Beneficiaries of Unjust Harm Pay Because they Must, Because it is Fair, Because it is Just

If it is not the party that caused the harm or the creation of an unfair disadvantage, then there are but few alternatives to choose from. Either there will be an equal or unequal distribution of responsibility shared by all parties responsible or not. Parties who are not responsible, usually those who have been harmed or suffered an unfair disadvantage, will bear the burden of responsibility. The responsibility will be transferred to future generations. Or there will be nothing done to rectify the harms or the creation of the unfair disadvantage. When the harm and the unfair disadvantage in question is anthropogenic climate change and the impacts of it, the last option is merely rejected because it violates or is in direct contradiction of too many other, norms, values, principles, and rights. There is further reason to doubt that either the second option is not entirely justifiable unless it was selected through a fair negotiation procedure and complete consent was achieved. Given the current international political and economic situation these conditions seem entirely unachievable. The third option encounters the same complications with some further caveats, namely, that future generations are not responsible for the harm and cannot give consent thus, actively selecting to burden them is unjust. Which leaves the option that the party who caused the unjust situation to occur is responsible for rectifying that situation. However, anthropogenic climate change is an intergenerational problem with latent and cumulative impacts, so it seems that neither is it the case that there is one specific party who is responsible, nor is it the case that the current generation is entirely responsible. This presents a dilemma for assigning responsibilities and burdens for rectifying the harms and unfair disadvantages that have resulted from the activities that have caused anthropogenic climate change. Much of the burden actually rightfully belongs to past generations who cannot fulfil their obligations. Thus, it falls to those who are the beneficiaries of the advantages gained from the harms and unfair advantages that were caused by previous generations, given that those harms and benefits still persist, if they are to be rectified.

However, the Beneficiary Pays Principle (BPP) is not without complications or objections. Simon Caney in Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Global Climate Change (2010), argued that the BPP is usually argued for and defended upon egalitarian principles and whether from a “collectivist perspective” or an “individualist perspective” it fails to provide the necessary justification for the application of the principle.[1] For these purposes a collective is understood to be a group or entity such as a nation or state that exists intergenerationally, and an individual is an entity—typically a person—that does not. Caney’s basic argument is that all things being equal in the present between two states save that one utilized industrialization to develop and the other did not, that it would fail egalitarian principles to place burdens on the one and not the other, even for the harms that resulted from past industrialization practices.[2] Conversely, two persons alive today whose ancestors had unequal opportunities would not justify the leveling down of the opportunities of the one individual and the leveling up of the other, if the choices of the ancestors were chosen freely.[3] The issue with the first scenario is that the ideal situation Caney describes in the example is nothing close to reality, since no state especially when ‘developed states’ are compared and contrasted to ‘less developed states.’ The issue with the second scenario is that it almost entirely ignores the very real social factors that compel choices or constrict opportunities. In short, the examples that Caney uses over-simplify the situation. Nonetheless, the concerns that Caney raises do have moral importance for the BPP and need to be considered when making decisions about who is responsible in the present for what happened in the past.

Edward Page the author of Give it Up for Climate Change: A Defense of the Beneficiary Pays Principle (2012) argues that not only is holding the current generation’s collectives responsible for the actions of past, but also presents a reasonable and practical redistribution program.[4] Ultimately Page argues in favor of a “Climate Beneficiary Dividend,” that would apply to the thirty-one wealthiest states, whose wealth was also earned from industrialization, but which would not be remotely close to what is actually owed to rectify the harms to the climate that are being felt by those who are impoverished.[5] Page proposes that the dividend be set at 1% of total wealth of each state for one century, and further suggests that if the list of those most responsible is restricted to the top ten, then the dividend will achieve a net yield of approximately “$5.5 trillion” annually.[6] Page believes that collectives have a duty to rectify harms that exceed this proposed dividend, but proposes what is argued to be a modest compromise because it is thought that it will be more agreeable than attempting to compel the full duty.

The “Climate Beneficiary Dividend” that Page proposes is grounded upon the justificatory grounds of a principle of wrongful enrichment (WE), which states that “those states wrongfully enriched by activities that cause climate change should pay” for climate change.[7] Page argues that WE principle is grounded upon duty asserted by Butt, of whom Page quotes and expands upon by saying; “every moral agent is bound by a ‘duty not to benefit from the suffering of others’ and where such benefits cannot be avoided a duty arises ‘to disgorge the benefits on gains as a result of injustice follows from one’s duty not so to benefit.”[8] This duty seems like a focused outgrowth of John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle, which states “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”[9] To be certain, the Harm Principle was only meant to apply internally to one civil society and it does not specify what should be done should harm occur, but what it proposes is that undue harm is morally wrong, whether by an individual or a collective. The duty and the principle are also similar to principle proposed by Henry Shue:

“When a party has in the past taken an unfair advantage of others by imposing costs upon them without their consent, those who have been unilaterally put at a disadvantage are entitled to demand that in the future the offending party shoulder burdens that are unequal at least to the extent of the unfair advantage previously taken, in order to restore equality.”[10]

This reveals that Page’s proposal is neither, novel, nor without support. There is a certain intuitive and moral importance to the fact that past harms have translated into current suffering that these principles and others like them are contending with. Furthermore, one of the key elements of Page’s revision to the BPP is that the benefits and disadvantages must be “persisting effects of past or present wrongdoing.”[11] This supposes and rightly so, that the agents are collectives, i.e., they exist intergenerationally. The question that remains is whether these theories of harm, benefits, and persistence are enough to overcome the objections to the BPP, and whether in fact if they need to.

Caney bring up the point of “excusable ignorance” as a defense against the BPP, which has a certain moral appeal to it as it relates to conceptions of ex post facto determinations of blame and responsibility.[12] The concept of excusable ignorance suggests that an agent must have sufficient knowledge of the consequences of their actions and actually be able to elect to select an alternative. It further posits that if an agent could not reasonably be expected to have foreseen the harmful outcomes of their actions, that they cannot justifiably be held responsible and accountable for those actions. However, not even ex post facto determinations of blame and responsibility are without exception because there is a counter-balance that in some situations holds in all cases, that being the concept of strict liability. Strict liability holds that regardless of an agent’s knowledge or intent, that the agent is still responsible for the results of their actions. An example of this is ignorant trespassing, wherein a person is still responsible for the violation of another agent’s rights, but not that they are morally blameworthy for the trespass because they did not intend harm. However, they are still obliged to rectify the trespass by leaving the other agent’s domain and may be compelled to do such. This line of reasoning was in fact a major component of Page’s description of “unjust enrichment” which proposes that; “states should bear climate response burdens in line with climate change-linked benefits they have accumulated even if no wrongdoing can be identified in their production or intergenerational transfer.”[13] Thus, this principle, which Page argues is a revision of the BPP, is grounded upon the rationality of strict liability which links “automatic benefits” to specific unjust actions suggesting that merely by the fact of their existence that payments are due. Caney would argue that if it is not right to punish the beneficiaries, then it is not right to burden them with payments.

Neither Page nor Shue can merely overcome the objections and concerns raised by Caney by appealing to egalitarian principles or the principles they have proposed, but it is not clear that they need to. For one, there is no reasonable question that the planet has been impacted by anthropogenic climate change that has been one of the direct results of industrialization.[14] Secondly, there is also little debate about who in the past is responsible for the impacts that are resulting from the process of industrialization. Thirdly, there is also relatively little reasonable and rational debate about who today is being harmed by anthropogenic climate change or who will be harmed in the future. The debate is focused on who today is to be burdened with the responsibility and the cost for mitigating and adapting to harms that were caused or started in the past.

