Earth Law Center
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Earth Law Center
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Crisis (1 hits), crises (0 hits),

Full Submission

Submission by Earth Law Center to the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development


Earth Law Center is a 501(c)(3) public benefit organization dedicated to advancing Earth-based laws, economic structures, and governance systems that reflect the intrinsic rights of the natural world to exist, thrive and evolve. Earth Law Center staff has considerable expertise in advancing sustainable environmental laws and policies at the local, state and federal levels, particularly with respect to water and waterways. We welcome the opportunity to submit these inputs and contributions for inclusion in the compilation document that will advise the zero draft of the outcome document (Zero Draft) for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio +20).


Earth Law Center urges decision-makers to highlight the following objectives in the Zero Draft, and to prioritize them for adoption and action at Rio +20:

? Support Earth-based governance, in particular by recognizing and implementing in law the rights of ecosystems and species to exist, thrive and evolve.

? Endorse and promote adoption of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and actively support its implementation globally.

? Re-define ?sustainable development? and the ?green economy? within the context of Earth-based laws and governance systems that recognize the rights of the natural world, rather than within the limited, injurious context of human-centered, unlimited economic growth and short-term, individual human gain.

o To ensure this objective is achieved, re-name and re-focus ?sustainable development? as ?sustainable communities,? a term which includes both human communities and the wider communities of the natural world.

o This re-focusing is needed to ensure that all elements of sustainable communities are considered. The current, market-based approach distorts communities to serve the economy. Elements of sustainable human communities include not just the economy, but also culture, societal/familial relations, healthy food, clean drinking water, sanitation, housing, necessary medical care, democratic governance, education, meaningful and appropriately rewarded labor, spirituality, civic duty, volunteerism, etc. Sustainable environmental communities similarly require healthy nutrients, clean water, biodiversity, restoration in the face of destruction, and thriving, connected habitats. The economy must be viewed as serving human and environmental communities, not the reverse.

o Implementation strategies for these goals should also be identified and supported; including, for example, water rights held by waterways, agro-ecological methods of food production, and a global financial transaction tax to support strategy implementation.

? Refine the institutional framework to reflect Earth-based governance strategies that achieve ?sustainable communities.? The existing three pillars ? Environment, Society and Economy ? reflect false assumptions about the need for and likelihood of unlimited economic growth, and its place in a sustainable community. These assumptions must be reconsidered, and the three pillars should be revisited within the context of humans? actual interrelationships with other Earth inhabitants. A healthy environment is the most overarching need; without it, human society, and its subset the human economy, cannot function. A new, ?sustainable communities? institutional framework should be supported by nested structures, with environment supported by society, which in turn is supported by not only economy but also by the other elements of sustainable communities.

As the last several decades have shown, tinkering with rather than ending our addiction to ecosystem- and species-fueled, ?unlimited? growth on a finite planet will inevitably fail. The focus now should be on reworking our overarching governance systems to embrace the goal of sustainable communities, rather than contorting our communities to serve runaway, increasingly destructive growth. We only avoid this necessary work with the proposed, misplaced focus on ?sustainable development? and ?green? economy as our end goals. By contrast, a successful, Earth-based governance system will necessarily include appropriate development within Earth?s limits, and a truly ?green? economy. Such an economy would implicitly accept humans? place within the interconnected web of our relationships with other Earth systems, rather than perpetuate our illusory mastery over them.

Each of these points is discussed in more detail below.


Support Earth-based governance, in particular by calling for recognition and implementation in law of the rights of ecosystems and species to exist, thrive and evolve.

Despite achieving some notable successes over the years, our current environmental laws and agreements, including past efforts of the UNCSD, have been unable to prevent increasingly grave challenges such as climate change, depleted waterways, and disappearing species and natural habitats ? all of which contribute to the growing human populations without clean water, safe shelter, healthy food or other basic necessities. These dilemmas result in large part because our overarching legal and economic systems treat the natural world as property that can be exploited and degraded, rather than as an integral ecological partner with its own rights to exist and thrive. They assume that the environment will be protected if humans take from it a little less, and a little less quickly. But this simply slows, never stops, the downward slide.

