Earth democracy

Begonia Filgueira | 12 years ago

Is the democratic system itself flawed when it comes to protecting the environment?

It is true that the democratic process until now has not served the environmental cause well.  The emphasis on curtailing individual freedoms only when they impinge on the rights of other persons has lead to the exclusion of the Earth from any decision making and the subjugation of all non human entities to humans.  Some say that democracy itself cannot provide environmental protection.  Is the democratic system itself flawed?

Dr Mayer Hillman argued at this year’s Wild Law weekend that democracy is no longer fit for purpose.  To save the Earth we have gone so far down the line that we need some sort of totalitarian regime that will install a carbon negative consumption level.  Left to our own devices, the “self-interest malady” which individuals and nations are suffering will never allow us to take the measures that are needed to reach negative carbon consumption.  Rationing is to be imposed curtailing the current “freedom to consume as much as we can afford”.  I do think that some form of carbon rationing will be inevitable in the short term but I am thinking about the long term.

Yes, democracy was proposed as a political solution to the subjugation of individuals to the power of the dominant Estates in society, little to do with the purpose of protecting the environment.  However, the struggle for democracy was a power struggle for the rights of the individual, or at least of the individuals that formed the Bourgeois.  When Montesquieu and Rousseau were revolting they were not thinking about equal rights for women, children or the abolition of slavery, but natural inalienable rights and the democratic system eventually got us there.   I truly believe that democracy can work for the Earth but only if it is an Earth Democracy where the other members of the Earth Community have rights and are represented.

My view is based on the inclusion of earth jurisprudential and wild law principles into political theory.   Democracy can work for the Earth but only if it is an Earth Democracy where the other members of the Earth Community have rights and these are represented in our policies and laws.  Current democratic governments are anthropocentric short term beasts.  Their world view spans 4/5 years and tend not to be about leaving a long term legacy.  Boom and bust is a typical symptom of this view.  When long term policies are approved or contracts are granted there is little input for future generations, either human or of the other members of our Earth Community.

I propose that we can go towards mending our ways with the Earth and saving the thing that sustains us by providing a modified political system based on the rights, freedoms and duties of all members of the Earth Community.  So how would this work in practice for example for a river?  The river would have a right not be destroyed, it would have the freedom to flow and it would have a duty to provide water to humans.  In this way our relationship with the Earth would be one of collaboration, harmony and equality that would aims to the survival of both the river and humans and the Earth as a whole.

There is a currently a proposal to have a champion of future generations in Government.  This is an excellent idea but I propose that we go further, that we look not only at the rights of human future generations because it is more politically palatable or acceptable to current thinking.  Governments have a responsibility to lead on new thinking in order to find long term solutions to society’s problems.  Governments should be thinking in terms of Earth Community, present and future. A representative is necessary but policies based on the Earth Community should influence all of governments thinking and be the basis of our democracy.

More from me next week but please post comments as I am interested in your views on how to progress these ideas.

About the author

Begonia Filgueira

Begonia is a specialist in Environmental Law, governance and negotiation. Her career now spans 20 years having started as an environmental lawyer in the City. She is a dually qualified UK Solicitor and Spanish Abogada who provides legal advice, trains professionals and carries out complex research in the areas of International and EU environmental law. She also advises on treaty negotiations and implementation of EU law. Begonia has advised UNEP, UNDP, the European Commission, DEFRA and DOENI. She also advises industry and NGOs on environmental policy and regulation. BREXIT negotiations is her current area of specialism.