As stated above attempting to transfer these cost to future generations is unjust and furthermore does not address the urgency of the issues we as a civilization are now confronting. Stephen Gardiner, the author of The Perfect Moral Storm, argues that future generations are already being burdened with the effects of anthropogenic climate change due to the lagging and back loading effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.[15] Gardiner argues that there is motivation to want to distribute the burdens to future generations because the effects are not being experienced by all right now. However, the desire and, what is both fair and just is not commensurable. Doing nothing to mitigate or adapt to past harms is untenable and unacceptable. Burdening impoverished states, i.e., collectives, with the responsibility and the costs of things that they most certainly had no part in is both unfair and unjust. Shue would argue that imposing costs on the impoverished that would result in their being forced below a minimal threshold of being able to provide for their own survival is unfair, unjust and unacceptable.[16] Caney would agree with this.

This leaves one alternative that has two components, those who caused the harm are the ones who are responsible to rectify the harm. The two components are current polluters and past polluters. There is little to no debate that current polluters are morally obligated to pay for the harms they incur, this is the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP). However, as has been shown, there is much more debate about the past polluters and what should be done to rectify the harm that has resulted from it. One alternative as Caney argued for in the “Hybrid Account,” would be to draw a line, say “1990” beyond which there is no morally compelling justification to burden anyone with the responsibility for addressing the effects resulting from past emissions.[17] Page might however, be willing to negotiate on this point since, “half of all the CO2 hitherto released into the atmosphere (600 billion tonnes) was emitted between 1980 and 2008,” and it would go a long way toward mitigating the effects.[18] However, that is not what Page argues for, instead, Page argues for a “Climate Beneficiary Dividend,” that is but one percent of the total wealth of the states who are the collectives, i.e., the agents identified as being the progenitors of the harmful effects of anthropogenic climate change. Both the harms and benefits are still persisting, and Shue’s argument about fairness reveals that the entire institutional structural difference between ‘developed states’ and ‘less developed states’ dramatically impacts person’s entire quality of life.[19] To be fair, these unjust inequalities must be addressed and mitigated or rectified and this one percent would in part be used to achieve that end.

When confronted with the alternative of doing nothing to mitigate or adapt to the effects of anthropogenic climate change, which entails not burdening the current generation for past collectives’ emissions, neither Page, Shue, nor Caney think this is appropriate. Caney argued that the “most advantaged have a duty either to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in proportion to the resulting from (i) [previous generations], (ii) [excusable ignorance], and (iii) [polluters who cannot be made to pay] (mitigation) or to address the ill effects of climate change resulting from (i), (ii), and (iii) (adaptation).”[20] The difference between both Shue and Page, is the reasoning behind burdening the most advantaged; Caney is heavily relying on the Ability to Pay Principle (APP), while Shue and Page are applying the APP, they are also acknowledging the historical accountability of collectives. By acknowledging the historical accountability of collectives they are attributing responsibility for how and why the most advantaged came to be in the privileged position they occupy, and since, as Page asserts, most of this wealth was gained through unjust enrichments that have “persisting effects of past or present wrongdoing,” it is morally relevant to do so.

Thus, since, all the other alternatives are either unfair or unjust, and since, doing nothing is not an option, all that is left is to burden those who benefit from “unjust enrichments” with the costs of rectifying the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Those who benefit from unjust harms pay because they must, because that is what is most fair to this generation and all future generations, and because it is what is most just given the historical accountability and responsibility of collectives. The objections raised by Caney need not be overcome entirely to come to this conclusion.

[1] Simon Caney, “Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Global Climate Change,” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 122-145.

[2] Caney, 133.

[3] Caney, 133.

[4] Edward Page Page, “Give it Up for Climate Change: A Defense of the Beneficiary Pays Principle,” International Theory, Vol. 4 No.2 (2012): pp. 300-330. ISSN 1752-9719 http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/50667

[5] Page, 16.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 6.

[8] Ibid, 7.

[9] John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty,” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 144.

[10] Henry Shue, “Global Environment and International Inequality” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 103.

[11] Page, 7.

[12] Caney, 130-131.

[13] Page, 9.

[14] Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Work Group II (2014) http://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/

[15] Stephen Gardiner, “The Perfect Moral Storm,” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 90-91.

[16] Shue, 105-107.

[17] Caney, 136.

[18] Page, 13.

[19] Shue, 105.

[20] Caney, 136.

A Universal Right to Protection Against Anthropogenic Climate Change (Draft)

There should be a universal human right to protection from or against anthropogenic (human caused) climate change (ACC). However, since most rights are not expressed in the negative form, e.g., everyone has a right to not to killed, but rather, as Article 3, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person;” it seems pertinent to express this right in its positive form.[1] Therefore, the right should be expressed as such:

Everyone has the right to a sustainable and healthy environment in which to live that is free of the effects of human caused pollution; that is either harmful and or negatively impacts the normal range of human functioning or basic capabilities; that negatively impacts the development or maintenance of political self-determination and territorial sovereignty; or that negatively impacts and individual’s or a peoples’ ability to provide for their own subsistence.

ACC is a global issue that supersedes any and all national borders because of the manner in which Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs) distribute throughout the planet. Furthermore, the health and wellbeing of the planet and its many environments are among the essential interests of all human beings who require them to live and thrive. However, as the situation currently stands, we as a global civilization currently lack the appropriate apparatus to adequately manage ACC. However, should this universal human right be adequately defended and supported, it could provide the necessary foundation for forming the international and intergovernmental apparatus to address and manage ACC. At the very minimum, the individuals of all nations would at least have the means to seek help in formal and legal institutions and to appeal for assistance and redress when the harmful or negative impacts of ACC are expressed.

The strongest opposition to the universal human right to a sustainable and healthy environment is a three-part objection. (1) That the incumbent positive duties of mitigating or preventing ACC that will result from the right are too-demanding and as such are infeasible. (2) That the infringements upon individual and state sovereignty as a result of this right will be too great. (3) That the impacts of ACC now being felt were not the responsibility of the current generation, the greatest impacts of ACC will not be felt or experienced by this generation, and because of these conditions it is unfair to burden this generation with the responsibility for addressing ACC. The last of the three-part objection (3), is not the strongest argument against a right to a sustainable and healthy environment, but it is the first argument that must be overcome, then (1) and lastly (2). However, for the sake space only (3) will be addressed in this argument. The three-part opposition relates directly to conceptions of responsibility, obligation, and practicality, and all of which are morally important, but none of which take into account the very real people who are being and who will be harmed by ACC. The underlying motivation of universal human rights is to assert the value and importance of each and every human being and, to provide the necessary recourse to any imposition in violation of what is deemed to be sufficient to achieve a minimally decent human life. A person’s or a peoples’ right does not and should not depend upon who is responsible for the imposition, what duties the right obligates, or the supposed practicality of fulfilling those duties.

The strongest argument in support of the right to a sustainable and healthy environment is that every human being has an interest in protecting the integrity of the planet, and are all entitled to a safe and secure territory where they may fulfill the plans for their life. Drawing on David Miller’s assessment of strategies for defending a universal human right, the direct, instrumental, and the cantilever it can be shown that the right to a sustainable and healthy environment satisfies the conditions of all three strategies.[2] The strongest objection to this argument is that individuals and groups have a right to self-determine, which supersedes the rights of other groups or individuals, even when that determination may impose harm upon others. The difficulty with this objection is that it is neither always true, nor always false, it is case dependent. Thus, it may sometimes be permissible for a group or an individual to act in a way that may cause some harm to others when their own survival depends upon it. For example, there are countries that have a minimal carbon footprint as compared with countries such as the United States and that for survival and development purposes are permitted to burn fossil fuels and emit GHGs even though their minimal contribution does lead to some global harm. Notwithstanding those very particular cases, although many arguments will be made in terms of self-defense or subsistence not all will qualify as such, and will be subject to John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle. The result will be that it is not permissible under most normal conditions to impose harm upon innocent others, unless the act is done for the sake of survival, and this will include acts that can lead or contribute to anthropogenic climate change.

