemies under the present world system. They do not trust one another, and under this world system, war alone can solve fundamental disputes between nations. There are no legitimate, enforceable laws for our planet as a whole. The U.N. is simply a treaty of militarized sovereign nation-states, as well as colonized by the economic growth model. It is part of the problem rather than the solution.

As with so many environmental experts exposing the crisis the world is faced with and advocating immediate radical changes, Heinberg’s account slips back and forth from a world analysis to national recommendations for the USA, without ever acknowledging this immense contradiction. Which is it?  Do we need global transformation of economics, politics, and culture to deal with the end of growth and the climate crisis?  Or do we need the 5% of the world’s population in the U.S. to eliminate debt-based banking, mainstream growth economics, along with its entire fossil fuel economy?

Heinberg is clear that the entire world has embraced this same debt-based, growth mandated, high risk economic system, a system that he argues has crashed for the last time in the 2008 global economic crisis and can never recover because we are at the end of everything (peak oil, peak water, peak food, and super-peak debt). He cites the bail outs for that crisis in many billions of dollars that were taken by all the major countries, not only the U.S.  He cites the growth dogma at the heart of the economic policies of all the major nations and the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as, in some ways, the world’s central bank, encouraging growth and debt.

But when it comes to the new economics, politics, and culture that will emerge during and after the great contraction and transition, the world system of militarized, competitive nation-states is not mentioned. Perhaps the global industrial-military complex just painlessly vanishes into the background, going down without a fight?  Perhaps the nonsense dogma that the military of each country provides jobs for their citizens also just vanishes like the morning fog?  Heinberg’s account of the new world after the collapse and transition is hopelessly inadequate and unconscionably naïve.

This is a shame because his book is on the mark concerning the global capitalist economic system as a major cause of climate crisis, and as having reached the final end of its life-span leaving humanity facing the pain of contraction and transition to a more rational, sustainable, and just world economic system. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth provides that system. It provides a politics of cooperation and holism among all peoples and nations, rather than hate, fear, and suspicion. It provides for demilitarization of the world and transition to cooperative, integrated decision-making representing the equitable best interests of people everywhere (not just the U.S. or U.K. or China or Russia or India, all of whom now operate on the basis of their perceived national self-interests).

All these aspects of a transformed world system go together. We must solve the problem of militarism and war, for it is part of the same failed world system that has led us to climate collapse.  We must solve the problem of radical disparities in wealth through creating a just world system. We must address the problem of global human rights violations as part of this same solution to climate collapse. The Earth Constitution integrates all these global issues together within a planetary framework designed to democratically and effectively deal with them.

Perhaps most fundamental is that the Earth Constitution gives us debt-free, global public banking, freeing humankind once and for all from the absurd debt-based system of modern capitalism. It gives us one universal currency, not based on debt, but stable and valued the same everywhere. This is an absolute key to creating planetary justice along with addressing the climate crisis. The capitalist banking casino is also a casino of national currencies in which entire nations can be brought down through manipulations of the value of their currencies. This system of domination by private, debt-driven banking cartels must necessarily end if we are going to transition to a sustainable, equitable, peaceful, and rational world system.

Ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth is the most effective method of transition. Otherwise nations will be militarily competing for water, food, and essential minerals, and the world system will continue as a war system, rather than a peace, prosperity, and sustainability system.  Transition towns, and local resilient communities are essential, but this emphasis on “small is beautiful” gives us only half the story. What are we going to do about the world system as a whole?  It cannot continue to be a militarized system of some 193 rogue nations recognizing no enforceable laws above themselves. It has to become global democracy in which everyone is on the same peaceful, legal, and cooperative page.

The local must be empowered to become sustainable and reasonably self-sufficient while the global must become unified, democratic, and demilitarized. The two are inseparable. You cannot have local self-sufficiency (no longer dependent on global fossil fuel shipping and manufacture) without having global coordination, mediation, communication, and justice-making to make sure than none of the local parts decide to make an exception for themselves by invading the others for resources, water, wealth, or food. Human beings must cooperatively share the Earth’s essential resources, not pretend (as does the UN) that these are the “private property” of the nations where they happen to be located).

And we will not make a successful transition to sustainability without advanced technology spread equitably across the globe. (Not protecting wealthy corporate profits through intellectual property rights but provided to people everywhere as necessary for sustainability.) Local communities with picks, shovels, and hand tools will not give us a sustainable world system without advanced solar panels, the latest battery technology, wind technology, advanced water irrigation systems, scientific monitoring of ecosystem health, and vast projects to restore our global forests, wetlands, farmland ocean integrity, etc. The biosphere of our entire planet needs restoration as far as is still possible. How will Heinberg’s “transition towns” undertake this vast global initiative?

All of this is provided for by the Earth Constitution and none of this is considered by Richard Heinberg as a necessary aspect of the great contraction and transition we are facing. His book is excellent on the problems we face, problems created by the growth dogma and debt-based capitalism, which he calls “the underlying contradiction at the heart of our entire economic system—the assumption that we can have unending growth in a finite world” (p. 20). But his solution is confused and self-contradictory, ignoring as it does the problem of militarized sovereign nation-states, the military industrial complex, and a world system designed for competition, suspicion, subversion, and war, rather than peace, justice, sustainability, and the rule of law.

If we want the truly new era that he advocates, we must deal not only with the failed global economic system but also with the failed global system of militarized nation-states that is the necessary complement and institutionalized support of that economic system. The two aspects of our world system go together inescapably.

Both are transformed within the Constitution for the Federation of Earth into a global peace system, justice system, freedom system, and sustainability system, designed to empower local, sustainable, reasonably self-sufficient communities everywhere on Earth. The most effective single action we can take to deal with climate crisis and the end of growth is committing ourselves to ratification of the Earth Constitution.

 

 

 

Brief Bibliography

 

Boswell, Terry and Christopher Chase-Dunn. 2000. The Spiral of Capitalism and Socialism: Toward Global Democracy. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publisher.

 

Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.

Engdahl, F. William. 2016. The Lost Hegemon: Whom the Gods Would Destroy. Wiesbaden, Germany: mine.Books.

Harris, Errol E. (2014). Earth Federation Now!  Tomorrow is Too Late. Second Edition. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Martin, Glen T. (2013). The Anatomy of a Sustainable World. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.

Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer. 2005. Empire with Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-liberal Capitalism. London: Zed Books.

Schumacher, E. F. 1973. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. New York: Harper & Row.

Valentine, Douglas. 2017. The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, Inc.

 

 

Book Review of Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing By Frank Akerman and Lisa Heinzerling

Glen T. Martin

This book specifically examines the cost-benefit analyses undertaken by  U.S. government analysts over the past several decades in the face of many environmental issues and the climate crisis itself. It is directed at the dominant forms this analysis has taken with the ascendency of neoliberal economics in Washington, D.C. This happened a decade or more after important environmental laws were enacted in the United States in the 1970s, such as the Clean Air Act (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972). Beginning in the 1980s, the U.S. government has been colonized by conservative economists who devise “cost-benefit” formulas for environmental action that routinely inflate the costs and deflate the value of the benefits of environmental laws and regulations.

In Part One below, I will summarize points made in the book showing the distorted and falsified modes of analysis employed by these conservative government bureaucrats and economists. In Part Two, I will further investigate the issue of value and “pricelessness” raised by these authors. In doing so, I will try to place the excellent points made in this book into the larger global framework of value in relation to the climate crisis and human existence in general. In Part Three, I will raise a few very fundamental critical issues regarding the central thesis of this valuable and well written book. I will argue that deep transformation under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth is the only coherent solution to the climate crisis.

Part One

The economists who integrate cost-benefit analysis into U.S. government functions have embraced the ideology of capitalism that declares markets to be the supreme arbiter of efficiency (Chapter 2).  Under capitalism, a private company will incur costs of acquiring resources or materials for production, and the costs of labor and machinery in production, in order to produce a product offering something that consumers want and for which they are willing to pay. In this way the company makes a profit beyond the costs of resources and production. If consumers do not want the product and will not buy it, then the market “efficiently” will not produce it. Market competition keeps costs to a minimum while producing products people want, which (according to this mainstream economic theory) is efficiency in action.

Advocates of this free-market doctrine, of course, find that government regulation of businesses, whether for environmental reasons, worker safety on the job reasons, fairness and decent pay reasons, or any other reasons, interferes with the efficiency of the market, distorting its beneficial workings. How much are we willing to pay for saving some human lives from cancer deaths? How much are we willing to pay for reducing toxic lead poisoning in our children? (pp. 3-5). How much for worker safety? How much are we willing to pay for preserving unspoiled wilderness areas? (pp. 5-7). The assumption, critiqued by these authors, is that the market can put a price on all these things and give us quantifiable answers. “Cost-benefit analysis sets out to do for government what the market does for business: add up the benefits of a public policy and compare them with the costs” (p. 37). The authors continue:

In principle, one could correct for the potential sources of bias in estimating the costs of regulations and other public policies. No such correction is possible in assessing the benefits of regulation, because the benefits are, literally priceless. Herein lies the fatal flaw of cost-benefit analysis: to compare costs and benefits in its rigid framework, they must be expressed in common units. Cancer deaths avoided, wilderness and whales saved, illnesses and anxieties prevented—all these and many other benefits must be reduced to dollar values to ensure that we are spending just enough on them, but not too much…. Most or all of the costs are readily determined market prices, but many important benefits cannot be meaningfully quantified or priced, and are therefore implicitly given a value of zero. (pp. 39-40)

Perhaps beginning most emphatically with the election of conservative Ronald Reagan as U.S. President in 1979, the great moral principles that undergirded the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act began to be attacked and eroded. These moral principles included the ideas that it is people’s right to breath clean air and drink clean water, and that deaths from bad air and water are wrong in themselves. Lives are priceless.

From the point of view of the neoliberal economics that triumphed worldwide with Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thacher in the U.K., these regulations interfered with the free market, as did public ownership of forests, resources, and other government services.  The neoliberal mantra was “deregulation” and “privatization,” converting everything possible to profit-making businesses, with minimum government regulatory interference. This alone, they declared, could give us the cost-benefit efficiency provided by capitalist markets.

In Chapter 3, the authors examine the role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), founded in 1970, and since colonized by advocates of cost-benefit analyses for all government functions. They give specific examples of the absurd calculations of this office, always attempting to show the high costs and low benefits of government regulation, using arcane economic concepts to quantify everything (including the monetary value of human lives), supposedly showing that most government regulations were inefficient and costly, and that the “free market” could do a much better job.

Chapter 4 considers the question of putting a monetary value on human life. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US developed a cost-benefit analysis of regulations for removing arsenic from drinking water. Arsenic, of course, is a deadly poison for human beings that often appears in drinking water drawn from various underground sources. What are the costs of arsenic removal to a certain “safe” low level (e.g., 10 parts per billion (ppb)) as opposed to the benefits of saving so many lives? A complex formula for calculating the value of a human life put the EPA estimate at 6.1 million dollars per life.  This figure then became a common value used in many other cost-benefit calculations, such as analysis of companies paying higher wages to workers in jobs that have a higher risk of injury or death (pp. 75-81).

Only if you have a calculated cost for the value of a human life, you can do a cost-benefit analysis showing whether regulation is beneficial and efficient or whether it is inefficient and needlessly costly. The authors of this book, however, assert that “human life is the ultimate example of a value that is not a commodity, and does not have a price” (p. 67).  Yet the OMB and EPA in the U.S. have calculated prices for everything, for you cannot do a cost-benefit analysis without these calculations (Chapter 5).  What is the price of health versus sickness?  What is the price of dealing with bladder-cancer versus dealing with a common cold?  They have calculations for it all.

How can government perform efficiently unless it can give a determinate value to every benefit sought, whether saving human lives, regulating safety conditions on the job, creating good traffic laws, or removing the poisons from drinking water?  The authors advocate the “precautionary principle, calling for policies to protect health from potential hazards even when definitive proof and measurement of those hazards is not yet available.” They quote from the great Rio Declaration adopted by the U.N. Conference on the Environment in Rio de Janeiro in 1992:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. (pp. 117-118)

However, the market is all about efficiency, and government regulation often interferes with market efficiency, so the precautionary principle is out the window if it cannot satisfy a cost-benefit analysis that tells us what whales are worth (versus their extinction), what health is worth (in terms of income that is not lost or lives that are not cut short), or what it is worth to exclude deadly poisons from our drinking water.  And in these calculations, as Akerman and Heinzerling make clear, there is nothing about fairness.

The calculation of the value of a human life includes income expected or lost.  In the value of human life with respect to an estimate of income lost from an early death, it turns out that the lives of high-income people are worth more than low income people (pp. 71-74).  Similarly, for older, retired people, who are no longer earning an income.  According to these calculations, their value is considerably less per life than the value of younger people (pp. 101-02).

Even the value of lives, health, and the planetary environment of the future are discounted with respect to the present in these cost-benefit calculations (Chapter 8). There is no such thing as “intergenerational equity” since the lives of future people are worth so much less than the consumer preferences of present generations. This book is full of interesting examples of the absurd conclusions and calculations made by the OMB and EPA in the U.S. for the last several decades, conclusions that defy common sense, repudiate the precautionary principle, and violate human decency, fairness, and our sense of moral values.  It sparks outrage and horror to read these stories about what these economic ideologues are doing to us all, to future generations, and to the most basic canons of human common sense and moral decency. The authors write:

The imperatives of protecting human life, health, and the natural world around us, and ensuring the equitable treatment of the rich and poor, and of present and future generations, are not sold in markets and cannot be assigned meaningful prices…. Our view is sharply at odds with the contemporary style of cost-benefit analysis in Washington. The new conventional wisdom assumes that the priceless is worthless: today’s decisions require calculations and bottom-line balances, and only numbers can be counted…. An alternative method of decision-making is badly needed. (pp. 207-08).

Akerman and Heinzerling recommend as their alternative a “holistic approach,” rather than the “atomism and reductionism” of the cost-benefit analysis that calculates the value of individual objects and then computes a totality of them all.  Under the holistic approach decisions “depend on multiple quantitative and qualitative factors,” and the qualitative factors include human “rights and principles, not costs and benefits” (p. 213). Included in this recommendation is the “precautionary approach to uncertain and potentially dangerous risks” and the promotion of “fairness—toward the poor and powerless today, and toward future generations” (p. 210).

None of this is ever included within the neoliberal, free market capitalism that has dominated the U.S. (and much of the world) over the past four decades. They write: “Health and environmental protection ultimately involve our values about other people—those living today, and those who will live in future generations.” This is “an ethical question that must be answered prior to detailed decision-making” (p. 229).

The logic of the market deals with cost-benefit efficiency, never moral values, which cannot be quantified. Equity, justice, ethical obligations to others—none of these questions can be answered by the mainstream economics imposed worldwide by Washington, DC.  Ethically we must be concerned both with people in the future and those trapped worldwide in poverty today. We must face the tradeoffs and dilemmas honestly and pragmatically, with a “sense of moral urgency”, without compromising what is priceless (p. 234).