The environment is increasingly registering its objections to this legal and economic mismatch. Climate change is the most direct protest, one that disproportionately impacts the most disadvantaged and marginalized human communities. Since we are inextricably intertwined with our environment, this trend does not bode well for us either.

The false dogma of ?humans over nature? needs to shift to allow us to recognize our interconnectedness with the natural world and acknowledge its rights to exist and thrive. By creating a legal system that incorporates and respects ecosystem rights, we will prompt planning and actions that ensure that we truly live sustainably, for the benefit of all humans and of the natural world that sustains us.

However, despite protestations to the contrary in the UNCSD draft documents and elsewhere, protection of nature is generally subsumed to the incessant driver of economic growth. Such anthropocentrism is out of step with science, and leads to a dangerously unbalanced relationship between humans and the rest of the community of life on Earth.

The 2011 U.N. background report, Toward a Green Economy, illustrates the dilemma of attempting to improve environmental protection by further forcing environmental ?protection? efforts to fit within a market economy system that is causing the destruction. For example, the report asserts on page 15 that:

the most prevalent myth [about ?greening? the global economy] is that there is an inescapable trade-off between environmental sustainability and economic progress. There is now substantial evidence that that the greening of economies neither inhibits wealth creation nor employment opportunities.

The document is correct that there should be no trade-off between environment and economy, in that no economy can flourish without a healthy environment, on which we are utterly dependent. However, the document fails to ask the correct questions about how to address the current imbalance between an economy predicated on runaway growth and an environment being destroyed by that economy. Instead, it simply assumes without question that such an economy must continue; stating, for example, that such hesitant actions as ?market-based incentives? can be used to course-correct the incessant drive toward depletion of the natural world.

The far better course would be to ask and analyze more searching questions about the kind of world that we want to achieve through these types of international exercises, and more narrow questions about related topics such as the nature of ?wealth creation? (that is, why we assume that wealth must be defined by current economic indicators rather than by other metrics, and why the increase in economic wealth must continue unabated). For example, as Polanyi posits in The Great Transformation, the distribution of good and services need not be for the purpose of maximizing economic wealth, but instead would be put to better use providing for biological and social needs.

The failure to date of the process to ask and answer these types of searching questions results in a flawed strategic analysis that fails to examine necessary alternatives or provide appropriate metrics for assessing progress. As just one example, the Water chapter of UNEP?s Towards a Green Economy report lists indicators of ?progress towards a green economy? on page 121; of the five indicators listed, not one calls for measuring progress on improvements to waterway or water-dependent ecosystem health. This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that the same report also points to an aggregate decline in waterway and aquifer health worldwide (page 130). Environmental health appears as a mere afterthought to the process of current efforts to further monetize the Earth?s systems. The end result will inevitably center on a haggling over the prices that stakeholders with funds are willing to pay, rather than a serious effort to assess what environmental health looks like and to determine how to change our lifestyles to reach and maintain that goal. Treating the environment as afterthought to pricing will be not only to the detriment of the natural world, but also to we humans who depend on it.

We strongly recommend that the UNCSD and the Zero Draft raise and answer these searching questions, rather than defaulting to the process equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Only a governance system based on a humble acknowledgment of our place within a web of inter-relationships with other humans and natural world ? one that recognizes that a healthy Earth is fundamental to continued, flourishing human existence ? can be deemed ?sustainable.? An operating system premised on ?development? as the end goal of the exercise in defining ?sustainability? is not equipped to ask and answer the urgent questions about how we should conduct our lives in an era of growing scarcity.