[3]

The science of climate change is cumbersome and complex and is beyond the scope of what can adequately be addressed here. However, that is not meant to suggest that there is not broad consensus on the facts that climate change is real and that human influence upon the environment is not only exacerbating a natural phenomenon, but also expediting the rate at which it is occurring. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),[4] an organization put together by the United Nations (UN) in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), has published five extensive reports since the 1990s consolidating and synthesizing the best science on the subject. The best expert predictions reveal that given current projections of the burning of fossil fuels and the emitted greenhouse gases that will accumulate into the atmosphere that a 4° C (not uniform, but mean) increase throughout the planet over the next century, as shown in the graphic above. There is not one part of the planet that will remain unaffected. The first places that will be affected are near the equator, which are predominately populated by people of color. But soon after that, in the latter half of the twenty-first century the rest of the globe will start to feel the brunt of the impacts.

Anthropogenic climate change is the result of an increased amount of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide (CO2) being emitted into the atmosphere. Most of what is released into the atmosphere remains there for a very long time and with continued emissions the magnitude is compounded. As energy is received from the sun by the earth, these GHGs trap the energy within the earth instead of releasing it back into space. This effect becomes compounded by increased GHGs in the atmosphere since they are not released and additionally, there is a latent affect so that the impacts are not immediately experienced, but rather, become expressed over time.

The IPCC has identified multiple layers of harms that will occur as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Following the temperature rise of the earth the polar ice caps are melting, which is causing sea levels to rise at increased rates. This will result in the loss of many coastal and island regions. In addition to this the ocean is acidifying because of the volume of GHGs that return from the atmosphere and are absorbed by the ocean, which is and will result in continued depletion, if not extinctions of fish populations. The temperature changes that are being exacerbated will also result in ecosystem shifts that will cause desertification, loss of biodiversity, and the extinction of many plant and animal species. These conditions will result in loss of food sources due to loss of arable farming lands and migrating, depleted, or extinct animals. Food security will be undermined due to population depletion of both fish and animals, and the loss of arable farm land, which will also potentially result in violent outbreaks as different groups and individuals complete for limited resources. And all of this will increase the magnitude of migration pressure of humans towards areas that are less affected and better able to manage the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Moreover, as a result of the loss of food security, depleted resources, and ecosystem shifts morbidity and mortality rates will increase and the rates and spread of infectious diseases will dramatically increase further undermining people’s ability to live and to thrive.[5]

Given these predicted and highly likely outcomes and the relevant lack and utter absence of protection for the average human being against such unjust and immoral impositions that are not necessary, i.e., many do not have to occur, a universal human right to a sustainable and healthy environment must be defined and ethically supported. There is a long history of isolationism, self-protection, state sovereignty, and development which all entail important arguments both for and against them. Likewise, there are also many strong and important moral arguments both for and against a right to protection from anthropogenic climate change. Hopefully, by fleshing these arguments out and setting them side-by-side they can be analyzed and their merits can be deciphered thus, coming to the conclusion that a universal human right of this magnitude is vital, timely, and necessary for every individual on the planet, both for this generation and for the generations yet to come.

The argument of due responsibility that asserts this generation should not be held liable and thus obligated to bear the burdens of anthropogenic climate change has significant moral appeal. First, as noted above, the current generation is not entirely responsible for the collective and compounding effects of GHGs in the atmosphere that are contributing to ACC. This is in fact true and it seems morally problematic to assign burdens to those who are not entirely, or of themselves responsible. Second, there is a non-identity problem that has raised concern about claims of harming future generations that as a result of the current and previous generations’ actions will never actually exist. The theory is that for blameworthiness to be applicable that there must actually be a person who exists to be harmed. However, if there is no person to be harmed, then there is actually no harm. This is also a major ethical and moral problem. Third, it is usually thought that for someone to be morally blameworthy or at least morally responsible that they must have knowledge that what they have, are, or will do is wrong. This poses a particular problem for both the current generation and previous generations who for the most part were unaware that the burning of fossil fuels could or would have the impact on the environment and thus, the planet that it is and that it will. At the crux of this component of the objection is the concept of intent. It is argued and rightly so in many circumstances that there was and is not often a direct intent to cause harm to the planet or the human being who occupy it by the burning of fossil fuels. Lastly, it is often argued that either anthropogenic climate change is not real or that its effects are not currently being felt by this generation. The first argument has been disproved by scientists from all over the world. The second argument has a corollary, since it is not this generation that are being harmed and it is not this generation that will receive the benefits of the burdens being placed on the current generation, this is an unfair burden. All of these arguments about the assigning of responsibility have both moral and ethical importance and should be taken very seriously because responding to them appropriately answers the question: why this generation.

Responding adequately to this objection with all of its sub arguments will require an objective point of view. A point of view that can take into account the past, current and future generations, but it is not actually possible to bring all these generations together to develop an objective point of view. Nonetheless, John Rawls, a mid-twentieth century philosopher who proposed the theory of Justice as Fairness, developed a method for achieving an objective point of view, called the Original Position behind the Veil of Ignorance. The original position is a hypothetical decision making situation wherein all who are party are assumed to be ignorant of their personal characteristics, but still possess their ability to be rational and intelligent beings. What the parties are ignorant of is their age, sex, class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, generation and so forth. However, they do have an understanding of history and of current affairs, the caveat is that no one knows where in the society they will return to after leaving the original position. This hypothetical situation is supposed to simulate what would be agreed to in terms of what is just by all people at any given time because all are ignorant to the conditions that they would agree to, and acting in their own self-interest would negotiate for the best possible outcome to return to. These of course are not actual agreements and are not to be considered legally binding. However, insofar as it can form the basis of what is morally just, the hypothetical agreement situation is a vital and effective tool.[6]

Applying the Original Position to the case of anthropogenic climate change and in particular, the claim that responsibility for and burden of addressing and managing ACC should not fall upon the current generation, the objection loses it moral force. Ignorant of which generation the parties to the hypothetical situation are from and to which they shall return, none would agree that it would be morally right for them to be forced to suffer the negative effects of ACC if they had not caused it. Furthermore, they would agree that the future generation(s) would have every moral right to object to that situation being imposed on them and would have a claim on the previous generations to act so as to mitigate and or prevent ACC. The parties would agree that the current generation, although not entirely responsible is not free of blame or responsibility, and that while they had been left with an unjust situation, it was not as unjust as those who would suffer from the long-term effects of ACC. Thus, prior to leaving the original position, the parties would agree that since the current generation has the capacity and the opportunity to mitigate much of the negative effects of ACC, and since, if they do not do so, a morally wrong situation will obtain, it would be agreed that they have a moral obligation to prevent the ACC from occurring. The current generation would not be viewed as morally blameworthy, unless after possessing knowledge of ACC and the objective point of view, they acted contrary to their obligation to limit, mitigate, or stop anthropogenic climate change. Thus, the objection based on generational responsibility loses its moral importance when considered behind the veil of ignorance, and therefore reveals that placing burdens on the current generation is not of itself morally unjust or objectionable, but rather, obligatory.