Part Two

The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with the statement that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”  The recognition of human dignity is perhaps the supreme moral principle.  From this principle, the Declaration derives its entire list of human rights. In addition, the 1994 U.N. Draft Declaration of Principles of Human Rights and the Environment states:

All persons have the right to a secure, healthy and ecologically secure environment. This right and other human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, are universal, interdependent and indivisible. . . . All persons have the right to an environment adequate to meet equitably the needs of present generations and that does not impair the rights of future generations to meet equitably their needs. . . . (Weiss 2001, 670)

All human beings have personal, social, and environmental rights, which translate into the moral obligation of governments to protect and promote these rights. Why do persons have these rights?   Because all persons share in human dignity, an intrinsic value that cannot be translated into monetary terms.

Immanuel Kant made this insight the second form of his famous Categorical Imperative: “Always treat every person as an end in themselves, never merely as a means.” He clearly explained that this was because persons have dignity (rather than price) (1964, Orig. Pub. 1783). Persons are intrinsically valuable and our relationship with ourselves and all others cannot be quantified by any price. Persons are not a means to anything else, but “ends in themselves” (see Martin 2018, Chap. 2).

The great traditional religions of the world all recognized something sacred, divine, or transcendent about human life. That is, they all recognized human dignity. In the West (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), humans were made in the image of God. Something about the gift of freedom and moral responsibility gave us this non-quantifiable intrinsic value. In the East (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism) (generally speaking) humans were identified with the whole, with God or the Tao or Buddha nature as expressions of that whole. Freedom and moral responsibility were also part of being a creature self-aware of its inner identity with the divine.

These traditional ways of recognizing human dignity did not receive wide-spread serious challenges until the 17th century with the rise of the scientific method in Europe. This method included a new understanding of how everything in the universe was mathematically quantifiable. Empirical methods were developed to investigate these quantifiable relationships and the new knowledge that gave human beings immense power to manipulate their environment and invent ever new and more powerful ways of doing so (technology).  What I have called the “early-modern paradigm” involved assumptions based on atomism and reductionism, and assumptions about universal causality as well as the relations between mind and matter (Martin 2008; see Harris 2000).

Because it was so effective in manipulating nature, this early-modern paradigm spread worldwide and formed the basis for the on-going progress of the sciences. This same atomism and reductionism were behind the development in the 17th century of both the system of sovereign nation-states and global capitalism. Both capitalism and sovereign nation-states are based on the atomistic, incorrect early-modern paradigm. Capitalism is based on the atomism of individual and corporate self-interest, and nation-states on the atomism of an Earth divided into absolute, militarized sovereign territories. Today these worldwide institutions continue to dominate the thought and behavior of most persons on the planet (ibid). Together, they are a major source of our global environmental crisis.

But science as a progressive, self-correcting method is not tied to any dogmas or reductionist doctrines. Since Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity in 1905, the discoveries of quantum physics in the 1920s, and the continued discoveries of microphysics and astrophysics through the present day, one science after another has converted to holism. Science now understands that you cannot reduce everything to its parts (atoms), and that reductionism is an incorrect interpretation of the world.

Out of this holism the ecological sciences were born—the understanding that human beings, economics, and all human institutions are not independent of nature but a subcategory of nature. All parts, from atoms to species to human communities, have no substantive reality of their own independent of the wholes to which they belong. Holism understands that if we do not conform civilization to the planetary biosphere that supports all life, we will be making our life, along with much other life on Earth, literally extinct (see Daly 1996).

The recognition of human dignity as well as the discovery of holism serves as a counter-movement, indeed a complete reversal, from the early-modern paradigm of atomism and reductionism. Holism means we are all interdependent and interrelated with one another (worldwide), and dignity means that our most fundamental relationship to one another and to future generations is moral, and not quantifiable.  These are universal, planetary values requiring universal, planetary solutions.

A decent, healthy economics must conform to these realities, as well as to the laws and limits associated with our interdependency within the planetary biosphere. It must become holistic and recognize that economic decisions must be thoughtfully integrated into the holism of moral principles, human dignity, and equality as well as the holism of our planetary biosphere that supports all life on Earth.  Holism means that we are one species on this planet, one civilization all interdependent with one another.

If we want to survive the climate crisis, if we want a life for future generations, we must think and act holistically. We need a holistic institutional framework that both transforms the atomistic Earth system and promotes the ascent to a worldcentric consciousness. We need to join all nations together under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 A broad consensus has developed among psychologists and ethical thinkers (as well as integral wisdom scholars such as Ken Wilber) that human beings are evolving, growing, to higher levels of moral, emotional, interpersonal, and intellectual maturity, both as a species and as individuals. We grow out of the egoism of childhood to the ethnocentrism of our immediate social environment within which we grow up to the worldcentric level of seeing ourselves as human beings first and our differences with others as purely secondary. Finally, proper growth moves into cosmocentric levels in which we experience a harmony with the fundamental principles of the cosmos itself, and with the holism of the universe, sometimes also called God.

True human maturity begins at the third stage of growth. What Ken Wilber (2007) calls the “worldcentric” stage of development, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1984) calls the stage of “moral autonomy.” At this stage (which Kohlberg explicitly identifies with Kant’s ethics), one no longer takes one’s values from the surrounding ethnocentric culture but rather recognizes universal values autonomously, judged for their coherence, consistency, and universality.  My book Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence argues that mature worldcentric and morally autonomous human beings have progressively understood the concept of human rights within ever-larger frameworks since the 18th century.  This is summarized in the following chart.

THREE GENERATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Political Rights (18th century): The recognition that all humans have reasoning ability and therefore the right to political freedoms, allowing them to participate in government as well as live independent lives.
Economic and Social Rights (19th century): The recognition that all humans pursue goals in their lives, and therefore possess the rights to an economic and social well-being that makes reasonably possible the pursuit of their goals.
Planetary Rights (20th century): The recognition that neither political nor economic rights have meaning apart from a world system that includes substantial peace and a protected, viable planetary biosphere capable of supporting a healthy and productive lives.   (Martin 2018, p. 210)

Human beings have been growing for the past three centuries into a moral maturity progressively recognizing universal human rights and dignity. These so-called third generation “planetary rights” are embodied within the Earth Constitution. If we want a future on this planet, we must organize both economics and politics (in the form of global democracy) under the authority of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. We have planetary rights to both peace and a protected global environment. We can only survive on-going climate disaster by joining together under this constitution. It embodies both the holism discovered by contemporary science and the planetary maturity discovered by psychologists and spiritual thinkers.

Part 3

Akerman and Heinzeling appear to know nothing of these planetary conclusions. They are writing in terms of the internal discussions within the United States, characterized by progressives versus conservatives, human rights defenders versus free market ideologues.  Perhaps, this is why the hope for a decent human future may primarily lie with thoughtful people outside the United States.

The internal level of planetary awareness or worldcentric maturity within the US is relatively low. These authors find it necessary to argue that there are some things that are priceless and non-quantifiable.  The dominant consciousness within the U.S. does not even see these obvious truths. The U.S. government is dominated by egocentric and ethnocentric capitalists who continue to operate under the delusory early-modern paradigm of atomism and reductionism.

But even the consciousness of the authors of this book (Priceless) is not particularly worldcentric or mature in a planetary sense. In their argument with the free market ideologues, they attempt to appeal to the best example they can think of in which values and precautionary principles (not reductionistic cost-benefit analyses) have been behind U.S. government economic decisions. The example they give is U.S. military spending:

Advocates of military spending appeal to beliefs about threats to our way of life, offering broad statements for response and, in classic “command and control” mode, proposing major weapons systems on the basis of their expected technical performance. Questions of cost minimization and budget constraints enter only at a much later stage, in the details of implementation. Those who complain about excessive costs are suspected, often correctly, of harboring deeper objections to the weapons programs under discussion…. Why, then, do we imagine that there is a stingy, fixed total of resources available for defending ourselves, our children, and our surroundings against environmental and occupational harm?  No one ever imagines it when it comes to defending ourselves against military threats. (pp. 219-220)

Is the political dialogue in the United States really so naïve as to think that the vast U.S. military-industrial machine built up since World War II is really about moral values, about something noble and worth defending?  Have all the antiwar struggles of thinking people and groups against the Vietnam War, the Central America wars of the 1980s and 90s, the Yugoslavia War, the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the Syria War, and the danger of nuclear holocaust, without end, not made a dent in the thinking of these mainstream liberal advocates of environmental protection? Have they not read about the sordid history of the CIA, which is a global criminal organization? (Valentine 2017).

Have they not heard of imperialism, the drive to global domination, world system exploitation of the periphery by the center, or “national security” needs to control the Middle East supplies of the world’s oil? (e.g., Petras and Veltmeyer 2005).  The otherwise excellent points in this book, and their many detailed examples of the bizarre economic reasoning behind the free market ideologues who have colonized the U.S. government, deserve attention. But their solution, that we need to deal with the climate crisis according to the same values that make us spend so much on militarism, truly appears to derail any reasonable solution to the climate crisis. Their appeal to “holism” appears as totally inadequate.

U.S. militarism, empire, and imperialism are part of the same ideological package behind the free-market ideology that resists facing up to the truly daunting challenge of climate collapse. Capitalism requires military force to protect markets and resources. If militarism is their example of noble values that do not require a reductionistic cost-benefit analysis, then it may be that their reasons for wanting to confront the climate crisis are equally spurious. Where is the human universality and solidarity required by truly universal values embodied in the value-chart above?  How can our necessary solidarity with the rest of the world in dealing with the climate crisis be reconciled with our on-going military spying, aggression, and domination over the rest of the world? There is a contradiction here of gigantic proportions.

Where is there a worldcentric maturity that sees human civilization as one holistically interdependent phenomenon?  It is not to be found in this book. The need to confront climate crisis is linked to the equally urgent need to confront the possibility of nuclear holocaust and global militarism.  The world’s anti-war movements and the world’s environmental struggles are two sides of the same coin. We need a new world system predicated on peace, justice, and sustainability as universal human values, as universal human rights, not as so-called “American” values.

We need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth as the most promising document that can give us the economic, political, and moral foundations for a truly new and liberated human civilization. It along provides the holistic framework necessary for uniting humanity to deal with climate crisis, justice issues, and demilitarizing the world. Nothing less than this will make a future possible for subsequent generations. The Earth Constitution is truly the key to the next stage in human intellectual, spiritual, and moral maturity. Its ratification should be our central priority. Both the values, and the future, that it embodies are truly “priceless.”

Works Cited

 Akerman, Frank and Lisa Heinzerling (2004). Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing. New York: The New Press.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Found on-line in many languages and many locations such as www.earth-constitution.org and www.worldparliament-gov.org.   In paperback from, edited by Glen T. Martin at the Institute for Economic Democracy Press, 201

Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, Errol E. (2000). Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking. Newport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Kant, Immanuel. 1964. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Trans. H. J. Paton. New York: Harper & Row.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. 1984. The Psychology of Moral Development: Volume Two, The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Martin, Glen T. (2008). Ascent to Freedom: Practical & Philosophical Foundations of Democratic World Law. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: the Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer. 2005. Empire with Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-liberal Capitalism. London: Zed Books.

Valentine, Douglas. 2017. The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, Inc.

Weiss, Edith Brown (2001). “Planetary Rights,” in The Philosophy of Human Rights. Ed. Patrick Hayden. New York: Paragon House, pp. 618-636.

Wilber, Ken. 2007. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral Books.

 

 

Book Review of The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by James Gustav Speth

Glen T. Martin

 

This 2008 book investigates a vast literature on climate change and the environmental crisis. It analyses the problems, discusses what top environmental thinkers have proposed, and lays out a range of options that human beings have if we want to leave a habitable planet for future generations. As such it represents a major accomplishment and deserves careful reading by all who care about the Earth. In the first part of this review, I describe Professor Speth’s analyses and recommendations.  In the second part, I raise critical issues about the adequacy of both Speth’s analyses and his recommendations.

Speth’s title is auspicious. We are facing the environmental ruin of our planet and possible human extinction if global warming becomes runaway warming beyond our ability to mitigate and adapt. We need a bridge to a new world system, a model for genuine transformation and transcendence. It cannot be simply a set of economic and environmental adjustments, but must be total and transformative.

In their book Break Through (p. 8), Nordhaus and Shellenberger correctly state that “the problem is so great that before answering What is to be done? we must first ask, What kind of beings are we? and What can we become?  I asked these very questions in my 2018 book Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. This essay will consider whether Speth’s “bridge” has adequately addressed these questions.

Part One

Speth was Professor and Dean at the School of Environmental Studies at Yale University. He was also founder and President of the World Resources Institute and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advisor to the Carter and Clinton administrations, and the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Speth’s earlier book, Red Sky at Dawn: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (2004) was a major, deeply scientifically informed, statement of our planetary global crisis that included truly frightening facts of climate change, global desertification, deforestation, biodiversity loss, population growth, loss of freshwater resources, marine environment deterioration, acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxification (the massive poisoning of our planetary environment with tens of thousands of human-made chemicals, many of them known toxins and carcinogens).

This new book, The Bridge at the End of the World, reviews these crises in its first chapter called “Looking into the Abyss.” When Speth worked in the Jimmy Carter Presidency (1977-1981) they produced the Global 2000 Report predicting dire consequences if major changes in the way corporations did business were not immediately forthcoming. Nothing significant was done, and today, he writes, the report’s predications are coming true (p. 18). Every year the world has been getting warmer with record heat temperatures increasing from year to year. Severe and more prolonged droughts continue to occur and are becoming worse. The frequency of heavy precipitation events (storms) have increased everywhere with consequent flooding and major destruction. Coastal areas worldwide are under assault from rising oceans, including superstorms and tidal surges.

The book focuses on the failure of the global economic system (capitalism) and national political systems (government) to deal with these crises. It focuses on what is being done (not nearly enough), what can be done (the many excellent proposals made by major thinkers, economists, and scientists), and what should be done if there is to be a future for human beings on this planet.

The changes that are required worldwide are deep and fundamental. Speth writes: “We must look beyond the world of practical affairs to those who are thinking difficult and unconventional thoughts and proposing transformative change” (p. xiv). He understands the principle, introduced by some environmental economists, that we now live in a “full world” in which the gigantic planetary economy has grown beyond sustainable limits and is now digesting the biosphere itself, the planetary ecosystems that sustain human and all life on Earth (pp. 4-10). Growth capitalism originated in the “empty world” of several centuries ago, a world with seemingly unlimited resources for perpetual growth and unlimited ability to absorb the wastes produced by our ever-increasing industrial output.

He concludes that “most environmental deterioration is a result of systematic failures of the capitalism that we have today and that long-term solutions must seek transformative change in the key features of this contemporary capitalism” (p. 9). We need to transform the market to work for the environment (rather than against it). We must move beyond growth to a “post-growth society.” We must reduce and revision our affluent materialism and consumerism by finding life’s meaning in the quality of living rather than in consumption). We must profoundly change the nature of the capitalist corporation (and place it under democratic controls). We must create a “new consciousness” and a “new politics” that is strongly democratic, egalitarian, cooperative, and community oriented.

