The Legacy of Lima?

Morrison, Jane Gray, Tobias, Michael Charles | November 11, 2014 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Critically Endangered Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)
(C) Copyright 2014 by Michael Charles Tobias

At Yale University October 14th, Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, suggested that – along lines of what is now being termed New Zealand’s approach – the way towards a climate change treaty involves creating fluid parameters on a nation-by-nation basis. Said Stern, if countries come together and work through it according to the best wisdom on the table at present (our characterization of the way New Zealand’s strategy is being perceived) then, Stern goes on to say, “we would have for the first time established a stable, durable, rules-based agreement with legal force that is more ambitious than ever before, even if not yet ambitious enough – an agreement that is applicable to all in a genuine and not just a formalistic manner.”

Three weeks before Stern was speaking at Yale, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala called this same, general ambition realizable and conveyed a sense that “the time has come to mobilize history’s greatest alliance in an effort for climate and development,” emphasizing that a “clear and coherent document” should be finalized at the Lima Summit in the first week of December of this year; one that should be ready to be signed a year later at the COP21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) U.N. Climate Summit in Paris (late November, early December, 2015).

President Humala was wise, if not a little optimistic, to declare that “No other problem requires so much public planning, so much mobilization of civil society, so much foresight and competitiveness from the private sector.”

The fact that we have long surpassed 350ppm (the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) and now have exceeded 400ppm, would give any other species pause, but not our own. Recently, Abigail Marsh of Georgetown University, and her colleagues, suggested in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that there is a genetic “caring continuum” at one end of the human nature spectrum, and a gaggle of psychopaths at the other. A link, in other words, between “genes and moral judgments.” The research paper, entitled “Neural and cognitive characteristics of extraordinary altruists,” might well bode ill for what we would term “policy altruism.”

Very few instances in human history of policy altruism can actually be thoroughly documented. One such case, known in the Ahl language of the Todas of southern India, is named a noyim. The Todas, largely vegetarian, have achieved a unique and tenable approach to conflict resolution that embraces common sense-driven community wisdom, taken one olive branch at a time, century after century. Quakers have invoked similar consensus mechanisms. The era unleashed by the Japanese Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) represents 250 years of Japanese peace and the renunciation of all guns, though at the schizophrenic price of the murderous Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Denizens of a myriad of geographic regions and ethnic nationalities claim to have established the first true democracy, from the 10thcentury Icelandic Althing, to the Six Nations known as the Iroquois.

In each and every case of conflict resolution and consensus generating mechanisms, there have been flaws, time delays, gaps and contradictions. Now, ecologically speaking, we are uniquely poised in this history of resolving long-standing global conflicts, namely, there being precious little time left to save the majority of species. Most scientists and others who reflect deeply and with broad biological and ethical perspectives on the matter, know, or at least sense this crisis to be unique in the annals of human history.

But whether history be any guide is no longer at stake at a time of the Anthropocene – that 15,000 year old human-centered egomaniacal hegemony, equivalent in its implications for the biosphere, to a geological force – with which delegates to the upcoming Lima talks must now grapple.

Are politicians more likely to focus on hurricanes or Critically Endangered Arabian leopards? On Ebola virus or African elephants? On the strength of the Euro or an invisible molecule –extrapolated into the chain of command called fossil fuels – that the majority of the world still uses to generate its electricity?

Had Thomas Edison never lived, there is no doubting that hydrocarbons would nonetheless hold in thrall, like some hallucinogen, the majority of the world’s energy consumer’s.

The debate rapidly escalates over the cost of endangered human health, increasing global ambient temperatures, shifting rain curtains and food belts, melting continents, and the extinction of vast swathes of life on Earth. Yet, the hierarchy of political systems that individuals such as Aristotle and Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Ruskin have taken to task, remain essentially unchanged since the earliest claims to democracy, with all their clamor and unresolved basic ethical positions.