The objections pertaining to responsibility, obligation, and practicality have not been entirely overcome, but it has been shown that there are morally compelling reasons to suspect that they do not have the infallible moral force that seemed originally apparent. Still remaining are the costs of preventing or mitigating anthropogenic climate change, and the interference with individual and state sovereignty. It is to these latter concerns that the argument now focuses.

John Locke in The Second Treatise on Government (1690), argued that human beings will elect to leave what he called the “state of nature” when there is complete liberty because it lacks a known and codified law, an impartial judge, and enforcement power that can be gained by entering into civil society.[7] Furthermore, Locke argued that for civil society to form as such, that actual consent was initially necessary and that the individuals who consented would be compelled to sacrifice much of their liberty to join. The problem is that the rights that grew out of Locke’s treatise, namely, those associated with property (life, liberty, and estate), were both an extension of the Doctrine of Discovery[8] and provided a rationalization for colonization and imperialism; all of which are now considered immoral and unethical.

To be more explicit, the principles Locke proposed were a justification of the arbitrary domination of one group over another. Locke wrote:

“The ‘labour’ of his body and the ‘work’ of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.”[9]

This was written during the heart of European colonization which eventually led to the establishment of many of the national borders that now exists. An example of this principle being put into practice was that the colonists to the Americas did not believe that the indigenous population had “mixed” their “labour” with “Nature” in the appropriate manner to count it being their property and thus, they took the lands from indigenous peoples. The important thing to draw from this is the implicit norm that it is permissible for a group, and in this instance a “civil society” to develop in a self-determined manner, even if some others may be harmed in the process. This is often referred to as state sovereignty.

However, Locke’s treatise also provided that the civil society, once formed, also had a claim and a right to defend itself from outside infringements. Locke explicitly states: “to employ the force of the community at home only in the execution of such laws or abroad to prevent or redress foreign injuries and secure the community from inroads and invasion.”[10] By this logic it follows that whenever a group of human beings forms a “civil society” that they then have the authority and autonomy, and thus the right to self-determination and the right to defend their own interests.

John Stuart Mill, a rule (social) utilitarian believed that society was most just and assured the greatest net utility when certain rights of all individuals were protected. Mill purported that every rational human being should have the liberty of conscience, which included opinions, thoughts, sentiments, and the publishing or otherwise expression of opinions; the liberty of tastes and pursuits; and the liberty of association. Mill believed that these liberties were necessary to achieve the greatest net utility of a society and that they should be protected even when in a particular instance the government determined that a particular act would not achieve net utility. In Mill’s work, On Liberty (1859) he proposed the “Principle of Harm,” which reads as follows:

“The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”[11]

Thus, the only reason that Mill could justify any of the liberties he identified as basic and essential to the individuals of a society was in the prevention of harm being done. Mill unfortunately did not expand or generalize this for all human beings in all states, but only those in a particular society, and as such, falls short of what we understand as a universal human right, at least as we understand them today. Later in On Liberty, Mill asserts that, “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end” (emphasis added).[12] Aside from this caveat and a few other like it, Mill was primarily arguing against paternalism and arbitrary imperialism. However, like Locke, Mill thought those who were external to, or who did not fulfill their conditions of “civil society” were neither granted the same respect and dignity, nor the full rights of other human beings.

Two very historically important events were occurring when Mill wrote On Liberty, Manifest Destiney was coming to a close in the United States and indigenous peoples were being stripped of their lands and being exterminated, and in Europe the Industrial Revolution was well under way and migrating to the U.S. The relevance of the ending of Manifest Destiny is that indigenous peoples in the U.S. were considered, by white Americans to be ‘savages’ and ‘barbarians,’ and the same is true for most of the rest of the colonized world at the time. People of African descent in the United States were still being enslaved at this time, denied education and any kind of citizenship as well. Furthermore, most of the colonized lands were prior to invasion, primarily inhabited by people of color and they were their lands. The relevance of the Industrial Revolution is that the mid-eighteenth century marks the period when scientist have identified as being the shift from natural climate change to anthropogenic climate change. It was a technological revolution that was sweeping throughout Western Civilization, but it was incurring a cost that at the time no one was aware of, namely, the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that would lead to human caused climate change. Nonetheless, two principles were being employed: (1) that not all human beings were equal and as such were not entitled to the same respect, dignity, and rights; and (2) that in the interest of self-determination and development a “civil society” was permitted even if other human beings were harmed.

The doctrine of state sovereignty, which entails the two principle just mentioned above has been used from the Industrial Revolution to the present day in a top-down reasoning process to derive the particular moral judgment that it is permissible to burn fossil fuels and to emit greenhouse gases. It is this particular moral judgment that is objectionable and is the reason for proposing the universal human right to a sustainable and healthy environment. By again utilizing Rawls’s original position, but instead of different generations being party to the decision making procedure it is representatives from one particular generation a similar objective point of view can be derived from which it will be possible to reason bottom-from. Ignorant of the climate conditions of their home territory no one party to the procedure would agree that it is morally permissible for their environment to be arbitrarily damaged to the point that it negatively impacts their normal range of functioning or basic capabilities; that it negatively impacts the development or maintenance of political self-determination and territorial sovereignty; or that negatively impacts and individual’s or a peoples’ ability to provide for their own subsistence; merely so that another nation could exercise its right to self-determination. However, it would most likely be agreeable to the parties that some level of harm that does not undermine another nation’s ability to survive would be permissible if the reason for the cause the harm indirectly was for the purpose of survival, that it would be permissible.

Therefore, reasoning from the rejected particular moral judgment that that it is permissible to burn fossil fuel and to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and new moral norm is discovered. It may be permissible for a state, nation, or “civil society” to cause a level of harm to others that does not undermine their ability to exercise their right to self-determine, their territorial sovereignty, or their ability to provide for their own subsistence; and does not impede their normal range of functioning or basic capacities; when this harm is caused for the sake of self-determination, territorial sovereignty, the ability to provide for their own subsistence, functioning or basic capabilities. This new development of the moral norm seems to capture the essence of the nature of state sovereignty, namely, that all states, nations, of civil societies desire sustainable and healthy environments in and from which they can flourish. As such, this reveals that a sustainable and healthy environment is therefore, one of the basic human interests that all human beings have. And thus, by working top-down from the new moral norm a new particular moral judgment is derived: a state, nation, or civil society is only permitted to burn fossil fuels and to emit greenhouse gases so long as doing such, is to provide for their self-determination, territorial sovereignty, the ability to provide for their own subsistence, functioning or basic capabilities and only incurs a level of harm to others that does not undermine these same things in their nation, state, or civil society.

By conducting the bottom-up revision of the moral norm of permissible harm, another particular moral judgment, namely, the Harm Principle, has also been revised. Mill argued quite explicitly for the principle to apply only to one society. In revising the other particular moral judgment, the Harm Principle had to be expanded from intra-society to inter-society, and also had to be expanded to permit some particular harms so long as a strict threshold is maintained regarding how much harm is permissible. Furthermore, it now seems that the effect of the principle and the language of the principle have been brought more into alignment since the principle specifically states “mankind” as the agent responsible for intervening in the liberty of others. To see why this is so, first remember that Mill distinguished between “mankind” and “barbarians” who were external to the society whose liberties were not to be protected as such, but rather, that it was justifiable to subject them to “despotism.” Barbarians in the contemporary understanding were mostly people of color and mostly the people who were being colonized or stripped of their lands, and are also now the people most likely to be impacted by anthropogenic climate change. The very people who most need a right to a sustainable and healthy environment, but who, according to the original interpretation of the Harm Principle would not have been counted, but discounted. However, that particular moral judgment is neither consistent with universal human rights, nor our common sentiments. Thus, it needed to be revised to incorporate an inter-society interpretation.

