Last week, amidst the news of earthquakes, storms and governmental misdeeds, I sat around the dinner table with half a dozen friends, having “the conversation”–you know the one I mean. These conscientious, thoughtful people contribute a great deal of time and resources to heal the earth and create more just societies. But on this evening, empty soup bowls pushed toward the center of the table, they were dismayed. Raking his hair in frustration, one friend interrupted the flow of bad news: “Okay, okay,” he declared. “All of us know what’s wrong, and we can keep piling it up till it reaches the sky. But what should be done? Who knows that?”
“I do,” said another friend. “It’s all written down in a single document, six pages long, and I’ve got a bunch of copies in the car. Have you ever heard of The Earth Charter?”
Well, no, not then. But now that I have, I urge you to look into it too. Even if your ideals of global peace are a little tarnished right now, wouldn’t you like something to pull out of your pocket the next time “the conversation” begins to unspool?
On the flight home from Seattle, I sat next to a woman with whom I had a lot in common. We had an animated chat that touched down on the common memories and dreams of our age cohort (and from the bemused looks of the surrounding passengers when we stood up to deplane, evidently provided in-flight entertainment for Generation X and Generation Social Security alike). My seatmate has a son in college. Looking at mushrooming needs for compliant troops in places like Iraq and Louisiana, he and his friends are worried about a revival of the draft. But she wasn’t; she expected the military would be privatized instead. We observed a moment of silence to mark the fact that neither of us had any reason to refute this hypothesis; to the contrary, a U.S. Army of mercenaries seemed likely, however uncomfortably it resonated with the World War II movie images we carried in our heads, the noble band of brothers sacrificing for home and family, the mythical army of the just.
The Earth Charter was launched five years ago by a truly international group of drafters, most of whom (with the exception of Mikhail Gorbachev) are not headline names. After what sounds like an exhaustive and authentically participatory process, they came up with a brief, accessible statement of aims and principles that fully faces the realities of globalization. In contrast to an administration that believes renting a couple hundred thousand motel rooms is a good response to the Katrina emergency, whose tax “reform” panel is about to float its ideas for eliminating the few deductions remaining to working people, and whose party’s new budget proposals will cut food stamps and welfare, we have The Earth Charter, the mission of which is: “to establish a sound ethical foundation for the emerging global society and to help build a sustainable world based on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.”
There are days when a cartoon view of reality overwhelms me, and I imagine the beneficiaries of the current world order are dumping something into the oceans that drains our energy and hope, like Lex Luthor’s death-ray. What I like best about The Earth Charter is the way it helps to restore perspective, laying out what is indeed doable with human energy and goodwill, even when we are everywhere encouraged to surrender to demoralization, going passive.
The Earth Charter is making inroads around the world. At their Web site you’ll read about projects in Europe, Latin America–even at Harvard–and be able to endorse the charter yourself. The charter can be read there in more than 30 languages. A major conference in the Netherlands next month is already filled up. It appears that the main need for development is for people to spread the word, promoting and using the charter in the many ways possible. Organization seems a little underdeveloped, but it appears there is room and eagerness for improvement. If you’re in the U.S. click here to read about the domestic organization.