Human Rights in the Anthropocene, by William Becker

Idealism got a bad name somewhere along the way. Google on it and one of the definitions that pops up is “the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically.” The psychologist Carl Jung called it as bad an addiction as narcotics and alcohol — “the tendency of high-minded people to avoid facing the reality of evil,” as one Jungian put it.

True, it is difficult to remain idealistic in a world that produced Hitler, Pol Pot and ISIS. Idealism is less fashionable, less street-smart. There are advantages to cynicism. When we expect the worst, we are not disappointed when we get it. Cynicism is perverse evidence that a person must have standards, since he expects the world to fall short of them.

The debate about cynicism and idealism runs through our literature. Victorian novelist George Meredith noted that cynics “are only happy in making the world as barren for others as they have made it for themselves.” Oscar Wilde observed that a cynic “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” George Carlin believed you could “scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” Swiss essayist Alian de Botton agreed: “Cynics are — beneath it all — only idealists with awkwardly high standards.”

On the other hand, science fiction writer Glen Cook defends his lack of faith in humanity by arguing that “every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.” Russian poet Joseph Brodsky felt that “Life — the way it really is — is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.” The late Mike Royko, the Pulitzer price columnist in Chicago, wrote “Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”

But without idealism, we would not have the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights or the U.S. Constitution. We would not have wedding vows, John Lennon songs, or a papal encyclical on stewardship of the environment. We would not have the United Nations Charter, the Earth Charter, the UN’s Millennium Development goals, or the UN’s sustainable development goals. We would dream too small, expect too little and chronically underachieve.

A cynic probably would argue that all of the pronouncements of the world’s idealists – the declarations, treaties and charters — are not worth the paper they’re printed on, that their idealism is rarely justified, their hopes are seldom fulfilled and their plans usually are not accomplished. But can anyone argue credibly that a world without ideals and idealism would be a better place? Idealism invokes our better angels. It reminds us of what we would be if we were all that we could be. It is our collective conscience and the hope with which we survive divine discomfort.

This all comes to mind because of a message from a good friend in Europe who has been involved in developing a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Humanity, a document commissioned by French President Francois Hollande. Hollande asked a former minister of environment in France, Corinne Lepage, to develop a statement for “a new stage in the field of human rights” for presentation at next month’s international climate conference in Paris.

lepage-2

Corinne Lepage and her project team giving the Rights of Humankind Declaration Report to French President Francois Hollande.

The result from Lepage and her team is not the first such declaration. It updates two others, both with their roots in crisis and in France. The first — the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — was inspired in part by the American Revolution, written for the French Revolution and approved in 1789 by France’s National Constituent Assembly. The second is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in Paris in 1948 by the UN General Assembly in the wake of World War II.

The crisis that inspires the new Declaration is not a war against classes or between nations, but the war that mankind is waging against the Earth’s life support systems and the war that the generations alive today are waging against the generations yet to come.

The human rights expressed in the new Declaration include the ability to live in healthy and ecologically sustainable environments and to preserve the natural resources that humanity holds in common. With these rights come obligations, the Declaration says, including the duty to respect the rights of others and of all living species; to serve as guarantors of ecological balance and our natural and cultural heritage; to ensure that scientific and technical progress work for rather than against the well-being of humans and other species; and to think about the long-term consequences of our short-term actions.

The authors of the new Declaration definitely know “what the heck is really going on”. It was their knowledge and their determination not to turn away from it that demanded a new invocation of higher principles and ideals.

Consistent with France’s tradition as the birthplace of these declarations, President Hollande intends to introduce the new document next month when more than 190 nations meet for the international climate conference in Paris. Hollande will ask the UN General Assembly to formally approve the Declaration next year. In the meantime, the Declaration’s ambassadors including some 40 million Scouts, will spread the word.

PJW2115

Corinne Lepage, Nicolas Imbert and Adam Koniuszewski accompanied by Scout representatives from around the world

Of what use is such a document? Only a cynic would ask.

Readers can co-sign the Declaration at LINK. For more information, contact Adam Koniuszewski, who was a member of the Corinne Lepage project team, at adamkoniuszewski@me.com.

The full project team includes: Ahmed ALAMI, Marie-Odile BERTELLA-GEOFFROY, Valérie CABANES, Francois DAMERVAL, Hubert DELZANGLES, Emilie GAILLARD, Christian HUGLO, Nicolas IMBERT, Adam KONIUSZEWSKI, Jean-Marc LAVIEILLE, Catherine LE BRIS, Bettina LAVILLE, Jérémy RIFKIN and Mathieu WEMAERE.     

This article was written by William S. Becker, Executive Director of the US Presidential Climate Action Project and originally published in the Huffington Post: LINK

The website of the Declaration in French and English can be found here

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Humankind

The report for a “Universal Declaration of the rights of humankind” was delivered last Friday by French ex-Minister of the Environment, Corinne Lepage and her team at the Elysée in Paris. The project originated from a request by the President to build on the human rights declarations and “laying the rights humankind, that is to say, the right of all people on Earth to live in a world whose future is not compromised by the irresponsibility of the present generation”, Francois Hollande, October 2014.

lepage-2

Stemming from the 1789 Declaration of Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Paris 1948), and existing agreements and statements on development, the environment and future generations, the statement includes four principles:

  1. intergenerational solidarity
  2. dignity of humankind
  3. the continued existence of humankind,
  4. the non-discrimination on grounds of membership to a generation

“How can we guarantee to future generations the right to live in dignity and in a clean and safe environment?” said Valérie Cabanes, international lawyer specializing in human rights. Adding that “the consequences of our consumption patterns and production choices have become a threat to peace and human security”.

IMG_1616“Civil society from around the world must now mobilize and carry the message of the declaration so that it is widely shared and endorsed ahead of the December Climate Conference in Paris. This process is underway and the response so far is just amazing”, commented Corinne Lepage.

3pm1moull2dxjbwa5rvc

Next steps

  • special announcement in Geneva on October 6
  • a broad consultation on the declaration
  • a side event on the subject will be held during the COP21

The objective being the adoption of a statement on the Declaration by the United Nations General Assembly in 2016. Given that this is a statement and not a binding document, it should be easier for member states to accept.

Project Team

The team that prepared the declaration and joined Corinne Lepage to deliver the report includes: Ahmed Alami, Marie-Odile Bertella-Geoffroy, Valérie Cabanes, Francois Damerval, Hubert Delzangles, Emilie Gaillard, Christian Huglo, Adam Koniuszewski, Jean-Marc Laveille, Catherine Le Bris, Bettina Laville and Mathieu Wemere.

IMG_1620Related Links

Elysée Release Link

Valérie Cabanes Article

MetroNews Article (French)