To provide but one example of this glaring societal ineptitude, that is to say, our inability to actually work in teams to solve solutions, consider the following: The International Criminal Court (“ICC”) in the Hague, with its 111 nation-state members, cannot even come up with an agreed upon definition of “aggression” (although linguistic consensus was reached with regard to the shared understanding of “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”). Only one of the member countries of the ICC, Great Britain, has fully agreed to adopt the provisions and obligations of the 1998 ICC Rome Statute, though 60 countries ratified its principles as of July 1 2002.

In other words, with violence spiraling out of control across the planet – the sole result of human behavior, of a war our species is waging against earth – the vast majority of us have ceded power, like it or not, to a minute coterie of individuals in whose hearts and minds we are vesting the future of the world: the climate talks, at Lima, and then in Paris.

If anybody has a better plan, now is the time to speak up.

© 2014 by Michael Charles Tobias/Jane Gray Morrison/Dancing Star Foundation


MAHB-UTS Blogs are a joint venture between the University of Technology Sydney and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

MAHB Blog: https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/the-legacy-of-lima/

 

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Thank you for this very thoughtful perspective. Our inability to address unprecedented global
    scale challenges, like climate change, resource depletion, and human
    overpopulation, is driven substantially by the kind of pathologically unprincipled,
    opportunists that we elect to govern. As you point out in your blog, the link
    between ‘genes and moral judgment’ appears very real. Too many of those that end up with financial
    and political power come from the wrong end of that continuum.

    People on the caring end of that spectrum are fed up with
    the political dysfunction driven by bankers, billionaires, and craven
    corporatists who seek maximum profit with no regard for consequence.

    Solving the world’s problems is more about politics than
    anything else. We have lost control to a small cabal of plutocrats and
    profiteers, who their wealth and power to buy politicians and shape public
    policy they want. The success of the
    ‘corporatist agenda’ in the recent ‘mid-term’ elections means more obfuscation,
    more obstruction, more denial of anything that serves the common good. Instead,
    the next two years will be about climate inaction, the blunting of environmental regulation, the
    repatriation of billions in corporate profits stashed overseas, and an elevated
    emphasis on war fighting and weapons.

    Those whose lives are grounded in scientific inquiry need to
    become far more involved at the grassroots. We need their voices of reason and
    intellectual substance. We need them to engage.

    We all have a stake in restoring ‘of, by, and for the
    people’ to our political. Ending the dysfunction must begin at the most
    fundamental level. I agree with Naomi
    Klein, author of the just published, This
    Change Everything. A big part of a
    worthy corrective course lies in a Constitutional Amendment that says,
    ‘Corporations are not People’ and ‘Money is not Speech’.

    No law has ever passed that gave corporations the same
    rights as flesh and blood citizens. The
    personhood they enjoy is built on legal precedent put in place by the judicial
    overreach of our Supreme Court. Our
    nation’s founders regulated Corporations as chartered, legal fictions. No law exists giving them, ‘human rights’. Their precedent based legal standing must be
    repudiated. A Constitutional remedy must
    come from the grassroots.

    The same holds true for the definition of ‘money’. Here again, the culprit is conservative
    judicial activism. No law ever passed
    that declared ‘Money equals Speech’.
    The Supreme Court did that.

    In the world I wish for, having big money does not include
    the right to use it to buy our political process.

    Professionally, my focus has been on renewably energy, but at the end of the day what I wish for
    most is a 28th Constructional Amendment that says ‘Corporations are
    not People’ and ‘Money is not Speech’. Move to Amend [ http://www.movetoamend.org ] is an activist group focused entirely on
    just such an amendment.

    Despite conservative success in the mid-term election,
    communities in five different states passed local initiatives supporting Move
    to Amend’s Constructional agenda, with 70% or more of the vote. When people are exposed to this brand of
    grassroots action, they respond. Move to
    Amend’s agenda is not liberal or conservative. It is based on life-affirming
    Constitutional principle.

    Anyone not already engaged should take the time to inform
    themselves. If you are part of the vast
    majority on the ‘caring’ side of the human continuum, you have an obligation to the biosphere, and
    to living generations still to come, to
    be part of the solution. For those in
    science that are accustomed to staying above the political fray, that means
    you. Move to Amend; ‘Corporations are
    not People’ and ‘Money is not Speech.’