The crisis we are now in places us at the cusp of a possible “tipping point” beyond which we will no long be able to stop or significantly mitigate global warming and climate disaster: “The crystalizing scientific story reveals an imminent planetary emergency. We are at a planetary tipping point. We must move into a new energy direction within a decade to have a good chance to avoid setting in motion unstoppable climate change with irreversible effects” (p. 27).

The key factor, of course, is the reduction of the greenhouse gases that the fossil fuel burning, industrial civilization of the world is pouring into the atmosphere of the Earth annually. We must rapidly reduce the burning of fossil fuels, along with the industrial and consumer demands for this, and limit the parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere as quickly and radically as possible: “The worst impacts can still be averted, but action must be taken with swiftness and determination or a ruined planet is the likely outcome” (p. 29).

An essential feature of capitalism as the world has known it to date has been growth. The system is designed so that growth in input, output, and surplus product (profits) are necessary features of success within this system.  Speth reviews the expanding economic literature concerning the problems with this growth system.  The “growth fetish” disregards ecosystem limits, limits in our natural resource base, and limits in the ability of the environment to absorb our waste products. Hence, it ignores the “carrying capacity” of the Earth. It encourages “externalities,” that is, shifting waste products and other negatives of production costs to the environment or to society at large. Marginal economic costs begin to exceed marginal benefits and everywhere growth is becoming “uneconomic growth,” causing more loses than benefits to the planet and future generations (Chapter 5).

In Chapter 6, Professor Speth reviews the extensive work that has been done to move beyond the commonly accepted standard of economic health called “growth in GDP” (Gross Domestic Product). Economists and environmentalists have developed such alternatives to GDP as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), and the Happy Planet Index (HPI). The new conception of economic health involves how well genuine human needs are satisfied (such as education, healthcare, social security, and human rights), and how meaningful and fruitful human lives become. Growth in human welfare must become the new standard, not GDP. Sustainability requires an economy that does not grow in input and output but that is directed toward genuine human welfare (which necessarily would include the welfare of other living forms, future generations, and the environment that sustains us all).

One key to transforming the economy to a sustainable, non-growth set of institutions involves changing the legal characteristics of corporations (Chapter 8).  By law, corporate management is required to “maximize the interests of the shareholders,” which means in practice maximizing profits and growth, both often at the expense of the environment and society at large. Under the U.S. political system, the laws also allow corporations to have immense political influence through campaign contributions to politicians, lobbying on behalf of corporate interests, and other means.

Yet with the process of globalization the situation has grown even worse. Big corporations have become multinational:

The multinationals have a huge impact on the global environment, generating, for example, half the gases responsible for global warming. They also control half of the world’s oil, gas, and coal mining and refining…. It is the globalization of market failures…. When unfettered by national or international laws, ecological understanding, or social responsibility, this freedom can lead to enormously destructive acts…. They are engineering a power shift of stunning proportions, moving real economic and political power away from national, state, and local governments and communities toward unprecedented centralization of power for global corporations, bankers, and global bureaucracies. (pp. 170-172).

I will comment further on these developments below. Speth makes recommendations for government (and now he is focusing on the U.S. government).  Government needs to revoke corporate charters, exclude or expel unwanted corporations, roll back limited liability (which shields managers and shareholders from the consequences of corporate actions), eliminate corporate personhood (which gives these artificial legal constructs the same human rights as living persons, yet without the responsibilities of living persons), get corporations out of politics, and reform corporate lobbying (pp. 178-79).

In this very comprehensive book, Professor Speth reviews the significant literature on all these topics, including the absolute need for “A New Consciousness” (Chapter 10) and “A New Politics” (Chapter 11). What is required is a new way of thinking for humanity, for the old way of thinking (behind capitalism and with its endless growth fetish and unmitigated self-interest orientation) is almost certainly leading us rapidly into the ruination of our planet. He writes:

Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness. For some, it is a spiritual awakening—a transformation of the human heart. For others, it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethics of the environment and the old ethic of love thy neighbor as thyself. (pp. 199-200)

Speth reviews many thinkers who have called for a new quality of respect for the Earth and for human solidarity, or who have called for a new consciousness of holism, awareness of the interdependent ecosystem of the Earth and human life. Still others have called for an “intergenerational consciousness” and a renewal of our values, religion, and spirituality. Psychologists such as Erich Fromm have called for “a radical change in the human heart” as a condition for “the sheer survival of the human race” (pp. 200-202).  “Today’s dominant worldview,” he writes, “is simply too biased toward anthropocentrism, materialism, egocentrism, contempocentrism, reductionism, rationalism, and nationalism to sustain the changes needed” (p. 204).

Similarly, the new politics must be radically different from what has hitherto dominated governments. It must be participatory, localized, and based on human solidarity rather than competition and narrow self-interests. Hence, both the local and the global level must be transformed and energized for environmental sustainability. Speth quotes with approval some thinkers who argue that global environmental protection “must be centered elsewhere than in the state system, international conferences, agencies, bureaucracies, and centers of corporate capital” (p. 220). He also quotes political philosopher David Held who holds that we need to become “cosmopolitan citizens” who begin building levels of effective governance beyond the nation-state (p. 223).

Speth’s final chapter is called “The Bridge at the End of the World.”  We face the abyss—the ruination of our planet for most life and for future generations.  But there is a bridge over this abyss. That bridge includes adopting very quickly and with great urgency all the prescriptions described in this book, from voluntary corporate transformations toward sustainability, to government incentives and regulations on all economic activities, to new legal definitions of corporations and their responsibilities, to a new economy beyond capitalism that is non-growth and dedicated to human welfare, to a new consciousness of reverence for nature and intergenerational human dignity, to a new, localized participatory democracy in solidarity with global institutions for coordinating the planetary effort.

Part Two

However, this bridge at the end of the world leads nowhere. Speth’s thinking fails to be truly transformative and liberating. His bridge does not lead humanity over the abyss of planetary ruin. For all the vast literature that Speth reviews in this book, he omits a significant important literature critical of the system of sovereign nation-states itself. This system, more than three and a half centuries old and utterly outdated and outmoded, does not appear in any significant way in Speth’s analyses.

It looms in the background, unspoken, all the more destructive for being unacknowledged. How is it possible to ignore this immense historic record of militarism, inter-state competition, domination, and exploitation, rabid nationalism, imperialism, genocides, repeated treaty violations, national-security ideologies, and, in the case of some nations like mid-twentieth century Germany or the United States, a mythology of exceptionalism, superiority, exclusivism, and collective self-adoration? How is it possible to ignore that these “imagined communities” (Anderson 2006) cannot achieve the unity and solidarity necessary for transforming the entire world system to sustainability?

Like so many “main-stream” environmentalists, Speth simply does not wish to go there. If he went into this critical dimension, he could not have been an advisor to the Carter or Clinton administrations. Nation-state “sovereignty,” exceptionalism, and imperialism are built into the unspoken framework of everything that goes on in Washington, DC.  At one place in the book he briefly mentions Immanuel Wallerstein as a founder of “world systems theory.” However, he does not follow through on Wallerstein’s analysis of the world system as dominated by the global economic and military hegemony of the U.S., a hegemony in which cheap labor and resources from “peripheral” nations remain fundamental to U.S. wealth and power.

Nor does Speth mention the work of such thinkers as Chalmers Johnson (Sorrows of Empire), Michael Parenti (The Face of Imperialism), Greg Grandin (Empire’s Workshop), F. William Engdahl (Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order), William F. Blum (Rogue State. A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower.), Petras and Veltmeyer (Empire with Imperialism), Noam Chomsky (Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance.), Pepe Escobar (Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War), Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine and the Rise of Disaster Capitalism), Ellen Hodgson Brown (Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System), Douglas Valentine (The CIA as Organized Crime), Christopher Chase-Dunn (Global Formation: Structures of the World Economy), Errol E. Harris (Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late), or my own Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation.

Professor Speth ignores this immense river of scholarship about our world system (some of which post-dates his book but all of which draws on a major conceptual analysis of the world system going back well before Immanuel Wallerstein and World Systems Theory). To absorb this literature and act in terms of its meaning would likely make Speth unfit not only for employment by the US government but also for a Deanship at Yale University. (And perhaps also to be head of the United Nations Development Program: at the UN you have to pretend there is no imperialism and global hegemony by the United States.) The deep transformation of the world system (if we want a sustainable future) requires not only everything that Speth reviews in this informative book. It also requires that we transcend the horrific, ungovernable, and omnicidal system of militarized sovereign nation-states.

I quoted him above regarding multinational corporations that have transcended nation-state governance and at the same time wield immense political power within both rich and poor nations. How are we going to govern these behemoths?  Speth has no credible answer.  The world military expenditure grew to 1.8 trillion dollars in 2018, nearly half of that from the USA alone.  It continues to grow every year as nations not only war, spy upon, and manipulate one another, but also as the world’s resources become ever more scarce and people in many countries ever more desperate and without resources to live.

Speth tells us that global capitalism must transform itself into a non-growth, human welfare economic system. However, he never mentions that capitalism has always required militarism to extend and protect its markets and access to cheap labor and resources. He never mentions that all this wasted 1.8 trillion dollars per year could easily transform the world system to sustainability. However, no military establishment in the world intends to shrink to a minimalist form, and none of them intend to convert from fossil fuels (since military naval, land, and air power all depend directly on these fuels) (Sanders and Davis 2009). Who is going to transform the transnational corporations, many of whom feed this global military monster?

Who is going to create global disarmament, global environmental laws, equitable global sustainable economic relationships and institutions?   Who is going to pursue the capitalist enterprises that avoid environmental laws in developed countries in order to maximize profit in poor countries?  Who is going to educate the global public about sustainable and equitable ways of living, trading, and interacting? Who is going to educate the global public to become world citizens rather than nationalistic fanatics? Who is going to foster on a planetary scale the new consciousness and the new politics?

Speth quotes from the Earth Charter at some length as embodying the values that we need to embrace globally. The Charter states that “we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny” (p. 208). But the Earth Charter gives us a mere set of beautiful ideals, not an effective document for making the transformation happen. If we truly embrace a “new consciousness” recognizing this truth, what are we doing in a world of some 193 militarized nation-states with absolute territorial borders recognizing no effective laws about themselves?

How is this sovereign nation-state system a “common destiny”? We need an effective global legal instrument for making the transformation to sustainability happen efficiently, equitably, and compassionately. As we saw Nordhaus and Shellenberger declare, we need a positive vision of who we are and what we can become. The answer to all these questions is that we need democratic world government if we are going to have a credible future on this planet.

We are capable of genuine human solidarity and mutual concern for the common good of all persons, living creatures, and future generations. As human beings, we are so much greater than mere denizens of national self-interest. We can indeed actualize our true human potential for planetary justice, peace, freedom and sustainability. This can happen only if we ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

The Preamble to the Earth Constitution makes the same declaration of the Earth Charter, but from the point of view of genuine human solidarity and the sovereignty of the people of Earth: “Conscious that humanity is One despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures and that the principle of unity in diversity is the basis for a new age when war shall be outlawed and peace prevail; when the Earth’s total resources shall be equitably used for human welfare; and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination.” The answers to all the above questions are built directly into the Earth Constitution and do not require endless debate about how to make them happen on a planetary scale. True unity in diversity requires democratic world law.

The Earth Federation Government has the authority and legitimacy to end war and disarm the nations of the world, surely a necessary condition of a sustainable future for our planet. The Earth Federation Government also has authority over all multinational corporations as well as the 193 existing nations. It embodies a new economics of sustainability and equitability. The nations will no longer be able to economically exploit and compete with one another for wealth, power, and resources. They will no longer need to be “national security states” spending billions on spying, secrecy, and propaganda manipulation.

Only this democratic authority, creating enforceable world laws, can control this plethora of “independent” nations and the gigantic multinational corporations. The requirement to achieve global sustainability on an equitable basis for all peoples (hence, without war) is built directly into the Earth Constitution. It is the transformative document par excellence.  Only through such an instrument can the world unite in time to transform economics, politics, and planetary consciousness to sustainability. The coming ecological ruin of our planet can only be mitigated through a fundamental actualization of our highest human potential, in true human solidarity.

Only a truly united world can effectively deal with the greatest threat to human existence that humanity has ever faced.  Yet Professor Speth says very little, almost nothing, about uniting the world. He focuses on the United States as if transforming a mere 5% of the world’s population and their institutions could somehow transform the world. It is a strange paradox.  Every environmental thinker believes that we must transform the world system, yet nearly every one of them thinks that this must be done one nation at a time, eventually totaling all 193 of them. Nevertheless, the “deep state” in the United States is intent, not on sustainability, but on planetary military domination. They famously see China and Russia as global impediments and rivals in this quest to rule the world (Escobar 2006, Engdahl 2009).

How is all this incorporated into Speth’s bridge at the edge of the world?  The answer is that it is not. The bridge leads nowhere because it leaves off the necessary transformation of half the present world order. It is not only capitalism that must be transformed but the system of militarized sovereign nation-states as well.  We need to unite the world under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Our highest human potential to create a truly global civilization must be actualized.

This alone makes a truly new consciousness and new politics possible. It alone empowers the grassroots of the world and local cooperative communities globally. Under the Earth Constitution, the global transformation integrates and interfaces with local empowerment, achieved equitably around a demilitarized world, now truly united to create a sustainable and free civilization in which human welfare and the welfare of nature and future generations takes precedence over nationalism, militarism, corporate greed, and egoistic self-interest.

Here is the true bridge at the end of the world.  It is called the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. It holistically, equitably, and non-violently transforms the world system to one directed toward peace, justice, freedom, and sustainability. All these values go together. None can be achieved piecemeal without the others. We need to ratify the Earth Constitution. It is truly our bridge to a new world system and a new planetary consciousness.

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso.

Blum, William (2000). Rogue State. A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.

Brown, Ellen Hodgson (2007). Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Third Millennium Press.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World Economy. Updated Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Chomsky, Noam (2003). Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  On line at: www.earth-constitution.org and www.worldparliament-gov.org   In paperback form at Institute for Economic Democracy Press: www.iedpress.com

Engdahl, F. William (2009). Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Weisbaden: edition.engdhal.

Escobar, Pepe (2006). Globalistan: How the Globalized World Is Dissolving into Liquid War. Ann Arbor, MI: Nimble Books.

Grandin, Greg (2007). Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Harris, Errol E. (2005). Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Democracy Press.

Johnson, Chalmers (2004). The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Klein, Naomi (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Martin, Glen T. (2005). Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. 2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Nordhaus, Ted and Michael Shellenberger (2007). New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Parenti, Michael (2011). The Face of Imperialism. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Petras, James and Veltmeyer, Henry, et. al. ((2005). Empire with Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-liberal Capitalism. London: Zed Books.

