REFLECTIONS ON THE EARTH CHARTER
An Earth Charter Update
by Peter Adriance
Papers presented at the 3rd Conference of
the International Environment Forum, organized jointly with
the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development - United Kingdom (BASED-UK)
15-18 August 1999, Sidcot, United Kingdom
[This paper is as presented at the Conference, and has not been subject to editorial review by the IEF]
"The objective of the Earth Charter is to give inspiring expression to the most fundamental principles of an integrated ethical vision for our common future. These principles will have enduring significance for people of all races, cultures and religions, clarifying humanity's shared values and developing a new global ethic for a sustainable way of life." (Earth Charter web site)
For nearly a decade, Bahá'ís have been participants in the international consultation on the development of an Earth Charter. At last year's annual conference of the International Environment Forum, the Earth Charter was one of the main topics of discussion. Participants spent a significant amount of time consulting on the latest draft and generating comments and recommendations for the Earth Charter drafting committee. From those recommendations and others, the drafting committee produced Benchmark Draft II, released in April 1999. The April issue of LEAVES included the abbreviated version of that draft.
Benchmark Draft II of the Earth Charter represents the collective input of hundreds of organizations and thousands of people from around the world. It is perhaps humankind's best attempt yet to capture the principles of sustainable development in a succinct and inspiring document. More than forty Earth Charter national committees around the world are undertaking initiatives that will give this latest document wide circulation and make it the focus of consultation by numerous diverse groups interested in exploring the values needed for sustainable development.
Bahá'í principles reflected in the Earth Charter
Reviewing the preamble, one finds numerous principles which are important or even central to our beliefs as Bahá'ís. The opening paragraph refers to 'our diverse yet increasingly interdependent world' and calls on us to acknowledge our 'responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life and to future generations'. Upholding Bahá'u'lláh's pivotal principle of the oneness of humankind, the paragraph concludes: 'We are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.' One senses in reading it that humankind is ready to see the Earth as 'one country and mankind its citizens'.
'The Earth community stands at a defining moment' it notes, requiring 'fundamental changes in our attitudes, values, and ways of living'. It mentions widespread patterns of excess that threaten our very existence. We are reminded of Bahá'u'lláh's warning: 'Civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.'
It speaks of the positive choices we can make as we develop a global civilization: building a 'truly democratic world, securing the rule of law' and human rights; respecting the 'integrity of different cultures'; understanding the interconnection between our 'social, economic, environmental and spiritual problems'; balancing 'individual interests with the common good, freedom with responsibility, diversity with unity', economic progress with the flourishing of ecological systems'. The Earth Charter attempts to paint an integrated picture of life and to awaken us to the noble possibilities of living harmoniously on Earth.
It recognizes the necessity of world citizenship: 'The challenges humanity faces can only be met if people everywhere acquire an awareness of global interdependence, identify themselves with the larger world, and decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility.' With that awareness we must have a sense of humility, a quality Bahá'u'lláh pointed to with eloquence when he described the attitude we must have when 'walking upon the earth' (see Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (revised edition), Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979, page 44).
The concluding paragraph of the preamble states the necessity of 'a shared vision of basic values'. It affirms our commitment 'as individuals, organizations, business enterprises, communities, and nations' to carrying out the interrelated principles of sustainable development which follow and creating a 'global partnership in support of their fulfillment'. It then lists16 principles supported by numerous sub-principles. It is not my purpose here to do a thorough analysis of the Earth Charter from a Bahá'í perspective, but merely to point out that there are many ways in which Bahá'í teachings are reflected in the document.
What lies ahead?
The immediate future in the Earth Charter process will involve widespread circulation and discussion of Benchmark Draft II. Individuals and groups are being encouraged to examine the document from their own perspective and reflect on how their personal lives, organizations, businesses and communities would change if they were to embrace the Earth Charter principles. In addition to this 'valuing process', feedback is being collected through December 1999 for a 'final draft' Earth Charter which will be released in early 2000. Long range plans still include bringing the Earth Charter back to the United Nations for adoption by the member states, perhaps in the year 2002, the tenth anniversary of the Earth Summit. Organizers of the effort hope that the Earth Charter will have gained a broad popular constituency by then.
For further Information:
Anyone wishing to submit suggestions to the drafting committee can do so by contacting Steven Rockefeller, who is coordinating the drafting process for the Earth Charter Commission, at PO Box 648, Middlebury, VT 05753 (fax: 802-388-1951; email: firstname.lastname@example.org) For additional information on the Earth Charter, contact: The Earth Council, PO Box 2323-1002, San Jose, Costa Rica. Website (including links to various national Earth Charter sites): http://www.earthcharter.org.
In the United States, the Earth Charter USA Network is developing
materials useful to the general public and especially to anyone who wishes
to be an Earth Charter 'facilitator' and carry the message of the Earth
Charter to others. Further information is available at the web site: http://www.earthcharterusa.org
Having been involved in the Earth Charter process for almost a decade, and as a member of the Earth Charter USA Network, I would welcome any insights or inquiries on the Earth Charter from fellow Bahá'ís. I may be contacted as follows: Peter Adriance, NGO Liaison, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the U.S., 1320 19th Street, NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20036; tel: 202-833-8990; fax: 202-833-8988; email: padriance @ usbnc.org
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Last updated 9 September 1999