The instrumental argument for this proposed universal human right is that the sustainability and the health of our environment are requirements and as such are necessary conditions for the fulfillment of many other universal human rights that are already codified. Article 3, the “right to life;” Article 13, the “right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state;” Article 15, the “right to a nationality;” Article 17, the “right to own property;” Article 23, the “right to work, to free choice of employment;” Article 25, the “right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and his family;” Article 27, the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.”[13] Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to result in the rapid rise of sea levels and the desertification of territories, as well as to increase morbidity and mortality, all of which will infringe upon each individual’s right to life. These very problems and more that with high certainty will obtain in the near to long term future, and some of which are already occurring directly undermine the right of people to own property, the right to a standard of living, and so forth. Thus, providing for a sustainable and healthy environment is a precondition to the actualization of these other rights.

The cantilever argument is that by “logical extension” from Article 3, the “right to life;” and Article 25, the “right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being,” the right to a sustainable and healthy environment follows. Often the right to life is conceptualized in the negative respect, that is, an individual is not to be arbitrarily deprived of life. However, as Henry Shue has argued in Basic Rights, the right to life is also to be conceptualized in the positive respect.[14] Therefore, not only does the right to life incur the negative duty to non-interference, but also the positive duty to create institutions to protect those who are vulnerable to such infringements. It could be argued that merely expanding the program of immigration would alleviate much of the burden that will result from ACC, but that argument would not be taking into account the expansiveness of the problem or how many people would need to migrate in order to satisfy the right to life. And given the already burdened immigration system and the push back to both refugees and other migrators, it does not seem practical to expect that nations will be more apt to address the increased magnitude of migrators. Therefore, since the right to life incurs the positive duty to provide for institutions to protect life, the conception of what types of institutions exist should be expanded to also provide and protect sustainable and healthy environments. Merely stating that one has a right to life does not make it clear enough that the environment is intricately linked with the life of any individual or a people, and that needs to be clearly distinguished. If an individual has a right to life and also to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, then one has a cantilever right to a sustainable and healthy environment as well because the two cannot be teased apart.

The direct argument is that neither the planet nor any of its environments is owned solely by one individual or state, or collection of individuals or states, but is rather a good that everyone has a share of and ownership in, i.e., it belongs to no one and it belongs to everyone. No one individual or state, or collection of individuals or states has the right to so damage the planet that others cannot enjoy it or participate in the basic activities of life, which include but are not limited to living, working, having a family, and participating in a culture that is linked with the lands of their ancestors. Furthermore, as has been argued above, every individual, state, nation, and civil society has an interest in the maintenance of a sustainable and healthy environment which permits for self-determination, territorial sovereignty, providing for the normal range of functions and basic capabilities, and to provide for one’s own subsistence. Furthermore, from all of the preceding arguments it is clear that every individual has the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of these basic necessities. Without an environment from which to live and thrive in, neither is human life possible, nor are any of the things that most agree life is worth living for, and even a minimally decent life is nearly if not altogether impossible. Thus, every individual has a right to a sustainable and healthy environment in which to live.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) while containing many rights provisions that should be entailed within a universal right to protection against the effects of anthropogenic climate change, nonetheless, does not provide specifically for this. At the time of the drafting of the UNDHR in 1948, anthropogenic climate change was not an empirically accepted phenomena, so it is neither surprising, nor is it blameworthy that it was not provided for in the document. However, over half a century has passed and our understanding of the world we live in has dramatically expanded and now anthropogenic climate change is as close to an empirical scientific fact as there can be. Rising sea levels that will result in the submersion of low-land shore regions and islands throughout the planet; increased desertification of arable lands that will most likely result in famines; increased rates and prevalence of communicable diseases; dramatic increases to immigration pressures; and more are projected to occur mostly impacting impoverished nations that are predominantly populated by people of color who have been marginalized politically and economically through colonization and imperialism. The agents primarily responsible for anthropogenic climate change are nations that are more affluent and in particular, are industrialized nations and their citizens because of their burning of fossil fuels that resulted in excess greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulating in the atmosphere. When the effects begin to be felt however, it will not only be the citizens of less affluent or impoverished nations, but citizens from most nations throughout the globe, so we all share a common problem and have a common interest in providing for a right to protections against the effects of anthropogenic climate change.

It has been shown that there is sufficient reason to doubt the objections of responsibility for addressing and managing the effects of anthropogenic climate change belong to the current generation. It has further been shown that there are good and important moral reasons for re-conceptualizing state, nation and civil society sovereignty. It has also been shown that there are good moral and ethical reasons for limiting the amount of harm that these agents can impose upon others, that the previous conceptions belong to set of traditions and beliefs that or current generation no longer believes to be moral or permissible, and that through reasoning from a particular moral judgment a new norm has been developed. It may be permissible for a state, nation, or “civil society” to cause a level of harm to others that does not undermine their ability to exercise their right to self-determine, their territorial sovereignty, or their ability to provide for their own subsistence; and does not impede their normal range of functioning or basic capacities; when this harm is caused for the sake of self-determination, territorial sovereignty, the ability to provide for their own subsistence, functioning or basic capabilities. Then by reasoning top-down to a new particular moral judgment it was discovered that: a state, nation, or civil society is only permitted to burn fossil fuels and to emit greenhouse gases so long as doing such, is to provide for their self-determination, territorial sovereignty, the ability to provide for their own subsistence, functioning or basic capabilities and only incurs a level of harm to others that does not undermine these same things in their nation, state, or civil society. Since it primarily the burning of fossil fuels that lead to unsustainable and unhealthy environments, the proposed universal human right will entail protection against such an infringement.

What is yet to be addressed is the practicality and the costs that will be associated with the proposed right. Those determinations however, will rely largely upon what the institutions and the procedures for mitigating the effects of anthropogenic climate change will be. However, given the current international political situation, and the effects that are already being experienced, in addition to the lagging effect of GHGs that are already in the atmosphere this right should be ratified and incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Anthropogenic climate change is a global issue that supersedes any and all national borders, is a common essential interest to all human beings, is primarily a state versus individual issue, and only a universal right to a sustainable and healthy environment is sufficient to address the problem. As the situation currently stands, we as a civilization lack the appropriate apparatus to adequately deal with climate change, what Steven Gardiner calls the “Global Storm,” or in other words a global collective action, prisoner’s dilemma, type of problem. This human right, should provide a sufficient foundation from which the necessary international, intergovernmental apparatus to address anthropogenic climate change can be formed. At a minimum, the individuals of all nations, states, or civil societies would at least have the means to seek help in the formal, legal institutions to appeal for assistance and redress when the harmful effects are experienced.

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

[2] David Miller, “Is There A Human Right to Immigrate,” Center for the Study of Social Justice Department of Politics and International Relations (CSSJ), SJ033, (April 2015), University of Oxford, p. 8.