  • Nick Stonnington

    Michael and Geoffrey, I can feel your frustration. Knowing how to fix a problem and actually fixing it are two different worlds. It seems we are better at reacting than at anticipating. Like a frog placed in boiling water, he’ll jump right out, but the biosphere crisis is more like the frog placed in cold water which is gradually brought to the boil – the frog never jumps out.

    • Dear Nick,
      Thank you for your comment.
      The frogs have never been anything other than extraordinary Triassic miracles of evolution. Anura, the Order, represents over 4,800 species still hanging on. There were many more, of course.
      The real simile that challenges us is not the old mythology of the “boiling water” syndrome, so called, but whether amphibians will survive the Anthropocene. This generation has been tasked with problem solving that is quite unique: if we fail to save the frogs, we will fail pathetically to save ourselves.
      We appreciate your joining in the dialogue!

      Jane & Michael

  • Thank you for this very thoughtful perspective. Our inability to address unprecedented global scale challenges, like climate change, resource depletion, and human overpopulation, is driven substantially by the kind of pathologically unprincipled, opportunists that we elect to govern. As you point out in your blog, the link between ‘genes and moral judgment’ appears very real. Too many of those that end up with financial and political power come from the wrong end of that continuum.

    People on the caring end of that spectrum are fed up with the political dysfunction driven by bankers, billionaires, and craven corporatists who seek maximum profit with no regard for consequence.
    Solving the world’s problems is more about politics than anything else. We have lost control to a small cabal of plutocrats and plunderers, who use their wealth and power to buy politicians and the public policy they want. The success of the ‘corporatist agenda’ in the recent ‘mid-term’ elections means more obfuscation, more obstruction, more denial of anything that serves the common good. Instead, the next two years will be about climate inaction, the blunting of environmental regulation, the repatriation of billions in corporate profits stashed overseas, and an elevated emphasis on war fighting and weapons.

    Those whose lives are grounded in scientific inquiry need to become far more involved at the grassroots. We need their voices of reason and intellectual substance. We need them to engage.

    We all have a stake in restoring ‘of, by, and for the people’ to our politics. Ending the dysfunction must begin at the most fundamental level. I agree with Naomi Klein, author of the just published, This Change Everything. A big part of a worthy corrective course lies in a Constitutional Amendment that says, ‘Corporations are not People’ and ‘Money is not Speech’.

    No law has ever passed that gave corporations the same rights as flesh and blood citizens. The personhood they enjoy is built on corrupt legal precedent put in place by the judicial overreach of our Supreme Court. Our nation’s founders regulated Corporations as chartered, legal fictions. No law exists giving them, ‘human rights’. Their precedent based legal standing must be repudiated. A Constitutional remedy must come from the grassroots.

    The same holds true for the definition of ‘money’. Here again, the culprit is conservative judicial activism. No law ever passed that declared ‘Money equals Speech’. The Supreme Court did that. In the world I wish for, having big money does not include the right to use it to buy our political process.

    Professionally, my focus has been on renewable energy, but at the end of the day, what I wish for most is a 28th Constructional Amendment that says ‘Corporations are not People’ and ‘Money is not Speech’. Move to Amend [ http://www.movetoamend.org ] is an activist group focused entirely on just such an amendment.

    Despite conservative success in the mid-term election, communities in five different states passed local initiatives supporting Move to Amend’s Constructional agenda, with 70% or more of the vote. When people are exposed to this brand of grassroots action, they respond. Move to Amend’s agenda is not liberal or conservative. It is based on life-affirming Constitutional principle.

    Anyone not already engaged should take the time to inform themselves. If you are part of the vast majority on the ‘caring’ side of the human continuum, you have an obligation to the biosphere, and to living generations still to come, to be part of the solution. For those in science that are accustomed to staying above the political fray, that means you. Move to Amend; ‘Corporations are not People’ and ‘Money is not Speech.’

    • Geoffrey,
      Clearly the fact China, the US and the EU are now all on the same page with respect to carbon neutrality and wrestling coal towards a rapid exit strategy, Lima has gotten a critical boost.

      Thank you for your brilliantly articulated comments.

      Jane & Michael