What follows is a living draft Declaration of the Rights Held by Future Generations and Bill of Responsibilities for Present Generations. These were first drafted by those who attended a Congress for the Rights of First Generations convened in Moab, Utah in the fall of 2012. Not wanting to speak on behalf of those whose voices were not represented, Congress participants conceived of these as working documents to be amended in perpetuity, as an ever-widening circle add their voices to these statements, and as these rights and responsibilities are passed down from generation to generation.
All are invited to join in this effort. The purpose of this blog is to house this document so that it can be debated, amended, and edited by a wide group. We seek your wisdom. We invite you to draft what might be absent from current iterations of this document, to add to it rights, responsibilities and principles that reflect your experiences; to challenge and push back; to add nuance; and, to delight in the places where you feel resonance with what others have contributed. Even more, we hope that we find ways of translating these working ideas into concrete action.
This document is not so much a product as a reflection of a process of relationship and movement building.
The document has four sections: a Preamble, a Bill of Rights, a Bill of Responsibilities and a set of Guiding Principles. A working draft of the preamble and principles was written collaboratively by Carolyn Raffensperger in conversation with Bob Gough, Osprey Oreille Lake, Polly Higgins, Peter Montague and Rebecca Altman in advance of the Moab gathering to facilitate group discussion. The rights and responsibilities were distilled from discussions held at the Moab Congress on the gifts and rights of all beings and the responsibilities present generations carry to honor those gifts and rights. Those gathered in Moab focused their deliberations on the principles and preamble, but due to time constrains, were not able to deliberate over the content, language or organization of these rights and responsibilities as currently written, however.
Here are some questions on which we actively seek collaboration. We would welcome collaborators to help create new iterations of this document in the coming months and years. Core questions that we are still grappling with:
(a) how can this document more fully capture the state of environmental harms and injustice experienced in this generation, and how current injustice threatens the well-being of future generations?
(b) how best can this work acknowledge and address the dynamics of social stratification based on race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation within our movements, within present generations, as they relate to how we advocate on behalf of Future Generations’ well-being?
(c) how can we incorporate a more structural critique of the political economic structures that contribute to environmental justice within this generation, and how those injustices translate forward to Future Generations?
(d) even if Future Generations were granted rights, political economic structures and power differentials would persist and still operate to distribute the consequences of environmental policies, programs and decisions (or the lack their of) in inequitable and intolerable ways. How can such a formation of rights and responsibilities get at these underlying forces? What is the role of claiming rights for Future Generations in addressing these underlying structures and in redistributing power?
(e) as more voices, experiences and communities add their wisdom to the document, what rights, principles and responsibilities must be added or changed, and/or what tweaks must be made to the overarching message of the preamble?
(f) does our language and the metaphors and discourse used honor our goal of radical inclusion of all earthly communities, in all their diversity?
(g) how can we more fully acknolwedge and encapsulate the dynamic relationship between women and Future Generations?
(h) how might we use the process of editing and applying these ideas in the service of community-building, in collaboration-building, in movement building?
(i) what are the ideological tensions present within the environmental, social and climate justice movements, and how can the process of articulating the rights of Future Generations explore these tensions and map new paths through them?
We invite you to comment on this draft and this process below. We hope you can help carry forward the rich dialogue that both inspired the Women’s Congress and was transmitted through it.