Accordingly, we urge decision-makers to include in the Zero Draft and to strongly support a system not of market-based governance, but of Earth-based governance, which recognizes the intrinsic value of the natural world apart from its benefit as a "resource" for human use. Such a governance system would respect Earth?s limits and would continually evolve to reflect new science on the workings and boundaries of Earth?s systems. It would incorporate an ongoing analysis of ethics for the purpose of developing decision-making criteria, such as use of the precautionary approach and assignment of the burden of proof in disputes. Finally, Earth-based governance would recognize and implement in law the rights of ecosystems and species to exist, thrive and evolve, including rights of ecosystems and species to representation at such international gatherings as UNCSD, and it would appropriately protect the environment?s right to restoration for human-caused destruction.

The development and implementation of Earth-based governance will in time create its own feedback loop ? one where science and ethics drives law, which drives culture, which drives further evolution in law, science and ethics ? until the law and the culture meet, and we cannot envision a time where our laws relegated the natural world to second-class, ?property? status. Along this path, ?environmentalism? itself will evolve from a subset of the population acting to safeguard the planet, into a deeply-felt awareness in the hearts and minds of all individuals, an awareness that further guides our self-governance over how we live our lives and make our daily choices to achieve not only sustainable, but indeed flourishing, environmental and human communities.

Endorse and promote adoption of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and actively support its implementation globally.

As noted above, the false dogma of ?humans over nature? needs to shift to make way for a legal system that incorporates and respects ecosystem rights. Such a system is essential to prompt planning and actions that support sustainable communities, not simply continued infinite economic growth incorrectly characterized as ?sustainable.?

Fortunately, models are cropping up for legal systems that can steer us in the right direction. For example, the Ecuadorian Constitution at Articles 71 and 72 endows the environment with inalienable rights to "exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution." The Constitution further grants individuals the legal authority to defend these rights on behalf of the environment. This language acknowledges the interdependence between humans and environment, and respects both sides of that tightly-knit relationship. Its provisions were first tested in a successful case earlier this year, in which the court found that the Vilcabamba River?s constitutional right to flow had been violated by destructive road development practices, and ordered that the river?s flow be restored.

The precedent set by the Ecuadorian Constitution also led to the adoption, led by Bolivia, of an international Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Following the failure of U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen to achieve meaningful progress in combating climate change, the Bolivian government organized an alternative conference for communities, NGOs, lawyers, academics, scientists and governments from around the world. This conference, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010, was attended by 35,000 people from 140 countries. At the end, participants adopted a Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, which recognizes Earth as a living being with rights to life, to the continuation of vital cycles and processes, and to restoration from destructive human activities. The Declaration was formally presented to the United Nations in an April 2011 General Assembly event, and provides a sound structure for establishing actions and strategies to achieve healthy, sustainable human and environmental communities.

Accordingly, we urge UNCSD decision-makers to endorse and promote adoption of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth in the Zero Draft, and to call for its active support and implementation globally. As Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth states:

[t]he rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.

Human rights, including to a sustainable economy, must by definition be in harmony with Earth?s systems and consistent with the rights of nature to exist, thrive and evolve. The Declaration thereby appropriately seeks to rebalance our relationship with the Earth from one that is destructive to one that is mutually enhancing, for the benefit of the whole Earth community.

Re-define ?sustainable development? and the ?green economy? within the context of Earth-based laws and governance that recognize the rights of the natural world. Re-name and re-focus ?sustainable development? as ?sustainable communities,? a term which includes both human communities and the wider communities of the natural world.

As discussed above, Earth-based governance, rather than inherently flawed market-based governance, should be the focus of international decision-makers in ensuring the future well-being of people and ecosystems. It cannot be argued that current UNCSD efforts to better define ?sustainable development? and a ?green economy? are equivalent to ensuring the well-being of people and planet, because they fail to: (a) deeply question whether the current, injurious economic system is either beneficial and viable, or (b) consider different metrics for ensuring healthy people and planet.

We accordingly challenge decision-makers to evaluate the flaws of the market-based approach by re-naming and re-focusing ?sustainable development? as ?sustainable communities,? a term that includes both human communities and the wider communities of the natural world. Only by changing the lens by which the analysis is conducted can we begin to see the inherent flaws and limitations of the current effort to contort environmental and societal well-being into a system focused on protecting markets and unending economic growth.