[3] Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), p. 10 http://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/

[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), http://ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml

[5] Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Work Group II (2014) http://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/

[6] John Rawls, Fundamental Ideas and The Basic Structure as Subject

[7] John Locke, “The Second Treatise on Government” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 71-79

[8] The Doctrine of Discovery has a long and painful history that predates the voyage of Christopher Columbus (Cristobol Colon) in 1492 by nearly eight decades. In 1414, the Council of Constance was convened to settle the issue of whether the religious order of Catholicism, of which the Pope was the highest authority second to God, could justify the acquisition of property and governing rights of humans considered to be “infidels” by their religious leaders.[8] In formulating its ruling, the council was drawing on the legal commentary of Pope Innocent IV in 1240 who concluded that “pagans,” a term used to define and group those who were either polytheistic or who worshiped nature, “had some natural law rights and that Christians had to recognize the right of infidels to own property and to govern themselves.” [8] The Council of Constance determined that “heathens” possessed natural rights, but unless they “complied with European concepts of natural law [they] risk[ed] being conquered,” and thus losing the rights to their lands and resources.[8] These European concepts of natural law included an opposition to things such as “cannibalism, sodomy, idolatry, and human sacrifice.”[8] If and when Europeans believed that a group of “pagans” were in violation of their concept of natural law, they were permitted by alleged Catholic authority to engage in what was called a “just war,” that is, a war waged to protect and to ensure the Christian way of life against the pagans and to strip them of the full measure of their natural rights.

 

Robert J. Miller, et al. “The International Law of Discovery, Indigenous Peoples, and Chile,” Nebraska Law Review Vol. 89 (2011). http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol89/iss4/6/

[9] Locke, p. 74

[10] Locke, p. 79

[11] John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty,” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 143-144

[12] Mill, On Liberty

[13] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

[14] Henry Shue, Basic Rights, p. 37

Insufficient Education

Insufficient, Contradiction, Moral complication ism/
Old division, bend the mission, till we’re left with latent vision/
Ivory tower, pearly gates, not the scape, we’re sent to prison/
Complex is the situation, that we’re facin , isn’t/
A bootstrap problem, then and modern, individualism/
Claiming that we want our fates, while looking through a prism/
Deny the fact, still held intact, that social factors mount/
Adds weight upon our backs, until, we are filled with doubt/
And think we are the issue here, responsible to count/
Choices made, determinant, of what we can amount/
While profiteers, far and near, hold futures in their hands/
The School-to-Prison Pipeline does nothing but expands/
And New Jim Crow is couched, within their sordid plans/
These impossible, almost, insurmountable demands/
Are placed upon us, as we seek to get through school/
Balancing the social pressure, what we’re told is cool/
And traversing through these neighborhoods, red lined to the gills/
Economic exploitation, grounding, that kills/
Jobs are vacant, hopes are waitin, constipation trill/
Estimation, wanting statements, not measuring the skills/
Void of opportunity, take advantage of the dream/
So we turn to other means, to add up all them beans/
Things they claim are criminal, subliminal, the seams/
Are bursting with their lies, and spilling triple beams/
Constricted in the space there is, competitions thrive/
Thus violence erupts, as we’re striving to survive/
Intergenerational, the trauma is alive/
A positive, feedback loop, how dare you to contrive/
That the intersectionality is what we can abide/
When layers of oppression coalesce and deride/
Restrict the options left to us, there’s nowhere left to hide/
Hence revolt and underground, we’re designed to survive/
Stack the odds, weigh them out, and think if you could make it/
Think if only some of them, how complicated/
And explain it to me, how the bootstrap ideology,
Even gets, remotely close, to our reality/
Cuz while in school, we’re always somehow torn apart/
& We live a double consciousness, fused in one heart/
Pushing hard to make it through, cuz our families need us to/
But never quite escape, the plights our people suffer through/
Those of us who make it, a duty, obligation/
Forms by passing through this corporate situation/
To those of us, who deserve to have a fair chance at makin/
Which is everyone, but most of all, the least well off,
They have a right, to receive a decent education/
So, we’re bound to change the circumstances/
Those social factors, stacked within their paths/
So that our people can choose for themselves,
If school is something that they really want to have/

Sleepers

I am pissed beyond belief
It seems there’s no relief 
To the ignorance, in people’s minds, locking them to see
From but, one perspective
Like, nothing is subjective
And, every thing else, is a form, of invective
Yet, they claim to be objective & empirical in nature/
facts of the maker
Making up their own data
As skewed as the Matrix,
patrons of the surface layer,
Brains in a vat, down-loading stimulation
Oblivious, to the hideous, truth they clearly miss,
Cuz belief is but opinion & a symptom of a guess,
& the really don’t know/ what the fog has in stow
Cuz the state, they’re incased in, won’t permit, their minds to grow
The evil genius demon, illusion be what he schemin 
Left the world to slumber dreamin
Tricked’em into thinkin, awake, while they’re sleepin,
Weep and read it, been defeated, wash and repeat it
Their humanity, so treasured, is depleated,
Free will has been deleted,
interject only to free them
From the, prisons of their minds, barred so completely
They can’t believe, and, won’t see it 
Xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, anti-blackness
Fear of the “Other” seems the everlasting way of fascists
Lost in madness, tragic in the coldest sense of stratus(es)
Hitlers in their living rooms, posting facebook statuses
Screaming “all lives matter,” till we move into their hoods
Or when the school-to-prison pipeline, is, clearly understood
As a real mechanism, causing schisms, long the lines of race
Class, religion, gender, economic, time-space
Spanish Inquisition, which followed occupation
color and belief, were, the factors of ENSLAVEMENT
Constricting education, to, stifle alteration
Nothing but, a totalitarian modus operandi inflammation/ 
Pick and choose’n what is read, or is spoken from the pavement
Lacking opposition, because, that requires questions, 
Not, ignorant opinions, of the status quo contingent/ 
but rather, insurrections that fathom through the nexus
complex is, the structures that perplex us, and bar us from our freedom
Yet, short on the knowledge, of, alter situations
The sleepers are the vanguard, we confront on daily basis
So, the choice is never vacant, it’s always latent, waitin, 
Like the worst of constipations/ 
Do we, have to murk these agents?
Or contend like Morpheus, to wake these sleepers from the Matrix?
And free them from their mind-prisons
The chains of a system that has closed the blinds of wisdom to them
To these drones, these brains in a vat, locked in recidivism
When justice lies, just on the other side, of their manifested ignorance?
To be woke, is both a blessing and a curse
But this tasty wheat, disgusting though it is, I love it, 
at least I know what truly hurts.

A Stance Must Be Taken

At some point a decision must be made and a stance taken to alter the unjust components of the system we are part of, or injustice and harm will continue to flourish as a result of our failure to act. It does matter how we got to this situation. It is important who was and is responsible for the suffering that people are compelled to undergo. However, regardless of who the guilty parties are the reality is that we all are the ones responsible for permitting the injustices to continue or for developing solutions to the problems inherent in our system. I believe it is our duty to do more than what is expected of us by the standards of a system that permits nearly ubiquitous suffering because the status quo is synonymous with more of the same. I believe it is not only possible, but achievable for us to improve on the systems we have inherited and the history of countless generations of humanity will confirm this conviction. It is true that it will not be easy. It is also true that we will most likely make many mistakes as we experiment with alternatives. However, if we do nothing different than what we have been doing then there is no chance that we will improve and people will continue to suffer undo and unjust conditions. Yet, should we but believe that at least something minimally better is possible and provide the most meager amount effort to see it through, then—and I am staking my life on this—we will see and feel revolutionary changes and evolution in human culture. A decision will be made and a stance taken regardless of whether it is to do nothing different, or to seek beneficial alternatives.