2 Towards a Bill of Rights Held by Future Generations
2.1 Right of individuals to a clean and healthy environment
2.2 Right of nature to exist
2.3 Right of Future Generations to whole, biologically diverse, unpolluted ecosystems
2.4 Right to peace
2.5 Right of Future Generations to have ecosystems restored
2.6 Right of communities to self-representation and self-determination
2.7 Right to return or remain in place of origin, heritage or ancestors
2.8 Right not to be coerced into or implicated in harm.
2.9 Right to environmentally sustainable economies
2.10 Corporations do not have inherent rights
3 Towards a Bill of Responsibilities Carried by Present Generations
3.1 Responsibility to honor Earth’s systems
3.2 Responsibility to act as guardians for Future Generations
3.3 Responsibility to uphold the right of communities to self-representation and self-determination
3.4 Responsibility of economic practices aligned with the balance of life
3.5 Responsibility to prevent harm
3.6 Responsibility to heed early warnings
3.7 Responsibility to listen to indigenous communities
3.8 Responsibility to warn Future Generations
3.9 Responsibility to uphold United Nations treaties on rights
3.10 Responsibility to restore and regenerate ecological systems
3.11 Responsibility to admit mistakes and course correct
3.12 Responsibility to replace harmful systems
3.13 Responsibility to respect
4 Guiding Principles that Inform this Covenant between Present and Future Generations
4.1 Health and well-being is a function of ecological relationships
4.2 Rights held in common to the commons
4.3 Rights create responsibilities
4.4 Governments hold two responsibilities: protect rights and care for the commons
4.5 Precautionary principle is key to fulfilling responsibilities
4.6 Economies must not destroy ecosystems
4.7 Ecocide is a violation of the rights of individuals, communities and nature
4.8 Inter and intra generational justice are inseparable
4.9 Restorative justice
4.10 Call for new institutions and ideas
5 Notes on suggestions, items for discussion:
Towards a Declaration of the Rights Held by Future Generations
and Bill of Responsibilities for the Present Generations
… a beginning …
We women, speaking from our authority and responsibility as the first environment for Future Generations, honor and uphold all relationships in the Earth community so that we may leave a healthy, humane and beautiful world to Future Generations.
We live in a world tipped out of balance by pollution, war and conflicts of all kinds, and injustice; a world diminished by declines in the rich diversity that once existed; a world less whole because too many are sick before their time, struggling to breathe, to be nourished, to reproduce, or facing an environment less stable than the one into which they were born. As the oceans grow more acidic and less able to support life, our old-growth forests are clear-cut, the countryside stripped of its natural abundance and mined for that last ounce of fossil fuel, minerals or radioactive atoms. We are altering, in some cases, irrevocably, the landscape and all the relationships sustained by it. Climate change shifts weather patterns, making extreme weather, in many places, the norm. As a result, a growing number of communities face strife of varying magnitude – extinction of species, loss of diversity, disruption of vital ecosystem cycles, land loss, drought, inadequate food supplies, conflicts and threatened infrastructure and community ties. These effects are felt worldwide, but are distributed unevenly, leaving some communities to bear far more of these burdens to life and wellness.
Present laws, policies and social norms allow for the continued destruction of the Earth and of all earthly communities—animate and inanimate. We continue to squander and plunder without recognition of a system’s regenerative limits and without full consideration of the long-term consequences, consequences estimated on the order of centuries, even millennia. We continue to struggle within our own movements and communities to honor all voices from all earthly beings. This is not the legacy we wish to leave Future Generations, but it will be, and our legacy will only continue to encroach upon a livable future if we do not act now.
In drafting this document, we withdraw our complicity in this future. We seek to create a forum through which we, as women, can articulate an alternative vision of the relationship we share with each other and with Future Generations. We seek to create an alternate legacy, with an abiding sense of humility that acknowledges our place within humanity, as one species dependent on complex ecological systems, and with a sense of our lives relative to the infiniteness of deep, geologic time.
To those who came before us, our generation was once a Future Generation whose lives were cradled by the hopes of our ancestors. The foundation for our world was laid by them. We realize we have an opportunity — and a responsibility — to those who will follow us. We acknowledge the interdependence of the innumerable communities and systems — past, present and future — that comprise our shared planet, and work from the core values of respect, interrelationship, radical inclusion, and reciprocity. What we give unto each other, the Earth, and Future Generations, so shall be given unto us.
We stand for the rights of Future Generations. We see these rights as inalienable. We call out our responsibilities as guardians and ancestors for those who will follow. We acknowledge that our sacred responsibilities to Future Generations requires us to listen, to address injustices that exist among present generations, to seek the wisdom of indigenous peoples, and to create opportunities for each and every earthly community to speak on behalf of its own Future Generations.
We call for a fundamental shift in politics and discourse as we know it. We call for a new wave of policies, alliances, norms and movements that can redirect human activities in service of sustaining an interconnected, all inclusive world in which Future Generations can thrive. We acknowledge the deep connections between present generations and those that will follow, and that look beyond our immediate needs into deep time. We wish to enliven our societies and governance with wonder, gratitude and humility.