This re-focusing is also needed to ensure that all elements of sustainable communities are considered; i.e., not just the market economy. Elements of sustainable human communities include not solely the economy, but also culture, societal/familial relations, healthy food, clean water, sanitation, housing, necessary medical care, democratic governance, education, meaningful and appropriately rewarded labor, spirituality, civic duty, volunteerism, interaction with the natural world, etc. Sustainable environmental communities similarly require healthy nutrients, clean water, biodiversity, restoration in the face of destruction, and thriving, connected habitats. The economy must be viewed as serving human and environmental communities, not the reverse, as is the case with the current effort and background documents.

Examples of the Implications of a Misplaced Focus on Development over Sustainable Communities

One example of the implications of the ongoing and expanded focus on economic development rather than sustainable communities is seen in the flawed definition of the ?green economy? itself, which fails to commit to successful, Earth-based sustainability. UNEP?s 2011 report, Towards a Green Economy defines a ?green economy? as ?one that results in ?improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities?? (page 16). This definition first clearly emphasizes human well-being over environmental health, disregarding the science and ethics of behaving as if the environment were our property rather than essential, connected partner on this Earth. Second, by failing to tackle the inherently flawed foundational assumption that continued economic growth is possible and desirable, the definition prevents meaningful progress in achieving well-being for all humans and human communities. Rather, in the words of the Occupy movement, it benefits the 1% at the expense of the 99%. Again, as we are all connected, this failure bodes ill for the population as a whole. Finally, unpacking this definition further, we see additional implications of a failure to consider grounding the economy in Earth-based governance, in that the definition side-steps achieving environmental health and settles instead for ?reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.? Achieving an undefined ?reduction? in environmental injury can easily be achieved on paper to further serve runaway economic growth, with no meaningful, sustainable achievement of environmental health and sustainability in reality.

The Water chapter of the Towards a Green Economy report further illustrates the practical implications of a ?green economy? that is neither ?green? nor protects the economy. Page 137 lists various strategies for enhancing water supplies and notes that each is ?consistent with the development of a green economy,? which it then defines as ?seek[ing] to minimise the impact of economic activity on the environment.? While minimizing the impacts of our current market economy on the environment is an essential first step, it should not be the end goal, particularly when that same economy is destroying essential waterways and aquifers (see, e.g., examples on page 131). Instead, the end goal should be a healthy environment, and by association healthy human communities. The current, narrow focus on the economy as the driver of success, rather than the reason for failure, will only continue to prevent us from seeing this basic end goal, to the detriment of all.

A strategy-level example of the flaws in the proposed ?green economy? approach is the growing effort to use ?payment for ecosystem services? as a tool to achieve sustainability. While we should, of course, better appreciate the many benefits that ecosystems and species provide us, converting ecosystems and species into monetary values threatens to trap us in the same market-based web that created the environmental destruction that we are trying to prevent. If ecosystems or species are threatened, the argument broadly states, we should translate the issue to monetary terms and write a check, thus solving or avoiding the problem. However, this fails because of at least three unexamined logical and practical flaws. First, by subsuming the environment within the market economy, rather than appropriately nesting the economy within the overarching need for a healthy environment, ?payment for ecosystem services? (PES) will always prioritize market protection over the environmental health. Second, and as a practical matter, by monetizing the environment and its services, the argument shifts from environmental health to money and cost. The negotiation becomes not about ?how do we achieve environmental health,? but about ?how much are stakeholders are willing to pay and who will profit? ? an entirely different conversation that is unrelated to sustainability. Finally, the arguments for PES ignore the fact that water, in particular, is essential to life itself, and its acquisition cannot in many cases be subsumed within a simplistic ?willingness to pay? metric. This is particularly true for people on fixed, limited or no incomes, and for the environment, whose water needs are already marginalized by the report?s focus on human-centered market economics as the solution to human water needs.