 

Genetically speaking, human being have not evolved for millennia. It has been our culture that has evolved, which has enabled us to adapt to our environments and to thrive as a species. However, evolution is not merely something that happens all on its own. Rather, evolution only occurs when an organism must respond to adversity in order to survive. Evolution however, is not a genetic mutation that occurs to a specific organism within its own biological life-span. If the organism is not predisposed to survive the factors of an environment then it simply will not be able to survive. However, if there is enough genetic variation within a population, and if some of those variants are predisposed to overcome or be unaffected by those factors, then they will have a chance of survival. Culture is a strategy for survival, but it is unlike genetic variation in that it can be adapted within an organism’s biological life-span. Like genetic variation, culture is a response to environmental factors and it has evolved over time to adjust to contemporary circumstances and conditions. The evolution of our culture has resulted in the formation of the systems by which our society operates, much like biological systems have adapted to circumstances. The relevant components of the analogy between genetic evolution and cultural evolution are sound and lends itself to this conclusion: as a democratic society we are faced with a set of factors that we as a political community are compelled to adapt to for the sake of survival, but instead of the variation or mutation happening by necessity it must freely be chosen and enacted.

 

A decision must be made and a stance taken if our culture is to evolve to meet the circumstances and conditions questioning our ability to survive as a species. Segregation was once a strategy that was perhaps necessary for smaller groups to survive. Today, segregation is primarily a tool of those who have power and privileges to maintain the status quo while others suffer the unfair distribution. Furthermore, those with power could share in this distribution without even remotely coming close to the level of subsistence. Since segregation is no longer a strategy that is necessary for survival it is also no longer a necessary cultural practice because the survival of those who maintain the segregation is not in question. Jim Crow was shown to be an unnecessary strategy and that it was in addition an unjust practice. Much like the wall that Donald Trump is proposing will be shown to be unnecessary for survival and unjust. We must be willing to critically analyze our practices for the merit they have in so far as they have the potential to assist us in surviving. The choices that we have to make, cannot and in fact should not be made arbitrarily, but rather, they should be investigated for their practical and moral qualities. The decision which will guide the stance we take that will also be made democratically, will only be an improvement on what has come before if people believe, and that it is fact true that their contributions matter.

 

The principle test of a system should be whether or not it achieves the goals for which it was implemented. If the system does achieve the ends for which it exists and it continues to contribute to our survival then chances are good that we should maintain that system for so long as it continues to satisfy these conditions. However, if the system does not achieve the ends for which it exists or it does not contribute to our survival, then chances are good that we should cease the practice entirely and seek an alternative. For example, the system of prisons is prefaced on the explicit goals of rehabilitation and deterrence, and the implicit goal of retribution. The prison system has a recidivism rate of nearly 95% and that means that almost every single person who enters into the adult penitentiary system at some point returns to prison. This reveals that the prison system fails at the explicit goal of rehabilitation. The United States has but 5% of the world’s population and yet 25% of the world’s prison population and save for the last few year has witnessed an exponential increase in population density. Therefore, the prison system is also failing at the explicit goal of deterrence. Lastly, when a person is indicted for a crime it is the public the plaintiff and the contest is between the individual accused and the state. This entirely removes the person who was harmed so far from the process that often times not even an apology from the person responsible is possible to the person who was harmed. The system also fails at its implicit goal of retribution. Yet, the prison system as it exists today has an ulterior motivation which has nothing to do with these other goals and that is profit for corporations. This hidden goal of the system is not something that the public has agreed to and are mostly ignorant of. In addition, this goal also undermines most of what the public agrees the criminal justice system should be aimed at, which is entailed within both the explicit and implicit goals of the prison system. Therefore, since the prison system fails on all counts and in addition fails to be consistent with democratic principles, this is a system that should cease to be a component of our culture.

 

On the other hand, although there are problems with it, the system of education when it is not interrupted by the prison system, does in fact contribute to our survival and achieves it goals. The explicit goal of the education system to prepare citizens for a diverse array of roles within society. These roles are vital to the functioning of society and thus, for the survival of the members of that society. Reading and mathematics are basic requirements for survival of the members of most societies and the citizens of the United States in particular. Education is a system that imparts these skills unto the people and thus transmits important characteristics of our society. True, that the system often fails many and these failures can often be measured along the lines of class and race. This while revealing a shortfall in the system also reveals the relevant aspects for improvement, not wholesale cessation. Nonetheless, it is apparent that when analyzing our systems, that is, our strategies for survival we may discover that they are or can function to meet the needs of our civilization, or they may not. It is at this junction that a decision must be made and a stance taken by the people about how to respond: to remain stagnant, or to evolve; that will be the question.

 

There is more than enough blame to go around the world multiple times over and while it will at some point be the right time to hold particular individuals responsible. However, at this moment that will neither help us to achieve justice, now to improve the conditions of the lives of those who are suffering. Responsibility aside for the moment, the truth is that we are most likely not going to make this world a better place factionalized. It will most likely require all of us to fulfill some role, many of them vital to our cultural evolution because of our experience and knowledge. At the same time, it will be incumbent upon many of the people who are in positions of power to analyze the systems that are in place and in practice that limit or completely bar cultural evolution. When practices or structures like these are discovered it will be their responsibility to disassemble them and to get the necessary help from the people most impacted and affected by these practices and structures to create new strategies so that positive and beneficial change can begin to take form.

 

Our world is turning upside down on itself and the consequences of our actions are quickly catching up to us and are going to leave us with a set of conditions that are going to be nearly impossible to address unless we do what we can to adapt to them before them emerge. Climate Change is a latent phenomenon that grows exponentially as the factors are compounding over time. There is still yet time to make the necessary cultural transitions to adequately address this threat, but time is running short to evade the impacts of the negative feedback loop that is ahead of us. Countries are at odds economically and militarily, and the tension is so tight that one slight move in the wrong direction and the entire structure will come cascading down. The victims of such an atrocity will not be the people who make the decisions, but rather, the general public of our societies who are merely attempting to get by relatively well. It may seem as though my sense of urgency is unfounded, but that is only because our energy sources have not been tapped, desertification has not destroyed most of the arable land we depend upon for food, and borders are not being flooded beyond capacity with millions of starving and terrified human beings seeking anything better than what they are fleeing. When these conditions begin to be felt, then the economic constriction will follow and the protectionism that is a major component of our cultures will be expressed with the military. Those who have not fallen victim to the former calamities, will be present for the latter.

 

None of this is necessary though and it can all be avoided should we choose to make a decision and take a stand on experimenting with alternative strategies. It is imperative that we stop thinking and acting in the realm of the short-term, and from the perspective of the micro-personal, and began thinking an acting in the realm of the long-term and from the perspective of the macro-personal. We only have one world to live on and we have to share with all the people and other species that are here. Because we have the capacity for rational thought and forethought, it is our duty and our responsibility to be responsible stewards and wise planners. The conditions and the factors that require evolution are present or soon will be. We have the unique opportunity to choose what and who we evolve into as oppose to either facing extinction or evolving into something unwanted by necessity. Culture can evolve by choice, it does not have to be compelled. Whatever the choice of the people is though, it is us, all of us who are responsible for these decisions and the actions that they will guide

2016 Edward E. Carlson Student Leadership Award Speech

Power to the People

We are on stolen Coastal Salish tribal lands and that needs to be acknowledged prior to proceeding.

