Last month, on Tuesday 24th May a crowd of 5 – 20 year olds converged on Selfridges, the department store, as part of an event that marked the launch of the ‘intergenerational contract’ between themselves and policy and law makers. Their motivation? To safeguard the marine life and dynamic under water ecosystems that are so severely under threat from over-fishing and irresponsible human activities that pay no respect to the delicate balance of nature that has kept the ocean thriving and healthy for centuries, until now.
Selfridges has transformed its food policies to reflect its appreciation of the need to be leaders in suppliers of sustainable products and as such has recently launched its sustainable fish initiative – “Project Ocean.” Teaming up with organisations such as the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Marine Conservation Societyand Greenpeace, Selfridges is putting sustainability at the heart of its department store. For five weeks during May and the beginning of June there were events to mark this initiative, such as exhibitions and debates, which offered customers and passersby a chance to find out more about sustainable fish practices and why they should think more consciously about what fish they are purchasing.
Project Ocean has also teamed up with lawyers from Clientearth who have worked with groups of young people to develop a contract that the latter are seeking to forge with political leaders as a way of protecting the ocean for young and future generations. Healthy Ocean – as this youth focussed project is called, is part of a wider year long project which involves aDeclaration of Young People’s Rights to a Healthy Planet being presented to world leaders at theRio 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development. This Selfridges event marked the first event for this Healthy Planet initiative and there were powerful presentations offered by the young people calling on leaders to ‘bequeath them a healthy ocean’.
The message here is clear: as overfishing pillages the oceans of fish and marine life, the ability of young and future generations to share in the beauty and ‘services’ that this ecosystem provide is compromised; and as more carbon is spewed into the atmosphere, the oceans absorb it resulting in higher levels of ocean acidification, which results in corals being bleached in a manner that experts from the ZSL at the event warned is worryingly close to irreversible. We must do all that we can to prevent further disruption to the vast and complex systems in the ocean, the young presenters implored us, so that we can reverse the serious negative impacts that humans have had on the oceans.
There is something strikingly powerful about a young person speaking from their heart about their future because for them their future is everything. Statements such as “we call on our elders and we demand change” and “there is no more time to delay while the fabric of the earth is torn and scraped away” rang through the audience, reminding us that our actions today will impact on the lives of those who we may never meet. The intergenerational contract therefore serves to ‘bind’ present leaders to a promise that they will act as stewards of the oceans and handover a thriving and healthy marine ecosystem to the next generation.
This initiative has sparked some lively debates about the responsibility that present decision-makers and leaders (especially business leaders) have to the next generation. It is an admirable and compelling example of how lawyers can work with young people to not only offer them a way to have their voice heard, but to also teach them the rules of a game that is disproportionately exploiting their share of the resources and natural services that the world provides us all; and as a result inspire them to step off the side-lines and take part, or work hard to rewrite the rules themselves.