An application-level example of the flaws in the proposed ?green economy? approach is provided by Australia, referenced in the report as a potential success story due to its environmental water buy-back program (pages 142-143). However, since the release of Green Economy, the Australian National Water Commission released its own assessment of this National Water Initiative (Sept. 2011, This assessment characterizes the auditing and accountability safeguards around the $1.3 billion Aus spent to date to buy back water from farmers for the environment as ?weak,? and resulting in no detailed evidence that the buy-back has delivered ecological benefits. This is a particularly disturbing finding given the amount of public money spent to date, and the amount ($500 million Aus) still due to be spent this year. The report further finds that ?[t]he necessary science to link environmental watering with ecological outcomes is generally weak and there is a lack of transparent reporting results.? This unfortunately is not surprising given the blithely placed mistrust in the market to cure water ills. Unless the focus is on the waterways and aquifers themselves and their needs, science will take a back door to the market process, with inevitably disappointing results. The report finally concludes that the rapidly-expanding and essentially unregulated coal seam gas mining industry in Australia, which like its U.S. counterpart fracking uses enormous amounts of water, must be brought under the National Water Initiative ?as a matter of urgency.? Given the political and market pressure to expand coal seam gas mining in Australia, this advice is unlikely to be heeded soon. Again, the misplaced focus on markets distracts decision-makers and the public from the task at hand ? determining the existing desired health of waterways and aquifers, and governing ourselves accordingly. Such Earth-based governance includes allocating actual, enforced water rights to waterways for the water they need for their own survival ? not simply to serve human needs.

One California-specific example of the costly implications of a misplaced trust in the market to solve water problems was uncovered in an investigative report by California journalist Mike Taugher. As discussed further in his multi-part report on ?Pumping Water and Cash from the Delta? (see, e.g.,, the investigation uncovered significant manipulation of public funds set aside for environmental uses to enrich specific individuals and corporations, with little to no environmental benefit. An excerpt from the investigative report illustrates the inherent danger in relying on market-based solutions to redress the problems created by market-based strategies:

As the West Coast's largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found.

The "environmental water account" set up in 2000 to improve the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.

Financed with taxpayer-backed environment and water bonds, the program spent most of its money in Kern County, a largely agricultural region at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. There, water was purchased from the state and then traded back to the account for a higher price. . . .

No one appears to have benefitted more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County. Resnick's water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.

Those companies sold $30.6 million of water to the state program, participated as a partner in an additional $16 million in sales and received an additional $3.8 million in checks and credits for sales through public water agencies, documents show.

In summary, if the market system is our operating system, then its most talented manipulators will inevitably profit from it, at the expense of the environment and sustainable human communities. In other words, money will find a way to enrich, not to serve. We need an operating system premised on other metrics of what a flourishing life on Earth means to people and planet; one that does not relegate decision-making about the planet?s lifeblood ? water ? to those who have the money and associated power to decide.

The Towards a Green Economy report offers up numerous other implications of the single-minded focus on the economy, including conclusions that arise in other ways from the report?s analytical blinders. As a final example, the report states without irony in the Water chapter on page 134 that ?[d]esalination has the advantage that it is climate independent.? By focusing only on costs, the report misses the otherwise obvious climate-related implications of desalination. These include not only desalination?s significant contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, but also the unknown implications of sea level rise on the siting of the ocean-side desalination facilities, infrastructure and transport systems. The report?s blithe conclusion also ignores the increasing inability of island nations to obtain the fuel needed to support desalination facilities due to both rising costs and to port facilities also impacted by sea level rise.

A continued focus on the failed monetization policies of the past will only exacerbate such analytical and implementation problems. Only a careful, thorough assessment of the flawed operative assumptions that led us to a world where rivers now run backwards (page 131) will uncover long-term, sustainable solutions that ensure a healthy environment and healthy human communities.