We seek to create an alternate legacy, with an abiding sense of humility that acknowledges our place within humanity, as one species dependent on complex ecological systems, and with a sense of our lives relative to the infiniteness of deep, geologic time.
Towards a Bill of Rights Held by Future Generations
Right of individuals to a clean and healthy environment
Individuals of all species have a right to a clean and healthy environment. This right cannot be bought or sold. It is unalienable.
Right of nature to exist
Nature and all ecosystems have the right to exist, whole and intact.
Right of Future Generations to whole, biologically diverse, unpolluted ecosystems
Future Generations of all communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right to a wholesome ecosystem that is biologically rich and diverse with its vital integral cycles and systems intact, to be respected, and to not be wasted, degraded, polluted, devalued, excluded or cast aside. This right cannot be bought or sold.
Right to peace
Communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right to a peaceful (and cooperative) living in their communities, generating meaningful relationships or partnership based on respect, trust and humility with fellow members and natural systems.
Right of Future Generations to have ecosystems restored
Present and Future Generations of all communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right to have their ecosystems restored to their naturally dynamic and healthy equilibrium.
Right of communities to self-representation and self-determination
Communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right to self-representation and self-determination. A key component of this right is Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to activities that could harm present or Future Generations, nature, or the commons.
Right to return or remain in place of origin, heritage or ancestors
Present and Future Generations of all communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right to return to or remain in the place of their origin, heritage or ancestors.
Right not to be coerced into or implicated in harm
Present and Future Generations of all communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right not to be coerced into or implicated in harm.
Right to environmentally sustainable economies
Present and Future Generations of all communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, have the right to an environmentally sustainable work practice, commerce and economic system that does not sacrifice our ecosystem nor puts it in jeopardy to fulfill the greed and profit driven goals of the market place.
Corporations do not have inherent rights
Corporations are not people and do not have inherent rights. Corporations exist because states enact laws defining corporations and specifying what they can and cannot do. Accordingly, corporations are creatures of government and thus granted limited privileges and have delegated responsibilities based upon the rights of the community and governments, and not solely derived from the rights of their shareholders. The privileges of corporations may be revoked if they violate the terms of their charters, repeatedly break laws, no longer serve the general welfare, or violate the rights of individuals or communities.
Towards a Bill of Responsibilities Carried by Present Generations
Responsibility to honor Earth’s systems
Present Generations carry the responsibility to honor the continuity of life and Earth’s systems, to hold reverence for life, respect and protect the integral limits, boundaries, relationships and natural organization of the Earth and its natural systems, rhythms and cycles.
Responsibility to act as guardians for Future Generations
Present Generations carry the responsibility to act as guardians for Future Generations. Present Generation will take active responsibility to speak and openly discuss matters that affect Future Generation. Present Generations carry the responsibility to educate Present Generations, decision-makers and children.
Responsibility to uphold the right of communities to self-representation and self-determination
Present Generations carry the responsibility to uphold the right of communities, human and non-human, animate and inanimate, the rights of self-representation and self-determination.
Responsibility of economic practices aligned with the balance of life
Present Generations carry the responsibility of sustainable economic practices and to not denigrate the environment by wasteful practices, polluting beyond its means to regenerate, and by avoiding practices that cause harm to the Present and Future Generation. Present Generations carry the responsibility to align economic, governance and social systems with the balance of life.
Responsibility to prevent harm
Present Generations carry the responsibility to assess and predict impacts of social, ecological, political and technical systems on Future Generations, and to apply this knowledge to prevent harm.
Responsibility to heed early warnings
Present Generations carry the responsibility to heed the warnings of sentinel species, and of beings and systems that face threats to dignity, survival and integrity.
Responsibility to listen to indigenous communities
Present Generations carry the responsibility to listen to indigenous communities, and to act on and learn from their wisdom.
Responsibility to warn Future Generations
Present Generations carry the responsibility to warn Future Generations in instances where our actions or decisions have already compromised the health and well-being of Future Generations.
Responsibility to uphold United Nations treaties on rights
Present Generations carry the responsibility to uphold all United Nations treaties on Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Rights of Nature, Rights of Future Generations, and the Rights of the Child.
Responsibility to restore and regenerate ecological systems
Present Generations carry the responsibility to restore and regenerate ecological systems.