Sanders, Barry and Mike Davis (2009). The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Speth, James Gustave (2004). Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Valentine, Douglas. 2017. The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, Inc.

 

The Evolution of Human Consciousness and the Earth Constitution: A Necessary Integration of Ends and Means

Glen T. Martin

June 2019

 

What is the role of the Earth Constitution in the evolution of human consciousness?  This is a question that comes up repeatedly in discussions of the meaning and significance of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. In addressing questions as to why we should be active supporters of the Earth Constitution, I find myself continually coming back to its role in the evolution of our consciousness. It serves not only as the end or goal that we strive for (planetary peace, justice, and sustainability) but also as the necessary means to make this happen. In this paper, I hope to explain more fully what we mean when we connect this Constitution, as both ends and means, with the process of moral and spiritual growth.

Current Literature on the Evolution of Consciousness

In the past 50 years, many psychologists, philosophers, and spiritual thinkers have addressed the question of the evolution of consciousness.  There is a broad consensus that our general human orientation grows and can grow through several stages that apply universally to human beings. (Hence, they are not culture dependent.)  If we integrate the thought of Lawrence Kohlberg (1984), Carol Gilligan (1982), James Fowler (1981), Eric Fromm (1996), Jürgen Habermas (1979), Ken Wilber (2007), and Abraham Maslow (2014), we can come up with a picture of human growth that looks something like the following.

We begin life with an egoistic orientation that is centered on our perceived self and its needs. In many people this orientation may become more refined and sophisticated as we grow older but remains the basic characteristic of our world view and behavioral model. Many people modify this egoistic orientation when they become socialized by their cultural group and the larger society.  The shift takes place from primarily egoistic focus to group focus and acceptance of own’s culture has knowing the “right way of doing things,” making the cultures of others appear to be ignorant and misguided. Our orientation becomes ethnocentric. This also often functions as a new mode of egoism: collective egoism.

Proper human growth moves beyond ethnocentrism into a worldcentric orientation (see Wilber 2007).  We now see that “truth” transcends the ways it is appropriated in any particular culture and world view. This is true in values as in religion and spirituality (Fowler 1981, Agnivesh 2015). We see that all cultures share or participate in the truth to a certain extent and that there is no culture that is self-evidently superior to the rest, as ethnocentrists often believe of their own culture, or of the world system as deriving from their cultural traditions (e.g., “Western” or “Eastern” culture). The worldcentric perspective now sees human civilization and all human beings as one great evolutionary movement that supersedes and dwarfs any of its component parts.

The emergence of a worldcentric orientation opens a person or group to a larger, more dynamic, multidimensional set of options and orientations. Truth takes on depths and heights largely unknown at the earlier levels. Kohlberg (1984) stresses autonomy.  At this level, one’s ideas are not simply believed because the group believes them but are subjected to critical self-examination in the light of coherence, consistency, and rational, intersubjective grounding. He identifies two sublevels within the range of autonomy, showing that the process of growth continues within each main level. We can continue to grow in rationality, autonomy, and worldcentric maturity throughout our adult lives. In his 1784 essay “What is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant was clearly speaking of this level of maturity by defining “enlightenment” as the condition of finding out for oneself and not passively taking one’s beliefs from another (Kant 1957).

GENERIC STAGES OF GROWTH TOWARD MATURITY
Egocentric (egoistic)—the obsessive self-regarding orientation of childhood, immature adults, and collective group identifications.

 

Ethnocentric—thinking that (often unconsciously) gives ontological priority to one’s own culture, religion, or nation, or that takes the ontological status of sovereign nation-states as an authentic reality.

 

Worldcentric—developing intellectual autonomy along with compassion, care, and universal rational principles applying to all humanity (and often to all life on Earth). Living from the unity and diversity at the foundation of both the cosmos and human existence.

 

Cosmocentric-Integral—harmonizing masculine and feminine elements within the whole of one’s being, integrating a dynamic cosmic consciousness of unity in diversity within our historical and personal lives, living with ever-greater direct awareness of the holistic, ineffable depths of existence.

 

 

 

The worldcentric level also helps open a person to cosmic awareness, that is to cosmocentric and integral levels of growth. This often begins with the astonishment that anything at all exists, with astonishment that the world exists (as Wittgenstein put this in his 1929 “Lecture on Ethics”). Similarly, in his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant (1956) speaks of being filled with wonder and awe at “the starry skies above and the moral law within.” This awakening can deepen with the kind of questioning indicated in the mid-twentieth century work of Martin Heidegger who posited (following Leibniz) the most fundamental philosophical question as “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  Meditation and mindfulness deepen this awareness, and people begin to come upon the Cosmic Consciousness described by mystics of every persuasion and tradition, a consciousness that itself contains levels of ascent into higher stages of awareness (cf. Wilber 2007).

In this extensive literature on the evolution of consciousness, distinctions are often made among a variety of ways in which human beings can grow through these or other, similarly identified stages.  Ken Wilber refers to the diagram of these patterns of growth as a “Psychograph” (2007, p. 25). One can grow with respect to any of these dimensions: cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, psychosexual, moral, and spiritual. Generally (but not necessarily) growth follows a consistent pattern through each area: a cosmocentric consciousness will embrace corresponding moral, emotional, cognitive, etc., levels of growth.

The same kind of development characterizes human civilization across subjective, cultural, scientific, and organizational dimensions.  Wilber charts this development in a graph that he calls AQUAL (All quadrants, all levels). In my recent book Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence (2018), I adapted Wilber’s chart in order to express my own concerns about the impediments to human evolutionary development presented by the capitalist economic system and the global sovereign state political system.

In the chart below you can see a reflection of the broad literature on the evolution of human consciousness and corresponding developments for culture, governmental systems, and scientific processes. I characterize the evolving human self (in the upper left quadrant) as having moved from a primitive stage of “magic” through an egocentric self, a mythic self, an achiever self, toward a “maturing human self” and finally a “holistic self.”  Similar developmental patterns are shown in the lower left quadrant depicting human culture, the upper right depicting the development of science, and the lower right depicting economic and governmental systems.

In the lower right, the organizational stages can be identified as moving from ethnic tribes, to God-king dynasties, to feudal empires, to sovereign territorial states, to “maturing of human institutions,” to “Earth Federation under the Earth Constitution.”  However, as the chart shows, at our current level of sovereign territorial states dominated by global capitalism, these institutions serve as active impediments to further growth in all four quadrants.  These institutions block human subjective maturity by exacerbating hate, fear, and insecurity. They block civilizational cultural maturity in the same way (for example, with their war and “terrorism” propaganda). They colonize science into war research and production, and clearly, they prevent the maturing of human institutions beyond the egoism of capitalism and the ethnocentrism of sovereign nation-states.

chart

Human beings are currently living through a very difficult period of impasse, of blockage, akin to the blockage of a storm-system spoken of by climate scientists (see Romm 2018, p. 44).  A storm can get “stuck” and significantly worsen the damage that it does. Today, instead of moving forward in our civilizational and spiritual development, we are blocked by a capitalism and militarized nation-state system that threaten our very existence on this planet.

Thinkers about the dynamics of human history from Hegel to Marx to Marcuse, have pointed out the relationship between human consciousness and the institutional structures within which we live. The structures foster a certain consciousness in people. In the case of capitalism and the system of sovereign nation-states, there is a great tendency to produce egocentric (greedy, selfish) and ethnocentric (nationalistic, fixated on borders and exclusion) forms of personality. Psychologist and social thinker Eric Fromm describes this dialectical relationship as follows:

The physical survival of the human race depends on a radical change in the human heart…. And a change in the human heart is possible only to the extent that drastic economic and social changes occur that give the human heart the chance for change and the courage and vision to achieve it (1996, p. 9-10)

The evolution of human consciousness is directly linked to the institutions within which we live. Hence, the promotion of cognitive, moral, and spiritual maturity is directly related to our promotion of fundamental institutional changes. If the current system is blocking our growth, then the quest to change that system is also the quest to further evolve human consciousness. If we ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth, people sometimes ask, “will it then be taken over by the same ignorant tyrants who now dominate the Earth?” Not likely, because to change the system also changes people.  Fromm writes: “It follows that man will obtain the full capacity for objectivity and reason only when a society of man is established above all particular divisions of the human race, when loyalty to the human race and it its ideals is considered the prime loyalty that exists” (1950, p. 58).

When people live within a framework that recognizes them all as world citizens first, prior to their race, religion, or nationality, and demands of them global civic responsibilities, then their worldcentric consciousness will rapidly emerge, along with a hitherto unrealized capacity for objectivity and reason. Working for ratification of the Earth Constitution, therefore, is both a means and an end. The very fact of working for it and talking about it raises people’s consciousness, and its ratification would be nothing short of transformative.

Another classic expression of the process of spiritual growth comes from the pioneering work of Clare Graves that was developed and articulated in a systematic and compelling manner by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (2006). The process of growth is not linear but can be likened to a spiral movement along which we can identify certain landmarks or “MEMES” in the ascent. Beck and Cowan designate certain colors to represent the MEMEs, the most primitive being Beige, then Purple designating early tribal groups, Red for the level of empires and power-based relationships, Blue for purpose-based systems and personalities (perhaps characterizing medieval social and personal characteristics).

At the Orange level, the spiral moves into a more contemporary form, representing an achievement orientation that emphasizes autonomy and strategic planning. Beyond this people can move into the Green MEME characterized by pluralism, egalitarianism, willingness to innovate and experiment, and tolerance for broad diversity. The qualities represented by these color codes are not mutually exclusive and earlier tendencies can emerge and recede as we move up the spiral.

The highest levels in Beck and Cowan’s system of spiral dynamics are Yellow and Turquoise. At these levels, we move beyond “First Tier” thinking that cannot transcend the old paradigm and remains mired to a great extent in the apparent determinism of history and society. Second Tier thinking makes real transformation possible, since it sees the dynamics of the whole process and the integral nature of breakthroughs, paradigm-shifts, and awakenings in human development. Second Tier thinking arises at the Yellow and Turquoise levels. Here “quantum change” becomes possible and people can become “spiritual wizards” because they rise above the apparent causal conditioning and entrapped thinking associated with the First Tier paradigm.

These levels broadly correspond to the worldcentric and emerging cosmocentric levels defined by Ken Wilber and others, summarized above. The Yellow MEME activates insight into broad patterns of social, cultural, spiritual and organizational phenomena and enhances the process of integration from a worldcentric point of view. The Purple MEME emphasizes a spiritual awakening into an integral harmony in which the One and the many merge in dynamic unity in diversity. Things are seen differently. The oneness behind diversity emerges clearly into awareness and the old paradigm, mired in an apparently irredeemable fragmentation, is understood to be an illusion. (See Chap. 5 of my 2005 book Millennium Dawn for a study of this “integrative mysticism.”)

World Federalism exhibiting various levels of Worldcentric Awareness

 

World federalism can, of course, mean different things to different people. There is a tendency, especially in North America, to associate “federalism” with states’ rights, that is, with the degree of autonomy the subordinate units have vis-à-vis the central government. Nevertheless, as a worldwide movement, world federalism exhibits a broad conceptual coherence centering on the idea of the need for a world government, especially a democratic world government, to bring law, order, justice, and freedom to our beleaguered planet.  Nations are not abolished but become states within the world federal system.

World federalism clearly manifests aspects of a worldcentric consciousness, emphasizing, as it does, the need for humanity to unite under one world government and the rule of law. However, it is important to reflect on why the world federalist movement has not triumphed in human affairs. Why has humanity not moved into a worldcentric level of maturity in which the need for democratic world law appears self-evident? Perhaps the movement behind world federalism itself has not been representative of a fully developed worldcentric consciousness, and perhaps, as indicated above, the present world system blocks further growth.

Many of its proponents appear to have remained at the level of the Green MEME which emphasizes pluralism and tolerance in ways that undermine revolutionary ascent to a clear unity in diversity of humankind. Pluralists often have trouble discerning certain perspectives as clearly truer and better than others. They often think that they are being “democratic” when we give equal time to nonsense, regressive ideas, and lower level expressions of immaturity. They give equal air-time to the neo-Nazi demagogue and the advocate of world peace as if this were the democratic and morally right thing to do.

They work toward a world federal government through these kinds of “democratic” processes, not realizing that this pluralistic and relativistic conception of democracy hinders and defeats human ascent to our true destiny in higher levels of awakening and maturity. However, the world federalist idea of one world under the rule of enforceable democratically legislated law is not just “one more perspective” within an egalitarian pluralistic field of ideas. Nor is it just one option among a range of options to be given fair expression and “equal opportunity.” The Neo-Nazi is wrong; the Chicago school of globalized neo-liberal economics is wrong (see Klein 2008); the UN treaty system of militarized sovereign nation states loosely affiliated under the UN Charter is wrong. Real world federalism has a backbone and stands for what is right. It stands for a human maturity higher than that comprehended by many within the pluralistic Green MEME.

One of the first explicit conceptualizers of this idea as non-negotiable and morally right was Immanuel Kant. In the late 18th century, he understood that the global political system of sovereign nation-states was inherently a war-system and, as such, was immoral. This system is immoral, for Kant, because the fundamental imperative of morality (the “Categorical Imperative”) demands that human beings relate to one another as free, equal, and responsible citizens under universal laws, never as lawless combatants attempting to determine what is right through the force of arms. Might does not make right, however much the pluralist might want to give this concept equal time.

If we are to achieve real world peace, Kant argued in his 1795 essay on “Perpetual Peace” (1957), we need to make every state democratic and simultaneously unite all the states in a federation under “a republican constitution similar to a national constitution.”  This theoretical framework remains foundational for world federalism. Insofar as human beings are morally required to live under universal laws protecting the freedom, equality and liberty of each person, we are also morally required to establish world government for our planet. Kant’s demand was unequivocal, but far ahead of its time. As a broad political movement, world federalism did not begin until World War I when some leaders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom realized that this horrific global war was not a matter of “good versus evil nations,” but rather was a consequence of the system itself of militarized sovereign nation-states.

The movement continued to grow and flourish between the wars and became very widespread after World War II. It produced a powerful literature ranging from Emery Reves’ The Anatomy of Peace (1946) to Albert Camus’ Neither Victims Nor Executioners (1986), both first published in 1946. From some of the directions the movement took in the late 1940s and early 50s, we can begin to discern various levels of consciousness within the movement. There were many world federalist groups at that time, large and small, but there developed four main emphases of the movement that reflected differing levels of awareness and understanding. These modes of awareness form part of the dynamics of human spiritual evolution.

The first direction included many world federalists who immediately began trying to reform the UN as soon as it was founded in 1945. They wanted the UN, of course, to be more democratic, to be more like a government (with some authority), and to have some mechanisms for enforcing peace and disarming the nations. They also wanted to eliminate the veto power of the five permanent members (see Martin 2010).