Examples of Strategies to Implement Earth-Based Governance that Support Sustainable Communities

Earth Law Center accordingly urges decision-makers to include in the Zero Draft and support a re-focus on sustainable communities, which will yield the contours of a truly ?green? economy along with each of the other elements of sustainable human and environmental communities, as articulated above. Current economic metrics such as GDP only reinforce environmental and societal degradation at the hands of ever-increasing growth. Seeking the definition of an economy that fits within a larger definition of ?sustainable communities,? rather than one premised on infinite growth, requires a different judgment of economic welfare. For example, a number of U.S. towns and cities, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a population of over 300,000, have assessed the local environmental costs of further runaway economic growth and adopted laws that grant local control to prevent destructive new development. These laws also grant legal rights to the natural world to be healthy, thrive and evolve, which further support the municipalities? recognition of the value of a healthy environment and healthy communities apart from the monetary drive of the markets. Such communities and states around the world are fighting to regain control over their own, Earth-based definitions of ?sustainable,? efforts that should be encouraged by the UNCSD.

The Zero Draft should include these and other implementation strategies consistent with a goal of ?sustainable communities? grounded in Earth-based governance. An additional example of such an implementation strategy involves allocations of water rights to waterways and aquifers in amounts sufficient to meet their environmental needs. The Towards a Green Economy report characterizes existing efforts in Oregon and Australia as allocation of such water rights (page 142; see also above discussion regarding Australia?s program). Both, however, in fact fall short in achieving this goal, in part because both are limited by the acquisition of sufficient funds to obtain the water needed for environmental sustenance. True water rights for ecosystems would depend only on the ecosystems? needs, not on the availability of funds to feed those needs. The funding becomes an impediment to achieving this goal because of society?s flawed operating assumption that water is property to be used for human benefit, as if humans were somehow separate from the rivers that they are draining to dust. Rivers have a right to flow, independent of human needs, and we must adjust ourselves accordingly or face the implications of those decisions in the form of increasingly disappearing supplies.

In a related example, the U.N. General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have now both recognized the human right to water and sanitation; these mandates should similarly be strongly supported and advanced at Rio +20. However, is not possible to protect the human right to water and sanitation without recognizing the inherent rights of nature and other species to be healthy, thrive and evolve. Thus, protection of the human right to water first requires protection of waterway and aquifer health and the integrity of hydrologic cycles. However, the disturbing trend of corporate privatization of water impedes progress in this area. Resolution E/2005/29 calls upon the UNCSD to review the implementation of international water and sanitation decisions at its session in 2012 (p. 19, paragraph 4). The Council of Canadians? 2011 ?Review of Private Sector Influence on Water Policies and Programmes at the United Nations? found evidence of significant corporate lobbying and influence in past water-themed discussions and proceedings of the UNCSD, including during processes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. By addressing corporate pressures at Rio +20, decision-makers will have a greater opportunity to explore the full range of options that exist for addressing the global water Crisis, consistent with Earth-based governance.

Other examples arise from consideration of the roles of the distribution of good and services. As noted above, this distribution process need not be for the purpose of maximizing wealth, but instead could be for the purpose of providing for biological and social needs ? that is, for global well-being. One example of such an implementation strategy that is consistent with Earth-based governance is promotion of agro-ecological methods of food production to replace the growing trend toward corporate food industrialization. In 2009, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development concluded that ?the way the world grows its food will have to change radically? and argued for an agro-ecological approach to food production as the most effective route to meeting the world?s increasing food needs. This four-year, UN-sponsored project included the work of 400 researchers and was funded by $12 million from the World Bank. Increasing concentration of the corporate industrial food complex causes environmental destruction, exacerbates land distribution inequalities and exacerbates poverty. We cannot continue to degrade our soil with genetically modified mono-crops and their requisite fertilizer-pesticide packages and expect soils to support yields to perpetually feed our growing population. Agro-ecological methods of food production sequester carbon in the soil, promote biodiversity and promote local food sovereignty, and should be supported in the Zero Draft.

Finally, the World Bank and other international financial institutions have used the same flawed ideology that supports tax havens to promote lower tax structures in resource-rich developing countries. Implementation of an international financial transactions tax would raise much-needed funds for countering environmental destruction (such as climate change) and human poverty, and would help slow commodities speculation that has taken a significant toll on human and environmental victims.

