Nature’s Mandate Means Obligation to Defend Our Atmosphere

- The news isn’t good today- some 30 million people people right now are being affected by flash flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Families have lost crops and livestock. Houses and roads have been destroyed. Food and drinking water are not available. Where is our inspiration to get active, and slay this climate monster?
Climate Today often selects small quotes. While searching this speech, the words were so moving, no small section would work. Here are some thoughts by Mary Christina Wood, a professor of law, at the University of Oregon School of Law. She is currently working on a book entitled, Nature’s Trust: A Legal Paradigm for Protecting Land and Natural Resources for Future Generations. Perhaps this speaker could come to your town. Every presidential candidate should read this talk- and all of us and all of our friends- and their friends. Here are a few excerpts. – Editor

To address global warming, we have to acknowledge that Nature’s Mandate doesn’t come from any political processes. It’s just out there as law, applied to the whole world, and it’s unyielding. The climate scientists are the legislative reporters for this law. They’re not out there lobbying Nature, trying to get compromises or loopholes. There’s an old Italian saying, arithmetic is not opinion. The scientists are clear that we still have a window of hope, but it’s closing fast.

If we fail to meet Nature’s Mandate fully, all our efforts will be useless. If we go beyond the 450 ppm tipping point, we’re looking at what scientists call “ in their words — a transformed planet. It won’t matter that we tried hard. It won’t matter that we met Nature part way. A rescue rope that is too short is no good at all.

Finally, we have to define a moral backing to government’s role in climate crisis. To not do this is to set a huge ship assail with no compass, which is what we do when we give government discretion. We know this: there simply would not be an entire field of trust and estates law were it not for the strong inclination of humans to hand things down to the next generation. No one forces us to pass family treasures down to our children “ we simply feel compelled to do so. Nature’s Trust characterizes the natural Endowment that future generations are entitled to inherit just as we inherited them. By speaking of the atmosphere as an asset to which coming generations have a legitimate moral claim, we have crystallized our sense of ethical obligation more so than we do when we reduce climate crisis to polar bear extinctions and flooded coastlines. Failure to protect natural inheritance amounts to generational theft. The trust obligation springs from the heart of all humanity. The same trust principles that flow through a judges’ pen can be preached from a pulpit or spoken as the last words from a grandmother to her grandchildren anywhere in the world.

You might now be asking yourselves: is it possible to turn a country around in short order with a new way of thinking? We know it is. Let’s reflect back to when citizens across this country rose in solidarity behind a clear national purpose. The attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized America in a way that we desperately need today. Almost overnight, businesses retooled and overhauled production lines. The auto industry scaled down car
sales and produced defense vehicles (in a matter of months! Ed.). Banks sold war bonds. Communities planted Victory Gardens to grow food locally so that the commercial food could be sent to the troops. States lowered their speed limits to conserve gas. Families everywhere made do with the bare minimum. People did not just sit by. Individuals took initiative without being asked. Men signed up for active duty. Women took their place in the work force. Speakers Bureaus formed in cities across the country, drawing volunteer Victory Speakers who would give five-minute speeches at theatres, club meetings, town halls, schools — any forum they could find — to explain the nature of the threat and the need for national support. Victory Speakers were not chosen for their outstanding oratory skills, but rather were the trusted and familiar voices in the community — the banker, carpenter, mother, or school teacher.
There was a high moral standard backing all the individual sacrifices. You surely wouldn’t have seen hummers roaring down the streets of America when people were trying to conserve gas for the troops. Any waste on the home front was a direct affront to the families that had sent their sons into war and might never see their return. Americans saw a direct connection between the need to conserve and the welfare of their children whose lives were on the line in defense of our nation.

Today, we need to recognize that same connection between our waste and the welfare of our sons and daughters because, by living out the American dream, we are signing our own children up for the draft of their lifetimes, in an unending war for survival resources. Nature won’t recognize our children as conscientious objectors to climate crisis. Americans must wake up to this reality. It will not happen on its own. In World
War II, it took 100,000 Victory Speakers to mobilize the nation in a short time. We need Victory Speakers for climate crisis “ people who can convey that the threat to American soil this time is carbon loading of the atmosphere, that the enemy is us, that the bomb is a time bomb, that the victims are our children, that the battleground is a greenhouse of our own making. We need Victory Speakers from this room who can take the promise of renewable energy to every city and state across America, as well as to China, and India, and other countries where citizens are so desperate for a higher standard of living today that they are jumping in with industries that will bring about their demise tomorrow. They need hope.
Climate Victory Speakers are emerging from all walks of life. A young Harvard student named Allison Rogers entered the Miss America pageant and put on a swimsuit to bring attention to global warming. Two weeks ago, a British lawyer also donned a swimsuit for global warming, but he dove into waters at the North Pole “ waters that, on that day thirty years ago, consisted of ice 11 feet thick. Author Bill McKibben organized Step It Up rallies. Laurie David wrote a book. Sheryl Crow did a college tour. A producer named Kevin Wall put on Live Earth concerts held last month on every continent in the world. A 9-year old boy and his 7-year old brother in Eugene, Oregon planted a victory garden with free, local vegetables for their neighborhood. A former vice president created a film.

This world today needs such can-do people “ millions of them. We have too many can’t-do people — passive bystanders to climate crisis. They are useless. When their grandchildren demand to know why they did so little at this crucial time, the can’t-do people will say, I didn’t know, I didn’t have the time, we couldn’t control China’s emissions, I had too much going on, no one else did anything, I couldn’t have made a difference, it was everyone else’s fault. These responses will be ashes in the wind. The can-do people will save this planet, and they will tell their grandchildren how they answered the call of a generational mission. There are can-do people in every corner of the globe, and there are can-do people in every corner of this room. Whatever your position is in life, do something, anything. Just don’t do nothing. If you are a teacher, bring global warming to the classroom. If you are a mother or father, bring it to the PTA. If you are a lawyer, bring global warming to court. If you are a business-person, bring it to the bank. If you are a governmental official, a trustee of nature’s assets, we need you to start tomorrow to meet your fiduciary duty to protect our atmosphere against global warming.

If we Americans take the lead through all of these walks of life, we can reframe what is currently government’s discretion to lead us into global catastrophe, into an obligation to defend our atmosphere, as a commonly held asset in the Endowment we must hand down to our children, and their children, for their survival. If we succeed in defining that one obligation, we may soon find every other nation in the world engaged with us, not against us, in a massive, urgent defense effort to secure the systems of life on Earth for all generations to come. That will be the dawn of a planetary patriotism.