However, they lacked the level of a developed worldcentric perspective that understands the failed nature of capitalism and the self-contradictory nature of the system of sovereign nation-states.  That is, a “sovereign” nation takes its stand on its government being the ultimate legal authority within its territory while at the same time denying that it should itself submit to any authority of the rule of law. In its foreign policy, every nation is a defacto anarchist, refusing to admit the legitimacy of any law above itself. Its very claim to legal sovereignty and authority undercuts the possibility of world law. The attempt to reform the UN often accepts this UN system of militarized, sovereign territorial nation-states as legitimate (or somewhat legitimate) while attempting to improve it and make it “more democratic.” This appears as the Green MEME in operation.

Similarly, capitalism (integral to the UN system from very early on) had already been exposed by Karl Marx as based on a number of fundamental structural contradictions. These structural contradictions meant that the system is immoral and needs to be replaced by a morally grounded economics. However, the Green MEME is never revolutionary. It wants to compromise and make incremental improvements, never true structural transformation. What is necessary, of course, is not simply abolishing the UN, but rather replacing its flawed Charter. The UN, as a collection of worthwhile agencies (such as the World Health Organization, WHO), could and should be preserved. But the self-contradictory UN Charter must be replaced by a real constitution for governing the Earth. This group of world federalists did not fully understand these fundamental principles.

They repeatedly tried to make small changes to the UN, for example, toward giving the International Court of Justice (ICJ) more binding authority. This group, and their successors, have worked in vain from then until now without achieving any significant reform of the UN. They have contributed little success to the movement toward real world government, except, perhaps, by illustrating the principle that the UN cannot be reformed. The consciousness of this group of world federalists has not yet fully transcended the ethnocentric perspective, even when their thought has grown beyond dogmatism to an international pluralism. Their perspective believes there is some substantial reality or value in the system of sovereign nations. They believe we need to dialogue with the nations to make incremental improvements, such as fewer wars, or fewer deaths from starvation, or fewer violations of human rights. The need for the oneness of true integration, that is, fundamental system change, eludes them.

A second contingent of world federalists at the close of the Second World War at first seemed to exhibit a somewhat wider and deeper awareness arising from a worldcentric perspective.  They decided to promote the regional integration of Europe, thereby perhaps laying the groundwork for regional integrations elsewhere and some possible integration of all regions in the future in the form of a world government. As we know, they were partly successful, creating a European Union with some significant authority but, sadly, retaining the military of each member state of the Union (and hence its sovereignty), and retaining a capitalist-based banking and monetary arrangement that continues the financial debt-system under which each of the sovereign nations is enslaved to gigantic, privately funded banking cartels (see Brown 2007).

The recent fates of Greece and Ireland illustrate the latter point and show the overwhelming weakness of this “union.” Not only do the world federalists promoting European union often fail to recognize the absolute imperative for the unity in diversity of humanity as a whole, their unity-project has now become a new ethnocentrism in which Europe functions as a military, economic, and power block among other international players within a fragmented human situation. The worldcentrism of this group remains precarious and tentative, and, to a certain extent, as ethnocentric as the previous group.

A third direction that world federalists took after World War II was to look forward to creating a widespread collection of world citizens to be elected as delegates for an eventual constituent assembly that would then draft a constitution for the Earth through a slow, pragmatic, and politically practical, developmental process.  Some in this group did not share the same naivete concerning the UN as the first group above apparently did.  Also, some in this group did not share the inflated expectations for the effect a European Union would have on the world-historical movement towards One Earth under a single constitution.

Nevertheless, the central assumptions of this third group place them in the lower ranges of those exhibiting a worldcentric perspective. These groups and individuals, perhaps best described as “social evolutionaries,” fail to ascend to a worldcentrism free of the old, ethnocentric, structurally fragmented system. They cannot manage to liberate their comprehension fully from the atomized world system of sovereign nation-states and globalized economics. As Errol E. Harris (2000) puts it, they fail to move from the fragmented early-modern paradigm (under which today’s world system was born) to the holistic contemporary paradigm. They labor under the illusion that this system can be reformed, and, like the first two groups, lack the higher worldcentric orientation awakened to the fact that this system itself is mired in egocentric, ethnocentric, and pluralistic assumptions that cannot be evolved or reformed but must be transcended.

The World Federalist Party today, for example, still attempts to reform and evolve the failed world system in the name of an improved future that eliminates some of the worst features of today’s territorial, war, and exploitation system. A recent section of their manifesto reads as follows:

 

THE WORLD FEDERALIST PARTY MANIFESTO

         The World Federalist Party seeks to work with existing parties in the UK (Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Green etc.) and with Green and Federalist parties globally, but also calls for a World Constitutional Conference to be sponsored by as many of the world’s people, parliaments and governments as possible, and aimed at producing an instrument for federal democratic world governance that builds on the supranational democracy of international unions such as the EU, and that is fit to replace the UN with a federal democratic global body capable of making and enforcing laws to control MNCs, arms production and the use of arms by nation-states, and to protect humanity from global pollution, climate change and extremes of inequality, and from nationalist and religious fanatics, while facilitating the devolution and localisation of all other aspects of government.  (see www.federalunion.org.uk and www.wfm.org/)

This paragraph is typical of many world federalist organizations. The movement apparently thinks that a coalition of parties within the current world system can someday call a constituent assembly, at which time they will struggle to write a world constitution acceptable to the powers that be, that undoubtedly will be compromising with opposing views in an international democratic process directed toward controlling weapons, multinational corporations, pollution, religious fanatics, etc. Their vague ideals have no concrete expression stating that THIS is what the world needs, but rather express a hope that some cooperative process might work to improve the world in the direction of these abstract ideals. It should be clear that this document is an expression of a truly weak and hopelessly compromised set of First Tier, Green MEME, ideals that have not encountered the fundamental paradigm-shift that lifts persons and groups to Second Tier integral, creative, and transformative action. Nor does it evidence awareness of the dialectical character of human social history.

Moving through the levels of human development involves reorienting assumptions at each level, transcending and leaving behind previous, more immature levels. In the process of growth (as in the process of scientific paradigm-shifts as described by Thomas Kuhn, 1962), many incremental little steps and discontinuities can culminate in a reorientation of the whole and awakening to a new way of thinking and being. At a certain point in the process of moving through developmental stages, one becomes aware of the entire process and becomes free to use the process in the service of further growth. We move from social evolutionaries to become creative non-violent revolutionaries, which is what, for example, was achieved by Mahatma Gandhi. That is why he was called “great soul” (Mahatma). He lived from the unity in diversity at the heart of the cosmos, not from some practical and pragmatic patterns of compromise and perpetually delayed action.

The World Federalist Party, as represented by this quote, has not yet grasped the dialectical relation between institutions and human consciousness. They believe they can evolve a fragmented world system toward unity, when in fact that very fragmentation (sovereign nation-states within global capitalism) fights against its own transformation. Fromm asks “how can man become so profoundly transformed that the values he has hitherto only recognized ideologically, become compelling motives for his personality and his action?” (1996, p. 95). The answer requires simultaneous institutional and personal transformative action. Passion and action for ratifying the Earth Constitution in the here and now embodies authentic transformative action. Patiently trying to organize some future “constitutive assembly” does not.

Beck and Cowen identify this transformative freedom with breakthrough to the “Second Tier” in the process of awakening and growth (moving beyond Green to Yellow and then Turquoise stages). This World Federalist Party Manifesto reveals this same pluralist, First Tier, evolutionary thinking. They cannot take their stand on the true unity in diversity of the human situation here and now, but forever want to postpone, to gradually realize some ideal rather than demanding what needs to be affirmed here and now. Their ideologically held values have not yet become
“compelling motives for personality and action.” They do not live from the One: Unity-in-Diversity prior to mere ideals. None of the three groupings described above exhibit Second Tier characteristics. They refuse to seize “the tide” of growth and awakening in human affairs, but rather, as in the words of Shakespeare, remain “bound in shallows and in miseries” associated with a dominant world system that cannot be reformed but must be transcended.

Those who have broken through to a more fully developed world consciousness and have likely begun the ascent into a cosmic consciousness are often no longer content with a slow, contingent, hesitant process of social evolution leading eventually to One World (we hope). They understand revolutionary changes in consciousness; they understand fundamental paradigm-shifts; they understand the process of “deconstruction and breakthrough” that I described in my 1991 essay on this topic. They also understand that human beings are facing extinction through run-away climate change or nuclear war or both. Yet the World Federalist Party cannot bring itself to true, non-violent revolutionary action. They affirm (as far away) what needs to be affirmed and actualized NOW. How much more developmentally advanced is the viewpoint expressed by Professor Errol E. Harris in his groundbreaking book Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late (2014). The title itself expresses his truly worldcentric level of awareness.

This demand, arising from a moral and spiritual awakening to the ONE of unity in diversity at the heart of existence and our human situation, is also found in the writings of Swami Agnivesh who serves as a Distinguished Advisor to the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA):

Spirituality is the sphere of ever-expanding responsibility. That is why it is also the medium of mankind’s on-going evolution. Spirituality is a vision that insists that one’s welfare is coterminous with the welfare of society. This is because spirituality presupposes a holistic vision in which all the parts dwell organically within the whole and the whole dwells in the parts…. We must integrate correct words with creative deeds and so unleash the spiritual power that would liberate the people and transform societies (2015, 13-14, 25).

Consciousness of the ONE that emerges as we incorporate our worldcentric understanding into a cosmocentric depth-awareness requires that we take revolutionary action through “correct words and creative deeds” demanding transformation, and opening people to the higher spiritual realizations that are the true source of human liberation. This NOW needs to impact those caught within a Green MEME (do nothing) pluralism as well as those imbedded in the Orange MEME personal achievement and autonomy orientation, awakening them to the possibility of liberating growth and action. The future belongs to the visionaries and transformers, not to those trapped in First Tier determinism with its dogma of slow, evolutionary development.

Not coincidentally, the same kind of demand for immediate realization and transformation permeates the words and actions of Jesus Christ as depicted by the four Gospels of Christianity. Jesus denies the legitimacy of postponement, the “practical” evasion of what is right and what is demanded here and now. He has no truck with the pragmatic authorities, nor with the violent rebels against that order. Jesus teaches a revolutionary transformation of that order through our decision to ascend to a fulfilled and transformed consciousness—to agape, revolutionary love. Jesus teaches an integral holism in which God’s agape and our human agape are one and the same, demanding actualization in the living present moment. This is the same kind of imperative implicit within the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (see Martin 2018, Chap. 5).

Creation of the Earth Constitution as an expression of Second Tier Consciousness

The above three groups all persist into our 21st century, for newer generations of younger people themselves absorb these truncated forms of worldcentric consciousness, stuck largely in the Green MEME with its limited awareness of the reality of integrative holism. On the other hand, the fourth main group coming out of the world federalist movement after the Second World War, at least for some of its leaders, had a much more cohesive, powerful, and integrated worldcentric consciousness. They understood that the world required a democratic Constitution for the Federation of Earth, and that it was needed NOW, not in some vague, evolved, contingent future.

Among these visionaries (five of whom the present writer knew personally) were Philip Isely of the USA, Dr. Terence P. Amerasinghe of Sri Lanka, Dr. Reinhart Ruge of Mexico, Swami Yogi Shanti of India, Dr. Suchart Kosolkitiwong of Thailand (later known as monk Ariyawanso Bhikku), and A.B. Patel (General Secretary and Treasurer of World Union International Center, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India).  World Union, of course, came out of the work of Sri Aurobindo, another awakened human being living and acting from the ONE truth at the heart of our human situation.

Sri Aurobindo understood that the “the universe and the individual are necessary to each other in their ascent.” The divine, therefore, “creates in itself a self-conscious concentration of the All through which it can aspire” (1973, p.49). Aurobindo acted to make all humanity aware of this demand through the creation of World Union, an organization dedicated to creating world government. A.B. Patel was also the first Co-president of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA). He understood the Earth Constitution as fulfilling that role, as an institution through which human beings can aspire to the All.

Under the leadership of these six (and others such as Dr. Rashmi Mayur, 1996), world citizens from around the planet were organized into a movement to write the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. They met in several preliminary conferences and in four primary constituent assemblies in Interlaken, Switzerland in 1968, Innsbruck, Austria in 1977, Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1979, and Troia, Portugal in 1991.  At Troia, Portugal, they declared the Earth Constitution finished and ready for ratification under the democratic procedures specified in its Article 17.  The people of Earth had an imperative, a living culminating document, a template for moving fully to the worldcentric mode of existence, and a dynamic means for liberating their potential for further moral and spiritual growth toward cosmic awareness.

Although other constitutions have been written for the Earth, none have been created through this dynamic process of multiple constituent assemblies, and few rival the integral worldcentric consciousness evidenced in every feature of the Earth Federation government established by the Constitution. Clearly the movement of humanity to spiritual, intellectual, and moral awakening will not happen through a single document, and no particular document is essential to this process. Nevertheless, affirmation of this transformative and awakened master document should clearly be a priority for people at the Second Tier of spiritual development who understand the imperative for paradigm-shift, breakthrough, and transformative awakening.

The Earth Constitution establishes the means for further human development by eliminating the terrible political and economic impediments to human development as depicted in the above chart. Its Preamble expresses precisely the disjunction between the old paradigm (that has brought human beings to “the brink of extinction”) and the new holistic paradigm of unity in diversity, demanding that we act NOW to actualize this paradigm. The above described groups of world federalists, still wallowing in the Green MEME of undiscriminating pluralism and historically contingent social evolutionism, may read this Preamble and declare: “Well, it’s just another perspective. Let us give it equal time with the Neo-Nazis and the Conservative Party.”

But those with a more fully actualized worldcentric consciousness may well declare that just this must be affirmed, demanded, and ratified, here and now.  That is the significance of the Earth Constitution. Here is a transformative model for setting human affairs right and the means for bringing much of humanity into a worldcentric awareness. It represents the awakened heart and soul of world federalism, and the revolutionary paradigm-shift that follows from this breakthrough.

In its 19 Articles following the Preamble, everything about the Earth Constitution establishes government on the principles of unity in diversity and dynamic, integrated, organizational integrity.  It sets up a vital third house in the World Parliament.  Along with the House of Peoples (constituted from 1000 electoral districts worldwide) and the House of Nations (with 1, 2, or 3 reps from each nation depending on population), it constitutes a House of Counselors (some 200 people from around the planet chosen for their expertise and wisdom).  How do we get wise people into government, some of whom will undoubtedly think and act from the Yellow or Turquoise levels of awakening? The Constitution provides a coherent method for making this happen.

The Earth Constitution pulls all the continents of the Earth together—all the countries, religions, and cultures in a dynamic unity in diversity that embraces the many organizations, agencies, and leadership roles outlined by the Constitution. The leadership of the three houses of Parliament as well as all the main agencies of the government all involve presidiums of 5 or more persons, at least one from each continental division of the Earth.  No person has unchallengeable personal power, and multiple checks and balances keep all agencies working for the central mission of the government as outlined in Article One: ending war, disarming the nations, protecting human rights, creating just and equitable social relations, and protecting the global environment.

