Let’s begin this journey with the idea that we need a constitutional amendment, which has popped up before. The amendment would align the US government now and forever in favor of humanity and nature, ahead of corporations or anything else. Currently, corporations with lots of money and power that are directly causing the problems of society, such as air and water pollution, are fighting with everything they’ve got to reduce or eliminate restrictions on them. Here’s some inspiration:
In the same spirit, US Ojibway leader Walt Bresette helped lead a movement in the 1990s that drafted a proposed amendment to the US Constitution. He pointed out that concern for future generations was already in the Constitution, where the Preamble speaks of securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Building on this, the proposed Seventh Generation Amendment reads:
The right of citizens of the U.S. to enjoy and use air, water, sunlight, and other renewable resources determined by the Congress to be common property shall not be impaired, nor shall such use impair their availability for use by the future generations.
This amendment, the New Zealand victory, QE for the planet—all of these are acts of imaginative excellence, envisioning how the wealth of the earth might be decolonized from corporate control. They’re not about incrementally less harm, but making the sustaining of life a first principle.
Kelly, Marjorie. The Making of a Democratic Economy . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.
This amendment was known as the “Seventh Generation Amendment” or the “Common Property Amendment.” Here is some additional historical information: http://www.savethewatersedge.com/seventh-generation.html. Some people on Quora argue against the amendment but they’re mostly missing the point that it’s about protecting the commons, i.e. the air we breath and the water we drink, and bloviating about government overreach, etc. Also, the proposed language was “draft” language, not necessarily perfect or final. An amendment like this may help protect us from the government as well as corporations, as in they have to stop listening to their corporate overlords and protect our people and our natural assets.
The Environmental Law Institute provides the current status:
New legal initiatives to address climate change are gaining traction, but the history of environmental law in the United States teaches that every aspect of any new legal regime will be aggressively tested in the courts. The nascent efforts to control climate change are no exception and already face constitutional challenges in federal courts on multiple fronts. For example, industry argues both that the federal government lacks the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and that state regulations should be pre-empted by federal authority. The states’ attempts to enact their own laws or to join together on a regional basis are being met with an array of hostile claims, including that such laws violate the Constitution’s dormant commerce clause, compact clause, and treaty power clause. The Supreme Court has already heard argument in a case challenging whether citizens and states even have standing to bring climate-change suits in the first place, and an adverse ruling could have sweeping effects. Anticipating — and eventually fending off — these inevitable challenges is critical to the viability of every serious legal response to climate change.
It seems like if we had a constitutional amendment protecting the commons, we would get around some of these problems. Any thoughts on that? A problem I can already see with this is that companies will take their business elsewhere, as they’ve done with the outsourcing of their pollution by taking polluting operations to locations with less protective laws. The US can and should lead by example, so it’s worth getting our own house in order. However, it also will require a change in ways of thinking and doing things.
Here’s a seemingly apt excerpt from a book I just started reading that’s entitled “Land-Use Planning for Sustainable Development“:
In such a debate, the questions must be: Does the holder of a deed to land of any kind “own” the land in an absolute sense, or is he or she only a custodial trustee? Does such a holder of a deed have the moral right to degrade the productive capacity of the land before passing it on to the next person who must use it? Put a little differently: Does any person have the moral right to steal options from the future for immediate personal gain by irreparably degrading the productive capacity of the land? If not, how can one be granted the legal right to do so?
These questions are addressed in a proposed “common property” amendment to the U.S. Constitution, proposed by Ojibwe leader Walt Bressette (1947–1999) in the early 1990s. This amendment, also known as the Seventh Generation Amendment, does not abrogate the current constitutional protection of property rights (Fifth Amendment) but rather adds to the definition of property. Common sense tells us that common property exists, is being undermined, and needs protection, just as private property has protection. The proposed amendment thus reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to use and enjoy air, water, wildlife, and other renewable resources determined by the Congress to be common property shall not be impaired, nor shall such use impair their availability for the use of future generations.”
Should the status quo prevail, however, it will do so because of what Professor David Orr calls “conservatives against conservation.” The discussion that follows is taken from his insightful article.
“The philosophy of conservatism has swept the political field virtually everywhere,” says Orr, and virtually everywhere conservatives have forgotten what conservatism really means. “What is conservative,” asks Orr, “about squandering for all time our biological heritage under the pretext of protecting temporary property rights?” Present-day conservatives scorn efforts by the public to protect such things as endangered habitats (like old-growth forests); endangered species (like spotted owls, coho salmon, and red wolves); clean air; and clean water. Almost any restriction placed on the rights of an individual to use land as private property is being viewed increasingly as an unlawful “taking,” even when such use would irreparably damage the land and its surrounding environment. How, one might ask, is it any more of a lawful taking when one degrades land in the present that must be used in an impoverished condition by someone in the next generation and beyond?
Even John Locke, from whom we have derived much of our land use law and philosophy, said that, “Nothing was made by God for Man to spoil or destroy.” “The point,” says Orr, “is that John Locke did not regard property rights as absolute even in a world with a total population of less than one billion, and neither should we in a world of 5.7 billion.”
“What,” asks Orr, “is conservative about conservatives’ denial of the mounting scientific evidence of impending climatic change?” Climate change will have rapid, self-reinforcing feedback loops that could change the nature of Earth’s hospitality to human life for all time. What right do we have to run such a risk when the consequences belong to young generations of today and all generations of the future, and they have no voice in either the decisions or their outcomes?
What, asks Orr, is conservative about perpetual economic expansion when it not only has changed Earth more radically than any other force in modern times but also is rapidly destroying communities, traditions, cultural diversity, and whole ecosystems throughout the world? What is conservative about passing forward a despoiled legacy to the future? Edmund Burke put the capstone on land ownership and the unlimited rights of private property as a sustainable proposition when he wrote:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. … Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Silberstein M.A., Jane. Land-Use Planning for Sustainable Development (Social Environmental Sustainability) (p. 31). CRC Press. Kindle Edition.
Written by Amy McMorrow Hunter, October 10, 2019
Image Copyright Amy McMorrow Hunter 2019