Responsibility to admit mistakes and course correct
Present Generations carry the responsibility to admit mistakes, recognize incomplete knowledge and to course correct upon early indication of harm.
Responsibility to replace harmful systems
Present Generations carry the responsibility to replace, re-imagine, and create systems that heal rather than harm.
Responsibility to respect
Present Generations carry the responsibility to treat all beings, systems and communities with respect, and to not exploit.
Guiding Principles that Inform this Covenant between Present and Future Generations
Health and well-being is a function of ecological relationships
Health and well-being is a function of relationships. Without whole, intact and healthy systems, the capacity for Future Generations to live full and healthy lives is diminished.
Rights held in common to the commons
The rights of present and Future Generations of all communities, human and ecological, animate and inanimate, are rights with each other to a whole and healthy commons. The commons include what is shared among all and that are necessary for life and community integrity. This includes but is not limited to: air, water, seeds, climate, belonging and beauty.
Rights create responsibilities
Rights create responsibilities. Responsibilities for protecting rights must be located in specific bodies that can be held accountable, such as government commissions and agencies.
Governments hold two responsibilities: protect rights and care for the commons
Governments hold two foundational responsibilities derived from the rights of the governed: to protect rights and to serve as the trustee of the common wealth and the common health.
Precautionary principle is key to fulfilling responsibilities
The precautionary principle is a key method for governments, communities or corporations to fulfill their responsibilities to protect the rights of Present and Future Generations of nature and of communities.
Economies must not destroy ecosystems
Economies are situated within ecosystems, and thus, economic activities are dependent on intact ecological systems. Economies must honor ecological principles, and be regenerative. For example, economic activities must not take things from the Earth faster than the Earth can regenerate them nor put things into the Earth faster than it can assimilated. Economic activity must not destroy the very basis of economy and life itself.
Ecocide is a violation of the rights of individuals, communities and nature
Ecocide is a fundamental violation of the rights of the individual, communities, and nature. It is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished. This includes the large-scale destruction of the environment by war, mining, discharge of nuclear or hazardous materials or other act. Ecocide, is a crime against nature and humanity and will not stand.
Inter and intra generational justice are inseparable
Some places, and the communities that inhabit them, bear a disproportionate burden of harm and threats to common wealth and common health. True justice for Future Generations is predicated on justice within this generation. Inter and intra generational justice are inseparable.
Restorative justice views criminal offenses as an injury to the community as well as the individual and as injuries that must be repaired. Restorative justice is an effective form of justice to address current environmental destruction, to prevent it from being repeated and to restore relationships among people and between people and the natural world.
Call for new institutions and ideas
The scale and scope of environmental problems call for new institutions and new ideas to address the problems facing humankind. These include the respectful person standard, ecocide as a crime, laws that recognize the rights of nature and Future Generations, and legal guardians for nature and future generations. Many cultures, particularly indigenous cultures have practiced these principles for millennia.
We seek guidance from them in how to live respectfully and to fulfill our responsibilities to the Earth and Future Generations.
Humanity is capable of critical and mass change. The time for exercising that capability is upon us and the rights of Creation demand it.
Do you feel compelled to speak on behalf of Future Generations?
We ask that you sign on to the Declaration by adding your name and affiliation in the comments section.
I acknowledge these Principles that inform the Covenant between Future Generations and Present Generations. I acknowledge these Rights held by Future Generations, which I see as inalienable. I recognize these Responsibilities held by Present Generations. Beginning with myself, here and now, as a member of the Present Generation, I commit to:
Respecting myself and enlivening my days with wonder, gratitude, and humility;
Striving to establish respect and equality in my relationships with all other beings;
Holding an abiding sense of humility by acknowledging we are all members of interdependent communities, and by so doing, I commit to honoring and creating space for each and every community to speak on its own behalf, on behalf of its own Future Generations;
Working from the core values of respect, interrelationship, radical inclusion, and reciprocity;
Engaging my responsibilities as an opportunity, not a burden; as a way to expand my ability to respond and create positive change inthe world, and as an opportunity to expand myself;
I commit to honor and uphold all relationships in the Earth community so that we may leave a healthy, humane and beautiful world to Future Generations.