The Constitution’s two bills of human rights (Articles 12 and 13) spell out the entire range of human rights and add to these the right to peace and to a protected planetary environment. The agency of the World Ombudsmus is tasked to protect and promote these rights and to act as a watchdog on the rest of the world government to ensure that these rights are not violated. The World Financial Administration is empowered to create global, debt-free public banking and to finance all sustainable socially and environmentally valuable projects without requiring collateral or other features of the current oligarchic and elitist world financial system.

The Earth Constitution as a whole provides a template for a transformed world system. It is clearly a product of spiritually and morally awakened Second Tier consciousness and thought. That is why the organizational sponsor of the Constitution, the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), is at the forefront of the worldwide federalist movement.  The Earth Constitution embodies the highest worldcentric maturity, in terms of which the unity in diversity of humanity and our planetary home serves as the reality from which we live and act.

As Richard Heinberg shows in his recent book The End of Growth (2011), if we are to survive, the future Earth will very soon need to be characterized by decentralized, innovative, cooperative local communities. Sustainability requires that globalized trade and growth economics be replaced by local production units organized for sustainable living, focusing on the quality of life, not on ever-more consumption. The Earth Constitution, which connects the global dimension with the local communities around the world (for the first time in human history), is uniquely suited to make this happen. WCPA for years now has been promoting local cooperatives and grass-roots empowerment to complement a global framework ensuring the peace, stability, and cooperative protection for all communities on our planet.  The following chart indicates this process.

chart 2

 

NGOs, cooperatives, and citizens working to improve the lives of local communities and convert them to sustainability have an ally in the Earth Federation Government whose mandate is to protect everyone equally, end war, and ensure the development of locally organized sustainable communities that make the Earth “a safe and happy home for humanity.” As so many people at the grassroots level have reminded us (people who are not interested in ideas about the evolution of human consciousness): “what good is talk about a future united world without a concrete document in the present to make it a living possibility?”

Either approach (spiritual evolution or pragmatic actualization of this concrete document) requires that we work to ratify the Earth Constitution now, that we begin the sustainable communities now, and it requires that we support the development of Provisional World Government under the authority of the Earth Constitution, here and now.  World thinker Jürgen Moltmann declared that with the nuclear bombings of 1945, human beings entered the “end time” (2012, p. 46). With on-going climate collapse, we are facing another horrific form of the “end time” (Romm 2018). No other plan, postponed into an indeterminate future, can possibly save the Earth from climate disaster and/or nuclear war.

No more should human beings compromise with the tired, fruitless, and failed system of waring, militarized nation states and global economic domination and exploitation. We need fundamental system change that integrates the planetary dimension with the grassroots. We cannot and should not try to evolve what must be transcended through awakening and paradigm-shift. The process of democratic ratification is clear and transparent in Article 17, and Article 19 authorizes the creation of the central features of the Earth Federation here and now.

No more postponement and evasion as practiced by many world federalists from their truncated levels of worldcentric consciousness. The Earth Constitution demands the next step in our spiritual self-actualization and awakening. It is both a culmination of our human aspiration for a worldcentric planetary civilization, and the necessary means for achieving this. It demands that we actualize our potential for mature world centrism here and now. It is our clarion call to a new enlightened fulfillment and self-realization. Now is the time—tomorrow is indeed too late.

 

 

Works Cited:

Agnivesh, Swami (2015). Applied Spirituality: A Spiritual Vision for the Dialogue of Religions. New York: Harper Element Books.

Aurobindo, Sri (1973). The Essential Aurobindo. Robert A. McDermott, ed. New York: Schocken Books.

Beck, Don Edward and Christopher C. Cowan (2006). Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Brown, Ellen Hodgson (2007). Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System. Revised Edition. Baton Rouge, LA: Third Millennium Press.

Camus, Albert (1986). Neither Victims Nor Executioners. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth (1991). Found on-line in many places and languages such as: www.earth-constitution.orgwww.worldparliament-gov.orgwww.worldproblems.net.

Fromm, Eric (1996). To Have or To Be. New York: Continuum Publishers.

Gilligan, Carol (1982). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Habermas, Jurgen (1979). Communication and the Evolution of Society. Thomas McCarthy, trans. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, Errol E. (2000). Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Harris, Errol E. (2014). Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late. Second Edition. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Kant, Immanuel (1956). Critique of Practical Reason. Lewis White Beck, trans. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, Inc.

Kant, Immanuel (1957). Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History. Ed. Pauline Kleingeld. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Klein, Naomi (2008). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1984). The Psychology of Moral Development, Volume Two: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Kuhn, Thomas (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Martin, Glen T. (1991). “Deconstruction and Breakthrough in Nietzsche and Nāgārjuna,” article in the volume Nietzsche and Asian Thought, Graham Parkes, ed., University of Chicago Press, pp. 91-111.

Martin, Glen T. (2005). Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2010). Constitution for the Federation of Earth. With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.

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Moltmann, Jürgen (2012). Ethics of Hope. Trans. Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Reves, Emery (1946). The Anatomy of Peace. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Romm, Joseph (2018). Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilber, Ken (1996). Eye to Eye: The Quest of a New Paradigm. Boston: Shambala Books.

Wilber, Ken (2007). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral Books.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1929). “Lecture on Ethics” found at http://sackett.net/WittgensteinEthics.pdf

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm A Book Review by Glen T. Martin

Dr. Joseph Romm has mastered the scientific research on Climate Change. He has worked, studied, and written within the domain of climate science for many years. This book synthesizes his substantial knowledge and systematically describes our human situation in the light of the devastating future into which we are headed if we do not make drastic, immediate, worldwide reductions in the vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) we are pouring daily into the atmosphere.

 

I will lay out below some of the conclusions about our human situation in the light of climate science that Romm reviews in this book. They are absolutely important to all of us who care about humanity and its future.  Then I will take note of the narrowness and ideological character of Dr. Romm’s background assumptions. These assumptions condition his ideas about how we can and must respond to the present and rapidly growing climate crisis within the same narrow framework that caused the crisis in the first place.

 

Romm worked for 15 years at the US Department of Energy advising businesses on how to become more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint. As of the year 2017, when he published the second edition of this book, he was working at the Center for American Progress which states on its website that it is a “nonpartisan policy institute” working “to improve the lives of all Americans.” In recent years he has been science advisor to the TV documentary “Years of Living Dangerously,” the first US documentary series on climate change. I will write more below about the narrow (and dangerous) set of assumptions that this work history implies. Success within the dominant US system, often requires that one spend one’s lifetime wearing a set of narrow ideological blinders.

 

Part One: Climate Change is Real and Serious

 

Climate science is a major, worldwide branch of science with many subdisciplines. Some climate scientists specialize in the oceans, others in meteorology. Other scientists specialize in ice fields and the polar regions. Still others are experts is atmospheric gases like CO2, hydrogen, and methane. Others study geology in relation to climate, or biology in relation to species extinction and the planetary environments necessary to support life. Some study astronomy in relation to climate, including the sun, the Earth’s orbit, and other external factors influencing climate. Still others are climate paleontologists who study the historical climate record over millions of years. Some climate scientists specialize in computer modeling of likely future climate conditions in relation to the CO2 concentrations and other gases in the atmosphere, the oceans, and on land.

 

Climate science embraces many thousands of scientific experts and institutes worldwide. It also includes a number of international organizations, like the huge UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC: https://www.ipcc.ch/),  dedicated to coordinating and synthesizing the results of the research going on in all these areas. Its Fifth Assessment Report, which appeared in 2014, summarizing our worldwide knowledge of climate change to that date, paints a truly frightening picture of our future if we maintain business as usual. The fact is that we human beings possess a deep understanding of climate dynamics in terms of the paleontological record, worldwide symptoms in the present, and the range of possible futures. We also possess a deeply credible and scientifically corroborated knowledge of the ways that human activity since the industrial revolution is causing climate change.

 

In addition, we possess lesser known but easily available knowledge of the narrow political and economic forces (such as the big oil and fossil fuel companies) that have worked to cast doubt on the results of climate science by spending many millions of dollars funding misleading articles and propaganda designed to discredit the important knowledge that climate science has accumulated over multiple decades of systematic research. Like the tobacco companies, who knew that smoking causes lung cancer but promoted propaganda designed to cast doubt on this scientific knowledge, so the big fossil fuel companies have long known about the devastation they are causing but continue to engender doubt so as to maximize their short-term profits.

 

Human beings and most life on Earth are in great danger. We are already condemned to a drastically changed world in which our creativity and adaptability will be severely challenged within the next few decades as things get seriously worse and worse. But every year that we wait to take drastic CO2 reduction measures (that is, stop burning fossil fuels), determines a future which is significantly more horrible by magnitudes of destruction. It is not an incremental worsening.  Every year that we delay now means increasing magnitudes of suffering and horror for our children and future generations.

 

This is because climate is very sensitive to a number of positive (amplifying) feedback mechanisms (with no known counteracting negative or seriously diminishing feedback loops). A central positive feedback mechanism for warming is the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (predominately CO2).  From the preindustrial average of 280 parts per million (ppm) we are now at the level of about 412 ppm and steadily climbing year after year at about 2 ppm per year. This in turn generates hotter, dryer summers (droughts, desertification), ever more superstorms (because warm air holds more water and warm-moist air is a key ingredient in the generating thunderstorms, hurricanes, and cyclones), the melting of the polar caps and glaciers, the acidification of the oceans, etc.

 

We have been passing “tipping points” (irreversible points of no return) in which additional positive (amplifying) feedbacks kick in.  For example, melting of sea ice (which reflects nearly all of the sunlight that falls on it back into space) becomes dark blue ocean water (which absorbs nearly all the sunlight hitting it, thereby becoming another irreversible source of warming). The more sea ice that melts, the more the planet absorbs the sun’s heat.

 

Another example is the melting of permafrost in northern regions from Canada to northern Europe to Siberia, constituting vast tracts of land. Permafrost (which has remained frozen throughout recorded human history) is now melting at unprecedented rates, releasing not only CO2 but great quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane (CO4) is 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, (p. 85). As with melted sea ice, this passes an irreversible tipping point: it is impossible to refreeze the permafrost.  Therefore, continued warming is unstoppable. The only question we face is: how much can we do to mitigate the disasters ahead?

 

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in its 2009 report, stated that “the climate change that is taking place because of increases of C02 concentration is largely irreversible for 1000 years after emissions stop…. Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric CO2 concentrations increase from current levels … are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the “dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise” (in Romm, p. 29).

 

Romm’s book describes in detail these and more consequences of global warming.  All of these will happen and are unstoppable. What human beings can do is mitigate these effects. If we take serious action now (worldwide), we can limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade and thereby mitigate these consequences to the point of making life tolerable and possible through the next century and beyond.

 

This means keeping CO2 concentrations well below 450 ppm from the year 2050 through the end of the century and beyond. If we continue with business as usual in the burning of fossil fuels, and fail to limit the rise in temperature before the year 2100 to 2 degrees centigrade, we will be making life a hell on Earth for subsequent generations, with massive starvation, disease, and death for the majority of people on the planet and for its other living creatures. Here is a list of some of the main consequences of climate change described by Joseph Romm.

 

  1. Dust-bowl conditions and disappearance of agricultural lands. From the southwest of the US to sub-Sahara Africa to the breadbasket regions of China and India, global warming will be ending productive agriculture in these areas and turning them into uninhabitable deserts. Already in the last few decades the world has experienced extreme prolonged droughts in these areas that have led to massive crop failures. Based on scientific studies, Romm concludes: “the coming multidecadal megadroughts will be worse than anything seen within the last 2000 years…. They will be the kind of megadroughts that in the past destroyed entire civilizations” (p. 103). Areas where there are now forests will dry out to the extent that forest fires will regularly ravage them, adding even more carbon to the atmosphere. Again, forest fires have become more frequent and widespread in the past few decades.

 

  1. Sea level rise and flooding of coastal lands. Much of the increased heating of the Earth is absorbed by the oceans. Heat expands the volume of water thereby inducing sea-level rise. Secondly the melting of the world’s glaciers (happening rapidly everywhere) is adding vast amounts of water to the oceans. There are also massive amounts of water stored in the Greenland ice sheet (two miles thick) and vastly more water stored on the Antarctic continent (again, some two miles thick).  Both the Greenland ice sheet and portions of the Antarctic ice sheet are considered “unstable” are have been found to be melting at unprecedented rates.

 

As of 2015 scientists have been predicting a best case scenario of 3 to 5 feet increase in ocean levels by the year 2100.  This alone will mean that many major coastal cities will have to be moved or abandoned on every continent. A business as usual scenario (without drastic reduction of the use of fossil fuels) could mean a 1 foot per decade rise in sea level through the year 2100, which would put much of the habitable, coastal areas of the Earth under water. Billions of people would be displaced and a great portion of the world’s agricultural lands would be submerged or ruined because of ever-increasing salt-water intrusion (p. 100).

 

  1. Acidification of oceans and death of fisheries. “The oceans are now acidifying faster than they ever have in the last 300 million years, during which time there were four major extinctions driven by natural bursts of carbon” (p. 123). Most of the carbon we are emitting into the atmosphere gets absorbed in the oceans. Since ocean creatures are evolved in connection with certain “normal” carbon concentrations, this acidification accelerates massive extinctions and die offs.

 

This carbon can deplete the amount of oxygen dissolved in ocean and suffocate many species, creating so-called “dead zones” like the huge area in the Gulf of Mexico where few creatures can live. Today a large portion of humanity receives a substantial amount of their food from the oceans.  As agricultural lands disappear because of rising oceans, so the source of the oceans as food diminishes. Our CO2 emissions are killing the oceans as well as the lands.

 

  1. Disappearance of agricultural lands. Agricultural lands are disappearing through rising oceans, salt-water intrusion into crop lands, and also through the process of desertification caused by the heating up of the land. Much of the agricultural land worldwide is drying out due to lack of moisture and rainfall, is experiencing  serious droughts, and is destined to become useless as a major source of food for human beings. All the while the Earth’s population continues to soar well beyond 7 billion people. This is happening today, and the best we can do is make radical changes in our emissions of CO2 in order to mitigate these disastrous consequences, which will surely include starvation for a good portion of humanity.

 

  1. Uninhabitable regions of the world. The world of the past five decades has been experiencing a series of unprecedented heat waves that have resulted in the heat related deaths of many people and the destruction of crops. These include the terrible waves in France in 2003, Moscow in 2010, and Texas in 2011 (p. 43). These of course are related to droughts and the general warming of the globe. One team of researchers found that “absent strong climate action, we are headed toward levels of warming by 2100 that will expose as much as three fourths of the world’s population to a deadly combination of temperature and humidity for at least 20 days a year” (pp. 109-10). As the warming patterns settle in, there will regions of the Earth that are so hot as to be uninhabitable. People will not be able to be outdoors without special protective gear.

