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the constitution of the earth: A paradigm shift for humans and nature

By Donald Jacob | 12.5.2024

Imagine a world in which Earth exists not just as a blue planet in the vast universe, but as a living entity that has rights of its own - rights that are protected, respected and promoted. What if there were a formal constitution that granted fundamental rights not only to humans and their states, but also to nature itself? This is the central vision of the Constitution of Earth, known as CoFE (Constitution of Earth).

The need for change We have known for seventy years that our lifestyle is destroying nature. Our thinking and behavior are still shaped by the Stone Age, when the hoarding of resources ensured our survival. This strategy has become inscribed in our economic system and still shapes our actions today. Although we are at a completely different point, we continue to act in a Stone Age manner. Today, we have the potential to destroy the entire planet. Instead of a few thousand, there are billions of us, and our impact on the ecosystem is correspondingly greater. We must learn to think and act in planetary terms. Planetary means beyond any nation-state borders and ideologies - it affects us all, the whole species.

Our economic system is based on unchecked growth. More and more, bigger and bigger, faster and faster - these are the mantras of our time. This growth doctrine is leading to an ecological catastrophe that is unfolding inexorably before our eyes. Although programs and measures are being taken to counteract this, they often seem helpless and inadequate. The destruction of our livelihoods continues, unimpressed by well-intentioned but ineffective interventions.

Many people recognize the problem and resign themselves to the sheer impossibility of changing anything. Power structures, selfish interests, national narrow-mindedness and many other obstacles stand in the way of real transformation. The question arises: What can we do? What would be sensible? What would make sense? What would benefit us all?

CoFE's vision CoFE is a transformative initiative that aims to bring about a radical change in the relationship between humans and nature. But why is such a change necessary? And what exactly would the CoFE achieve?

The Constitution of the Earth or CoFE is more than just a document or a policy idea. It is a comprehensive approach that aims to redefine the ecological and social interactions of our planet.

The CoFE is a proposed planetary constitution that recognizes and protects the rights of nature. But what does it mean to give rights to nature?

Rights of Nature How would our environmental policies and daily practices change if rivers, forests and ecosystems were recognized as legal subjects? Could we continue to exterminate species and pollute the environment if nature itself could say "no"?

Planetary stewardship How would it change our role as inhabitants and custodians of the planet if we were legally obliged to consider the interests of the earth and its diverse life forms? Would we be better stewards if the well-being of the planet was enshrined in law?Sustainability and justice How would such a constitution affect the pressing issues of sustainability and social justice? Could the CoFE help ensure that future generations inherit a world worth living in? Would there still be greenwashing?

Impact of the CoFE The introduction of the CoFE would have a profound impact on our livelihoods, our economic system, our cultural values and our research. The scope of such a constitution, which grants nature its own rights, is of immense importance and difficult for many to imagine. It implies a turning away from the anthropocentric arrogance in which man sees himself as the ruler of nature. Instead, humans are positioned as an integral part of the ecosystem with a responsibility to preserve and care for.

Ecological balance How would our behavior change if the health of the earth played a central role in all economic and political decisions? Would we think differently about consumption, production and research if the earth were seen as a living partner?

Economic transformation How would business and industry react if sustainability and respect for nature were inscribed in the basic laws of commerce? Could we create an economy that grows without destroying?

Social responsibility How would it change our communities and the way we treat each other if the rights of nature and responsibility for future generations were enshrined in law? Would we create fairer and more just societies?

The paradigm shift: Why the CoFE?  The idea of a Constitution of Earth, or CoFE for short, is a visionary and transformative initiative that aims to give our planet its own recognized voice. While many may see this approach as utopian, it actually embodies a profound paradigm shift: it is about moving away from an anthropocentric view that sees the Earth merely as a resource for human use ("Subdue the Earth") towards a new role for humans as partners and guardians of nature.

Why the CoFE makes the difference The CoFE stands above particular interests and offers a platform on which all stakeholders have equal rights. This makes it fundamentally different from other environmental policy initiatives due to its holistic and integrative approach. While many initiatives are sectoral or symptomatic, the CoFE provides a comprehensive, legally binding framework aimed at protecting and preserving the Earth as a living whole.

This approach is logical and sensible because it recognizes the interdependence of all ecological, social and economic systems. CoFE recognizes that no human activity can be sustainable without a healthy and stable Earth. It is effective because it creates a binding legal framework that enables far-reaching measures to preserve our natural resources

Challenges and media coverage Why does the media not report on CoFE? Economic and political interests as well as the complexity and comprehensibility of the topic play a decisive role. Many media houses are influenced by economic and political interests that make it difficult to report comprehensively on ground-breaking initiatives such as CoFE. Such topics that challenge existing power structures are often seen as a threat to established interest groups, which leads to transformative approaches being marginalized [1].

CoFE is a complex, interdisciplinary topic that cannot be easily squeezed into short news formats. Many media outlets prefer simple, easily consumable content, whereas CoFE requires deep engagement and understanding. As Neuman and colleagues note, the preference for simple content often leads to the neglect of important, complex issues [2].

The ecological crisis is urgent, but its slowly recognizable nature means that it often takes a back seat to more acute, visually appealing events. As a result, long-term environmental issues often take a back seat in the media [3].

Conclusion and call to action The CoFE differs from other initiatives in its broad scope, non-partisan nature and overarching importance. It aims to create a fundamental basis for the survival and flourishing of all living things, not just the short-term needs of humans. This fundamental paradigm shift sees nature not as a resource, but as the essential basis of all existence.

What does it take to bring about this change? 

Overcoming the short-term mindset: The tendency to think only on a small scale must be overcome. The recognition that we all fundamentally need nature must be placed at the center of our actions.

Global cooperation: The challenges are global and can only be overcome through global solutions. CoFE provides a framework for this global cooperation, which underlines its uniqueness.

Education and awareness-raising: In order to support the necessary change, comprehensive education and awareness-raising work is needed to raise awareness of the deep connections between humans and nature.

Courage and a pioneering spirit: We need people who are prepared to lead the way as pioneers and break new ground to show others that change is possible.

Carl Sagan warned: "The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena... Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves" [1]. The time is ripe for a profound rethink and action. The CoFE could be the key to a future in which we thrive as part of a healthy, vibrant and just ecosystem. It is time for us all to come together and commit to our livelihoods to pave a sustainable path for the future of our planet. This is not just a political issue, but one of moral responsibility and, quite simply, survival.

1.      Hackett, R. A., & Zhao, Y. (2005). Democratizing Global Media.

2.      Neuman, W. R. (2010). Media and Modernity.

3.      Boykoff, M. T., & Roberts, J. T. (2007). Media Coverage of Climate Change.

4.      Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk.

5.      Gigerenzer, Gut Feelings, 2007

6.      Sagan, C. (1994). Pale Blue Dot.

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