Refine the institutional framework to reflect Earth-based governance strategies that achieve ?sustainable communities.?

The 1972 Stockholm Declaration articulated three ?pillars? to sustainable development: Environment, Society and Economy. The 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future further defined sustainable development as ?development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.? Though well-intentioned, these approaches have failed to achieve their objective of transforming environmentally destructive, market-based governance systems into sustainable, Earth-based governance, for the reasons discussed above. Indeed, the pace of climate change impacts, species and habitat devastation, and other environmental problems has increased over this time.

We urge decision-makers to re-think both the purpose and structure of this institutional framework effort. First, as already addressed, the goal should not be one of only slightly curbing the runaway-growth market economy, but instead one of ensuring sustainable human and environmental communities served by a ?green? economy that accounts and respects for the limits of the Earth.

Second, use of the three pillars implicitly assumes that each is equally significant in achieving sustainable communities. This assumption is contrary to science, which demonstrates our interconnectedness, and indeed contrary to economics, in which the current market-based growth is fueled by the continued availability of natural ?resources,? including a favorable climate. As just one example among uncounted others, in a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists predict that climate change may cause yields of corn, soybeans, and cotton in the U.S. to decrease by as much as 80% by 2100. A healthy environment is simply essential to human survival and well-being.

A different framework is needed, one that reflects both the reality of our interdependence and our Earth-based vision of healthy, sustainable human and environmental communities. The outer structure supporting the desired ?sustainable communities? goal should be Environment, given our dependence on healthy Earth systems for our own survival. The individual pillars supporting this outer Environment structure would be the various elements of a healthy environment, including sufficient healthy nutrients and clean water, biodiversity, restoration in the face of destruction, and thriving, connected habitats.

Society necessarily follows as a nested framework structure within the outer Environment framework, where Society refers to human societies implementing Earth-based governance systems that support a flourishing planet. For instance, as Towards a Green Economy notes on page 19, ?the link between ecological scarcity and poverty is well-established?; this is true for Society as well, which is impacted directly and indirectly by rising poverty rates. Society is more than money or markets, and the proposed, Earth-based governance system should reflect all elements of thriving human societies. The internal pillars supporting Society should represent each of these elements, including but not limited to: culture, societal/familial relations, healthy food, clean water, sanitation, housing, necessary medical care, democratic governance, education, meaningful and appropriately rewarded labor, spirituality, civic duty, volunteerism ? and the economy, as just one of these numerous elements. Again from Polanyi: ?the control of the economic system by the market . . . means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.? We made choices in arriving at the point now where the markets are running society and environment. We can choose differently, and re-envision a market that serves the planet as a whole, and sustainable communities in particular.

In sum, we must not continue to contort our environmental protection efforts to meet the market economy. We need to reinvent the economy to reflect the fact that we are interconnected beings with our environment, and we must govern our behavior ? including our economic behavior ? accordingly. The primary impediment to success is the faulty underlying assumption that the environment is property to do with as we wish, to fuel the economic growth that we (again, wrongly) assume can and must continue unabated into the future. With the recommendations above, Rio +20 decision-makers can begin to rectify this foundational error and begin a road to planetary recovery and long-term sustainability.

* * *

As Ambassador Pablo Solón states in the 2011 book, The Rights of Nature:

We are facing a debate in the United Nations among those that . . . advocat[e] the path of the market, [versus] the path of recognizing and respecting the larger system of the planet Earth on which we all live. . . . The future of humans and Nature depends on the path humanity chooses.

Decision-makers have an unprecedented opportunity at Rio +20 to adopt Earth-based governance as the guiding operating system for a new ?sustainable communities? movement that reflects our interconnectedness with, and dependence on, the Earth?s natural systems. Earth Law Center urges decision-makers to incorporate the above inputs and contributions into the Zero Draft for this seminal event, launch this movement through strong public support for Earth-based governance, and work to ensure its implementation for the benefit of all Earth?s inhabitants.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit these comments. If you have any questions or would like additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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