 

  1. The unprecedented spread of insect pests and tropical-like human diseases. Because of warmer, shorter winters, for example, the forests of the US and Canada have lost some 70,000 square miles of trees to the Bark Beetle and the Pine Beetle, destructive insects whose spread is no longer controlled by harsh winter conditions (p. 49). Similarly, diseases like Zika virus and Dengue fever are on the rise in the world in part because of warmer conditions everywhere (p. 112).

 

  1. Massive extinctions of existing species. We are already living in a period of unprecedented species extinction. The United Kingdom Royal Society (Academy of Sciences) wrote in 2010: “There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record” (in Romm, p. 126). Since all life on Earth is an interconnected web, extensive die-off of species reduces the long-term chances of survival for those that remain (p. 128). Anthropogenic global warming is devastating the rich web of life that evolved on the Earth for the past 3.8 billion years.

 

Even though “new technologies and strategies make it easier for humans to protect endangered species” (p. 128), the key to preserving as many species as possible requires drastic measures to limit CO2 emissions and the global warming process. As Errol E. Harris points out, what a paradox it is that one species on our planet, supposedly the most intelligent, becomes the source of the possible destruction of nearly all life, including its own. (Harris, 2014, Chap. 1).

 

  1. More frequent and devastating superstorms. All around the world, there will be massive flooding, devastating winds, and billions of dollars in damages on a regular basis. Life will be much less predictable and secure everywhere on Earth.  Warmer oceans with moisture-laden atmosphere form the breeding grounds for hurricanes, cyclones, and other extreme weather events.  Warming induced changes in the jet stream and other factors produce “blocking patterns” in which storms get stuck in a single location rather than moving on. This greatly magnifies the wind and flooding damage from the storm. Coastal lands and cities, already subject to devastating storm surges due to rising ocean levels, will suffer even greater damages from frequent superstorms.

 

These conclusions are all the result of an overwhelming consensus on the part of scientists and scientific societies and institutions worldwide. It is both an absolute moral and practical imperative that we make radical immediate changes in the way we live and use energy. Romm recognizes this. Yet his narrow ideological framework skews the immense potential that human beings have for effectively dealing with climate change through addressing the entire nexus of human problems by way of fundamental system change.

 

Part Two: Climate Change or System Change

 

Without ever making an argument for his “market-based framework,” Romm simply assumes that all solutions to global climate change must be market based. Do human beings have a right to a decent, life supporting environment?  Do other species have a right to exist?  Romm places the need for “free market” solutions prior to these rights. Hence, the entire world may be destroyed if global warming cannot be mitigated through the market.  For Romm, this appears to be our only option.

 

Hence, for Romm, it is “consumers” who need to be convinced of the seriousness of climate change and alter their buying habits accordingly. Any innovations in efficiency or development of climate preserving technology needs to be economically marketable. Businesses need to be profitable. Innovations must be inexpensive enough to be competitive.  Indeed, this is happening now with solar panels as well as with wind power, but not with hydrogen fuel cell cars (p. 274).

 

The marketable solar panels and windmills, of course, are a good thing and give us hope. But what is strange here is that if there is a technology that could make a substantial difference for the well-being of future generations, that well-being must be sacrificed if the technology is not marketable.  What appears to come first as an inviolable framework (like the law of gravity) is the market, even if this means the destruction of civilization.

 

Governments (which he recognizes as absolutely essential for any credible future) apparently have only the ability to regulate inviolable markets. They cannot solve our problems by imposing climate saving measures that are not marketable.  Romm primarily considers two main initiatives that governments can take (and have taken): a carbon tax on fossil fuels and a cap and trade system. Carbon taxes have been used in a number of countries or regions (Sweden, Norway, Australia, British Columbia) with some success at reducing fossil fuel consumption (p. 177).

 

In a cap-and-trade system, a cap is a limit set on the amount of pollutant (such as carbon-based fuel emissions). Companies coming under their quota or cap can sell their permits to other companies (p. 178).  “A cap-and-trade system lets the market set the price for carbon dioxide, whereas in a tax, the government sets the price” (p. 179). The cap-and-trade has been the most popular option for businesses and has been widely used.

 

Mainstream economists often say that the best way to deal with fossil fuel reduction is to include the costs (to the public and the environment) in the price of the commodity, whereas traditionally these costs were externalized into the air, water, and land, and not included in the cost of doing business. But some environmentalists, like Romm, appear to lack awareness that there was a reason why capitalism polluted the environment so badly: the system is based on maximizing profits through exploitation of workers, consumers, and the environment (Chase-Dunn 1998). If you take away these methods of maximizing profits for the few at the expense of the many, you also take way capitalism as we have always known it. You cannot possibly save the planet for future generations by embracing a system based solely on profit maximization (Kovel 2007).

 

If you really want to include true costs for a commodity in the cost of doing business, then you have to bring in values: the value of protecting the environment or of not exploiting workers or of not ripping off the consumer. If you bring values into market relationships, then you have some form of market socialism, not capitalism. Market socialism understands that producing food, clothing, shelter, and a decent environment include a morally based set of activities, and if this is the case, the reduction of fossil fuel use and other necessary changes do not pose insurmountable problems. Within an institutionalized profit-maximizing framework, you can never prevent climate destruction, for the system itself promotes externalization and exploitation.  That is precisely why so many companies fund climate denial propaganda as well as circumvent environmental regulations (for example, by moving their production to countries with lax environmental standards).

 

Romm does urge us to base our consumption patterns on values.  We should be willing to sacrifice some things for the benefit of future generations, but for businesses it can only be “marketability,” since businesses need to make a profit, and there needs to be (Romm assumes) continual economic “growth.” But you cannot have perpetual growth on a finite planet. The law of entropy (a true natural law) prohibits this. Neither profit maximization, nor growth, are inviolable laws of economics. They are human designed institutions and need to change.

 

We are going to need markets where things are produced according to the following three principles: (1) they are produced as necessities (not billions of tons of useless, extraneous junk); (2) all things must be built to be recycled (no more single use plastics or throw away cheap crap), and (3) things must be made for durability (no more made to fail one week after the short warranty period expires, in other words, designed to break down and be thrown away). Romm never mentions these three absolute requirements for addressing the climate crisis, perhaps because they each require ending profit maximization and producing for use-value and true human welfare, something the ideology of pure capitalism prohibits.

 

Romm ends his book by citing the value-based appeal of Pope Francis: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for ourselves and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (p. 282). But he is not willing to examine the immoral and sociopathic nature of the capitalist system based on maximizing profit for its own sake, regardless of its consequences for society or nature. This makes him a perfect employee for the US government and a natural fit for a think tank like the Center for American Progress, both institutions religiously devoted to the dogmas of profit maximization.

 

Legitimate government is and should be based on values. A constitution for any legitimate government should specify rights for citizens, and it should protect them through due process of law. It should base itself on freedom, dignity, equality, and justice, not on the domination of the rich, or the military, or some king or a dictator. Government regulates business and the market for the common good, and today this necessarily includes conversion away from fossil fuels. Rights are moral principles deriving from human dignity. They form the basis for both legitimate government and decent economics.

 

By contrast, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an ideal only, not part of a binding constitution, and the UN itself is merely a treaty of sovereign nations, not a government in any way, shape, or form. The world today is a fragmented collection of militarized, sovereign states, and many of its governments are either “failed states” or undemocratic in the extreme. How are they going to unite to protect our right to a healthy environment?

 

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth (written by hundreds of world citizens working together from 1968 to 1991) correctly asserts that every human being has the right to clean air, water, food, and a healthy environment in which to live (Martin 2010a). The Earth Federation Government has the authority, the mandate, the economic and technical knowhow, and the worldwide scope to regulate business and human interactions to achieve these moral ends. It is this system change alone that can truly address the climate crisis (Martin 2013).

 

Nor should it be left up to some legislature to decide whether to pursue climate mitigation. The Republican Party in the US (many of whose representatives in Congress are climate deniers) has no right to condemn the people of Earth to perdition by blocking effective climate legislation. Neither does US President Trump have this right. This is not “democracy,” for in a democracy government acts for the common good.

 

If some technical invention (for example, hydrogen fuel cell cars) is deemed essential to climate preservation, then these need to be produced, and the Earth Federation government would most certainly do so, using its unlimited public banking and money creation functions. Our future and our survival should not and cannot be dependent on the whims of the stock market, nor the consumer market, nor on the whims of political parties or oligarchs. The Earth Constitution makes a protected environment a framework right, not a contingent political issue.

 

The Center for “American” progress?  Not global progress, global human rights, or global integrity, not world citizenship, not Earth Federation?  Here we come to the second contradiction in Romm’s set of assumptions. Everywhere he recognizes that the world needs to be addressing climate change in a unified and coordinated way because our collective future depends on this. Yet his unspoken assumption is a system of sovereign nation states toward which, as with his view of capitalism, Romm shows little or no critical awareness. This fragmented framework of some 193 sovereign nations appears as what we must accept as a fait accompli. Like capitalism, it is assumed as an unchangeable fact of nature, not as the flawed and arbitrary human creation that it is.

 

He says that climate change endangers “national security.”  Not human security, planetary security, or universal personal security, but national security. He quotes the US Department of Defense which declares “Climate change . . . poses immediate risks to US national security” (p. 133).  It becomes clear that although the fate of humanity is threatened by climate change, the bottom line will be protecting Americans as the world descends ever further into calamity and chaos.  All the world must work together closely to address the crisis of climate change, but, when push comes to shove, the Department of Defense will ensure that Americans emerge better off than the rest of humanity.

 

As with capitalism, Romm appears oblivious to the inability of sovereign nation-states to work together holistically to deal with the climate crisis.  Any nation can withdraw from climate treaties at any time.  Various nations are in perpetual conflict and struggle with their neighbors.  Big nations have imperial ambitions. The US has invaded or overthrown dozens of countries since World War Two and continues to interfere around the globe, today threatening or occupying Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea, as well as calling Russia and China its “enemies,” much of this in violation of international laws.

 

Romm never mentions the fact, citied by a number of sources, that the US military is the single largest organization in the world in terms of polluting the environment. He never mentions that not only is its immense fossil fuel machinery a major source of global warming emissions, but the production and deployment of its bombs, missiles, and military equipment is a toxic nightmare for our planet (Sanders and Davis, 2009).  He never considers that you cannot fly B52s, or power huge warships with solar or wind power.

 

A green military would mean little or no military, something that can only happen under an Earth Federation served by the Earth Constitution.  Romm never mentions the fact that the nations of the world spend three quarters of a trillion annually on weapons and war, an immense financial resource that could effectively address the climate crisis if it were directed there. He never links mitigating climate crisis with ending wars and militarism.

 

Without ending the system of sovereign nation-states and the world’s war system, the results of on-going climate destruction will mean death and misery for populations of the poor and weak countries of the world, and the grabbing of the Earth’s remaining resources and survivable areas by the rich and powerful countries (see Martin 2010b, Part Two). It is just pie in the sky naiveté to think it will be any different. Romm wants to whole world to work together to deal with climate destruction, but the spoils will to go to the USA and not to the poor who also help to save the planet.

 

One final flaw in Romm’s circumscribed world view is his view of population.  He takes it as given that the Earth’s population will continue to explode, requiring a future planet to feed 9 or 10 billion people with diminished agricultural lands and depleted fisheries. Why assume this?  If we are capable of the serious changes necessary to eliminate fossil fuel emissions, why are we not capable of curtailing the global population? In fact, many environmentalists, such as Errol E. Harris (2014, Chap. 1) point to population curtailment and reduction and a fundamental key to dealing with global climate change.  Fewer people need fewer resources and produce fewer emissions and waste products.  It is as simple as that.

 

Romm is excellent on the science of climate change and the serious challenges that humanity faces today and everyday from the present moment to at least through the end of this century. But his narrow ideological assumptions allow him to propose no credible solutions.  We need worldwide efforts to educate women and provide them with the options for birth control that, if only this is done, will seriously reduce the population explosion and make a major contribution to mitigating the effects of global warming.

 

Second, we need to overcome the capitalist dogma that human beings can only economically relate to one another through a profit-maximizing set of institutions. This is simply naive, and climate change is much more easily addressed through a market socialism in which values (supervised by government representing the common good) determine much of investment and funding, not unmitigated greed.

 

Finally, climate change can only be effectively addressed by ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth and ending the insane military competition among sovereign nation-states.  This will truly unite the world and allow everyone, not just the rich and the powerful, to bear the burdens and reap the benefits of ending fossil fuel emissions and creating a sustainable, just and fulfilling world system. Everything necessary to effectively deal with the climate crisis is built into the Earth Constitution. Ratifying that Constitution is the most effective thing we can do to save our planet’s environment.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Chase-Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World Economy. Updated Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  Found on-line in multiple languages and many websites such as: www.earth-constitution.org,   www.worldproblems.net,  and www.worldparliament-gov.org.

Harris, Errol E. (2014). Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late. Second Edition. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Kovel, Joel (2007). The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? London: Zed Books.

Martin, Glen T., ed. (2010a). A Constitution for the Federation of Earth. With Historical Introduction, Commentary and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2010b). Triumph of Civilization: Democracy, Nonviolence, and the Piloting of Spaceship Earth. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2013). The Anatomy of a Sustainable World: Our Choice Between Climate Change or System Change. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Sanders, Barry and Mike Davis (2009). The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Romm, Joseph (2018). Climate Change: What Everybody Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

The Logic of Disarmament and the Tragedy of the Commons

Glen T. Martin

(For meetings of the World Intellectual Forum, Hyderabad, India, June 2019)

There are times which are not ordinary, and in such times it is not enough to follow the road. It is necessary to know where it leads, and, if it leads nowhere, to follow another…. But the practical thing for a traveler who is uncertain of his path is not to proceed with the utmost rapidity in the wrong direction: it is to consider how to find the right one.            R.H. Tawney

Abstract. This article reviews the economic principle called the “Tragedy of the Commons” that is commonly applied to environmental analyses and planetary population issues. It then shows how the principle applies to our global political commons, and how it bears on the problems of peace and disarmament. It reviews the concept of national sovereignty, which, like the capitalist concept of self-interest, predicates an atomistic self-interest that is at the root of the tragedy of the commons. Finally, the article shows how the Constitution for the Federation of Earth overcomes this dilemma through embodying the new scientific paradigm of holism. It then reviews the work of the Provisional World Parliament as a functional developmental praxis directed toward overcoming the tragedy of the commons as this applies to peace and disarmament.

The idea of the tragedy of the commons has become fundamental to the contemporary conceptual repertoire of those concerned with global issues. The idea was first formulated by economist William Forster Lloyd in 1833 and became a well-known hypothesis after the publication of Garrett Hardin’s famous article by that name in 1968 (see Hardin 1980). Most fundamentally to date, the idea has been used with respect to economics, ecology, population issues, and environmental science.

A tragedy of the commons, in its standard version, happens when a common resource is freely open to users operating out of “rational self-interest.” The value of using the commons (for example, grazing cattle on public lands or fishing in international waters) is direct to the individual users, but the depletion or degradation of the commons (diminishing of the grazing lands through over-grazing or depletion of fish stocks through over-fishing) is born somewhat equally by all the users.  Hence, the negative value of the degradation process to individual users is considerably less than the immediate positive value of unlimited usage. Until, of course, the grazing land becomes so degraded as to be useless or the fishery collapses because overfishing has destroyed the regenerative capacity of the fish in the ocean. An unrestricted, freely used commons invites tragedy.

Garrett Hardin applies this principle to the population of the Earth. He decries the UN’s 1967 affirmation that the decision regarding the number of children to have is the right of each family. Hardin argues that overpopulation of the Earth is rapidly leading to a planetary tragedy of the global commons. Since this concept entered the common consciousness, there have been a host of studies showing ways that this general thesis needs modification. For example, some cooperative communities, including indigenous cultures, actually do operate successfully with regard to a commons based on principles of the common good and sharing rather than exclusive “rational self-interest.” The idea that people act out of rational self-interest, is of course, a dogma of capitalism and fundamental to the so-called “economic rationality” of free markets.

Garrett Hardin argues that we cannot effectively appeal to conscience (and hence voluntary restraint in the use of a commons), but rather need to legally regulate the uses of commons according to some standard of justice that governs who uses and the behavior of those who use. This principle has become very important in contemporary debates concerning the need for sustainability in all its dimensions, from overuse of land, to extraction of resources, to pollution of air, soil, and water. However, few have drawn out implications of this principle regarding the system of sovereign nation-states and the corresponding global problems of war, peace, and disarmament.

Both the capitalist system and the system of sovereign nation-states developed out of the early-modern paradigm that began to be solidified by the 17th century. During this century the works of Francis Bacon argued that science and its stepchild technology placed human beings in the position of being able to conquer nature on behalf of their own self-interest. Similarly, in 1648, the ruling powers of Europe came together after the Thirty Years War to formulate the foundations of today’s world political system.  Every nation was to have absolute territorial boundaries within which its governmental authorities would be supreme.  These same authorities would be independent in their relation to other governments, that is, autonomous in their foreign policies. The traditional concept of “sovereignty” was redefined to fit this new, atomistic model (see Harris 2008, Chap. 1).

The consequence, as many thinkers from the 17th century to the present have noted, was that a “war-system” had been created in which self-interested national fragments would complete with one another economically, politically, and culturally in a system that today encompasses the entire planet. Beyond the borders of these territorial islands of legally enforced peace, Thomas Hobbes declared in the 17th century, the nation-states confront one another as “gladiators.” The system imperative is war and armaments, and not peace or disarmament. It militates against any notion of a planetary common good.

In his 1795 essay on “Perpetual Peace,” Immanuel Kant called this system of militarized sovereign nation-states “savage and barbaric” for the same reason: the system created by these islands of law placed their respective governments into a global fragmentation in which there was no effective law or government over these autonomous nation-state islands. Kant declared that only world federation could establish peace in the world. Nation-states must give up their “lawless” freedom (the so-called ‘right’ to make war) and find peace under the lawful constraints of enforceable world law (Kant 1957).  In the 19th century, Hegel observed this same phenomenon—that when there is a clash of “wills” represented by the heads of states, the ultimate resolution could only be settled by war (1991, pars. 331, 333-334).

In his 2008 book, Twenty-first Century Democratic Renaissance, philosopher Errol E. Harris agrees with this traditional assessment:

That enmity and war between sovereign states is inevitable has been recognized by political theorists from Hobbes to Hegel and, as we have seen, several more contemporary writers…. This parlous situation is the direct consequence of the claim to sovereignty of the nations of the world, a claim that admits no law superior to its own, and which gives unquestioning priority to national interests, especially those regarded as “vital,” namely, first and foremost, security from foreign aggression, and secondly economic prosperity…. Neither International Law nor the United Nations can ameliorate this state of affairs. International law lays down as its first principle that its sole subjects are sovereign states, and then defines sovereign states as those which acknowledge no legislation superior to their own, thus annulling its own authority. (2008, 122-23)

In the 20th century we entered into what German thinker Jürgen Moltmann called “the end-time” (2012, 46). After two world wars of horrifying destruction of life and property around the globe, the world entered into the era of nuclear weapons, placing the fate of humanity into tremendous danger that continues through today. Just as nations can enter in, or withdraw from, climate treaties according to their arbitrary will, so they can enter into, or withdraw from, disarmament treaties according to their will. In 2018, for example, the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed with Russia in 1987.

Under the present world system, the United States had the legal right to withdraw from the Disarmament Treaty, just as it had the legal right to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord of 2015. The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, passed by the General Assembly in 2015, are predicated on this fragmented paradigm of sovereign states that is at the heart of our tragedy. Item 18 states that, “We reaffirm that every State has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activity.” This means that Brazil, for example, acting as all nations do out of economic self-interest, has the legal right to cut down and destroy “the lungs of the Earth,” even though the Amazon basin is an integral component of our planetary climate system. The system legalizing the self-interest of each nation inevitably functions to destroy the common good of all humanity.

Nations operate according to perceived self-interest and recognize no binding laws above themselves. The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, established in 1998, has only the authority to “promote” disarmament through persuasion directed to the relevant sovereign-state powers. Sovereign nations will never recognize any UN agency as having binding authority, since the UN itself is merely a treaty of sovereign nations and not a government. So-called “international laws” are themselves merely treaties signed by sovereign states who can ignore the treaty, withdraw from it, or interpret it in their own prejudicial favor, at any time.

Just as our global commons is experiencing the tragedy of the commons through climate collapse, so the world is threatened continually with global wars or nuclear holocaust.  Another tragedy of the commons perpetually happening and threatening the existence of us all. Our planetary commons constitutes our global political space, populated by human civilization everywhere on the planet, and (as Kant again put it) the fact that the planet is a sphere and equally the common home for everyone. The common good of the planet requires the ending of war and disarmament, yet the political structure of the planet inevitably destroys that common good through the threat of total war, and the waste of trillions of dollars in resources that need to be used to address the climate crisis and other global problems. The institutionalized imperative of the system is war and armaments, and disarmament is impossible without changing the system.

As Garrett Hardin points out, neither morality nor education can be seriously effective in preventing the tragedy of the commons. Only enforceable legislation that protects the commons and the common good can prevent this tragedy. Human beings have known that we live on a common, planetary home at least since the 17th century, the same century that produced the false early-modern paradigm. This paradigm was based on atomism, mechanism, and determinism as well as an ideology positing a human and social atomism in which operating out of “self-interest” was considered the essence of rationality.

The paradigm developed by the 20th century has been holism, a holism in which atomism and fragmentation are understood to be false conceptions. This holism is the key to both sustainability and peace. Yet neither our economics nor our politics of sovereign nations have converted to this new paradigm. The new paradigm demands a World Parliament and enforceable democratic world law. The actualization of a global community that, as philosopher of law John Finnis shows, necessarily requires planetary government (1980, 129-30).

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth establishes an Earth Federation for our planet with binding legal authority over every person, corporation, and nation. If we want to establish peace and disarm the nations, ratification of this Constitution must be our first priority. The Earth Federation established by the Constitution is itself non-military. It ultimately requires the nations joining the federation to (1) immediately abandon any weapons of mass destruction and (2) by the second level of formation of the Earth Federation (under Article 17), begin the process of disarmament.

However, even during the first stage of Federation (prior to mandatory disarmament), the nations joining will have given up the irrational claim to absolute sovereignty. They will have recognized the people of Earth as sovereign (now represented by the World Parliament in which they participate). Their retention of military organization, therefore, will be strongly tempered by the fact that they no longer have the legal right to use their military forces indiscriminately, as they see fit. They are now legally bound within a whole that supersedes the perceived self-interest of the parts.

Even before ratification is completed under Article 17, Article 19 of the Constitution provides for a process of conversion of the early-modern planetary paradigm toward one of life under a democratic world system that can legally enforce proper uses of the commons and prevent the tragedy that is inevitable under the outdated paradigm. Under Article 19, the people of Earth are empowered to begin the Earth Federation now as provisional world government. The central way this has been done to date has been through holding sessions of the Provisional World Parliament that legislate World Legislative Acts (WLAs) under the authority of the Earth Constitution. 14 sessions of the Parliament have been held between 1982 and 2015.

Article 19 may be considered a “functionalist” approach to the problem of disarmament. In his 1994 book, Confronting War: An Examination of Humanities Most Pressing Problem, Professor Ronald J. Glossop describes the functionalist approach as follows:

Functionalists believe that the best way to change the international system is to continue to create more and more such agencies to work on the various problems facing humanity. In the long run, they claim, this approach is more and more likely to lead to a gradual limiting of national sovereignty than is an effort to try to get the various national governments to agree explicitly to limit their sovereignty.  If functional agencies are created, this approach is much more likely to lead to a gradual limiting of national sovereignty than is an effort to try to get the various national governments to agree explicitly to limit their sovereignty. (1994, 355)

This conclusion by Professor Glossop is both relevant and not relevant to our effort to ratify the Earth Constitution. It is not relevant because, like the UN, it appears based on the assumption that nation-states are the primary agents whose consent is necessary to end war and create an Earth Federation. However, the Earth Constitution correctly recognizes the people of Earth as sovereign and provides an option for direct ratification of the Constitution by the people. The option for nation-states becoming signatory to the Constitution exists, and would be simpler in practice, but, as Glossop points out, sovereign nations are loath to do anything for humanity (as a whole) rather than their own perceived self-interest.

This is precisely why the nations are not a necessary requirement to ratify the Earth Constitution, because they are all, politically speaking, illegitimate (as Errol E. Harris also points out). They are illegitimate because no sovereign government can serve the common good of its population, which clearly includes preservation of the planetary environment, universal disarmament, and the institutionalizing of world peace (2008, 132). As in the present essay, Harris also links our planetary tragedy with the sovereignty of nations: “Hence the problems of maintaining world peace and of conserving the global ecological system are interlinked and are both rendered insoluble as long as the nations remain and claim to be sovereign and independent” (ibid. 130).

The above statement by Ronald J. Glossop is relevant, however, to the work of Provisional World Government that is currently in the business of establishing the key institutions of government, developing within the framework of the old world order to be sure, but without requiring the consent of the lawless nation-states. Many of the 67 World Legislative Acts (WLAs) passed by the Provisional World Parliament to date bear on the development of world peace (see works cited below). Here I will point to four of these that bear perhaps most directly on the process of disarmament. These include World Legislative Acts numbers 1, 13, 33, and 34.  WLA 1 prohibits weapons of mass destruction for all nations and establishes the World Disarmament Agency (WDA). It links the emerging Board of Trustees of the WDA to the ratification process for the Earth Constitution, so that nations ratifying the Constitution may each name a member to the Board.

WLA 13, called the World Peace Act, reaffirms the prohibition of WMDs but extends the prohibition to include any form of financing, managing, or transporting these weapons. It links the violation of these prohibitions to various degrees of felony culpability and specifies punishments upon conviction. It lists a progressively implemented system of culpability, illustrating a functional principle as suggested by Professor Glossop. As the agencies and laws developed under the Provisional World Government become more elaborated, more well-known, and respected, they will carry more functional weight. In this way, the beginnings of true enforceability can be initiated.

The Provisional World Parliament, under Article 19, has already passed enabling legislation for the Collegium of World Judges and the World Court System. It has also appointed officers to the Executive Branch of the Provisional World Government. In doing so, the infrastructure for enforceability is functionally developing without requiring the consent of the sovereign fragments who, by refusing to give up the illegitimate aspect of sovereignty, tacitly give their consent to the system endangering the future of humanity. Article 33 bans the production of all fissile materials that could be used in the manufacture of bombs or other nuclear explosive devices. It gives detailed specifications as to what constitutes these materials, who is responsible for obeying the law, punishments that correlate with violation, agencies responsible for inspection, enforcement, etc.

WLA 33 is complemented by WLA 34 that legislates a “nuclear weapons dismantling procedure.”  The procedures required by law for revealing nuclear weapons, conforming to the prohibitions on financing or transporting them, are here also extended to the processes and methods for dismantling them. This nexus of legal factors in these four World Legislative Acts invites and encourages the development of the agencies directed to enforcement.  To the extent that the Provisional World Parliament continues to grow and develop the resources and reach of its agencies, the process of disarmament is also extended and solidified.

This functionalist approach in turn reinforces both the process and the need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth that will ultimately be the only practically effective instrument for disarming the nations and preventing the tragedy of our planetary commons now represented by the lawless system of militarized sovereign states. This functionalist approach will have more authority than any comparable UN disarmament project, for the UN is based on the sovereign nation-state paradigm and hence undercuts its own authority. The Provisional World Parliament system is based on the new holistic paradigm carrying binding authority under the Earth Constitution.

 Beginning with the second stage of ratification (commencing when 50% of the world’s nations, that include at least 50% of the world’s population have ratified), the nations will have long since abandoned the false, illegitimate aspect of sovereignty that supposedly gives them the “right” to do what they please regardless of the common good of the people of Earth. The nations will then have legitimate sovereignty over their internal affairs, but the Earth Federation government will have enforceable authority to disarm the nations and institute the rule of enforceable law over all peoples and nations. By this point (stage two), the rest of the world’s population will surely be clambering to join the Earth Federation—for all will by then be fully aware of the need for holism, the benefits of the rule of law, and the tremendous significance of a global public authority directed to the common good and eliminating the threat of planetary tragedy.

These benefits are outlined in Article 1 of the Constitution. They include ending war and disarming the nations, protecting universal human rights, eliminating extreme poverty from the Earth, and protecting the planetary environment. The planetary tragedy of the commons, today horrific and staring us directly in the face, will finally be averted for good through the only truly rational option available to humanity—ratification and implementation of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

Works Cited:

Glossop, Ronald J. (1994). Confronting War: An Examination of Humanity’s Most Pressing Problem. Third Edition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Finnis, John. 1980. Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Harris, Errol E. (2008). Twenty-first Century Democratic Renaissance: From Plato to Neoliberalism to Planetary Democracy. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1991). Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Alan Wood, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Garrett Hardin (1980). “Tragedy of the Commons,” in Economics, Ecology, Ethics: Essays Toward a Steady-State Economy. Ed. Herman E. Daly. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company, pp. 100-114.

Kant, Immanuel (1957). Perpetual Peace. Ed. Lewis White Beck. New York: Macmillan.

Martin, Glen T., ed. (2016). Constitution for the Federation of Earth. The Constitution is also on-line at www.earth-constitution.org. It is available there and elsewhere in many languages.

Moltmann, Jürgen (2012). Ethics of Hope. Trans. Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Tawney, R.H. (2017). The Acquisitive Society. A Public Domain Book. ISBN 9781544682877, pp. 1-2.

UN Sustainable Development Goals at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

World Legislative Acts of the Provisional World Parliament at:

http://www.worldproblems.net/english/legislation/summaries_en/world_legislation_contents.html#pwp_14_2015