Receiving the Edward E. Carlson Student Leadership Award reveals to me more than meets the eye. It is not merely the case that I as an individual am being recognized here today. Rather, the values that I hold dear and the issues I have been working on with some of the most amazing and brilliant people are also being recognized as valid and recognition worthy. It tells me that not only students, who are also people of color or other people with marginalized identities believe it is time for the University of Washington to live up to and to honor its mission and values; it reveals that we have the broad support and backing of the community who also want to see equitable changes to the institution. This is precisely what I believe is necessary to achieve not only positive change, but beneficial change for us all.
As a historian and as a radical educator, as well as, a Black Lives Matter activist, it is my firm belief that we should not always accept the history as it is handed to us by the public or academia. First of all, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not merely some docile pacifist who touted nonviolence in the 50s and 60s. Second of all, the period between 1955 and 1975, when the United States experienced the second reconstruction is titled incorrectly as being the Civil Rights Era. Two other major and vital wings of the Black Liberation Era, Black Nationalism and Black Power, without which the beneficial gains that were made would have potentially been impossible, are nearly completely omitted. Third, and most important, the history that is normally conveyed to most Americans is that there were only two predominant leaders during this period, Malcom X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  However, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott was neither planned nor organized by King, rather Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, a teacher at Alabama State College, who was also the president of the Women’s Political Council had been working on segregation issues for two years prior to that and it was she who organized the boycott. Ela Baker, who was influential with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and also the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was responsible for helping to organize the students of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was instrumental in the Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, and the Voter Registration campaign in Selma, Alabama. And Bayard Rustin, a name almost unheard of in traditional education because he was an openly homosexual man. However, he had been working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation since the early 1940s, instructed King in 1955, that nonviolence was more than a strategy but also a way of life, and was instrumental in the strategizing and organization of nearly every major Civil Rights demonstration during that period including the March on Washington in 1963. This brief overview is not meant to invisibilize the efforts of people like Bob Moses, John Lewis, Assata Shakur, Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, Medgar Evers, Anne Moody, or the countless teachers, lawyers, sharecroppers, carpenters, and civilians who contributed and protected each other, but I simply do not have the time to convey to you the importance of their stories and contributions.

The point is that it was not merely the efforts of a very limited few, but rather, the collective efforts of people from across the spectrum who employed and deployed a multiplicity of tactics, which was required to achieve the positive and beneficial results they did. Today is no different and neither are the struggles we are having, nor the issues we are contesting. One of our very own, Emile Pitre, in 1968, had a vital role in compelling the university to increase both its students and its faculty of color. He is still here to this day encouraging and mentoring students, and seeking to improve the demographic distribution of this very campus. And yet, not two weeks ago we were compelled to stage yet another demonstration because of the lack of faculty and students of color and in particular, people of African descent, among a host of other unjust and disparaging conditions. Not least of which is this institution’s complicity in the school-to-prison pipeline, and benefitting from the prison industrial complex. 

Institutional discrimination and racism are deeply entrenched within our structures and practices and will require all of us to make sacrifices as we change the system and the manner in which it functions. For some of us that will mean merely that we are to support those who actively, and who are well within their rights to challenge systems of oppression and discrimination. For others, that may mean exerting some of your influence in situations where your influence can be felt, but otherwise, under other circumstances, you may have elected to refrain from doing so. For others, like many of the people recognized today for their work in the community, Dr. Marisa Herrera the director of the James E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center, or Stephanie Gardner the director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), which assists many minoritized students to achieve success in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic disciplines otherwise known as STEM, should continue doing the work they are doing. The point is that it is going to require all or most of us to accomplish our goals and to help shape our world into one that is comfortable for us all to live with and in.

There are risks, of course there are risks. And while I live with the constant reminder that people of my complexion, with my ethnic composition have been assassinated by our own government for doing precisely what I am doing right now; none of that will stop me. I will not be intimidated into non-action. I will not be silenced. I will not submit to coercion. I will not be bought off. I will stand on the side of justice, equity, equality, and liberation with my fist held high! And I will trudge into the trenches with my sisters and brothers routing out evil and injustice whence it sprouts! I never thought an award like this would be presented to a person like me, from an institution such as the University of Washington because although the world seems to love the positive and beneficial changes that have resulted from people like myself and those I work with; it also seems to shun and disavow the very necessary actions we sometimes must take.

However, not all of us have merely social constraints to worry about as risks, some of us are subject to institutional power. This is true regardless of whether it is a university or a government that is the focus of protests of injustice. However, it is these threats that most concern me because it questions our ability to provide security for ourselves and our families, and that kind of power can be utilized to coercively silence people into abject conformity and adaptive preferences. This is why it is vital that we stand together applying our skills and positions multilaterally with a multiplicity of tactics to achieve both positive and beneficial change for all of our people. 

So, I encourage, and I implore you all to not sit idly by while injustice occurs to anyone, anywhere. Because as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Receiving this award and what was required for that to come about shows me that a and reveals that a broad cross-section of people from across the spectrum want to both see and feel positive change and are making a declaration in support of the work we are doing. 

Lastly, and I will leave you with this because it is what guides my actions and comes from a person I hold in the highest regard as a warrior and advocate for the cause of justice and equity; Assata Shakur:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

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Op-Ed: Agree With Our Message, But Not With Our Methods?

South Seattle Emerald

by Michael “Renaissance” Moynihan

As a local organizer, I keep hearing over and over that people agree with the issues we are protesting, but that they disagree with our methods of protest. To me, and to anybody else who knows the history of Civil Rights and Black Power in the United States will recognize this as something right out of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963). While sitting in jail in Birmingham, Alabama after being arrested for yet another peaceful demonstration during Project C (for confrontation), King wrote a letter in response to many of the white clergy who chastised King for the methods the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were employing. It is interesting that these clergy members chose to chastise King and SCLC, instead of Bull Conner and his police department for unleashing firehoses and attack dogs upon peaceful protestors; or for…

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Agree with the Message, but not with the Methods

I keep hearing over and over that people agree with the issues we are protesting, but that they disagree with our methods of protest. To me, and to anybody else who knows the history of Civil Rights and Black Power in the United States will recognize this as something right out of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963). While sitting in jail in Birmingham, Alabama after being arrested for yet another peaceful demonstration during Project C (for confrontation), King wrote a letter in response to many of the white clergy who chastised King for the methods the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were employing. It is interesting that these clergy members chose to chastise King and SCLC, instead of Bull Conner and his police department for unleashing firehoses and attack dogs upon peaceful protestors; or for the segregation and discrimination that was rampant in the Birmingham at the time. The clergy were not writing to chastise the federal government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for sitting idly by and watching Freedom Rider buses be bombed and the Freedom Riders beaten within inches of death. No, they chastised the oppressed for challenging their oppression in one of the only manners left for them to do so. These people that I am hearing agree with our message, but disagree with our methods sound and feel to me as being no different than the white clergy that King was responding to.

 

When I receive messages like this what it reveals to me is that people are telling me that the suffering our people are forced to undergo can be withstood longer, while we proceed through the acceptable and respectable channels. It’s like they are communicating; “I know you people are suffering and that many of you are being killed unjustly, forced into slavery via the New Jim Crow, that intimidation and coercion are common tactics used by the establishment to maintain the status quo and to keep you and your people subjugated and relegated into positions of inferiority, and humiliation. But, you have not right to do what you are doing to compel this unjust and unfair system to change.” These statements are made as if we have not been to the Board of Regents of the University of Washington, as if we had not been to the Seattle City Council, to the King County Metropolitan Council, to the legislature in Olympia, Washington to lobby and petition for amendments to our policies and practices. We have been to them all, and I have been to each one personally, and so have many of the people I work with. When you go to one of these places, you only get two minutes, if that, to speak and to present your case and most often, the people you speak till will never respond to a single word you have said. Now if the issue was about the height of a curb, or putting a bench in a park—things that you are very likely to hear during public comment—then that is the place and the forum for it. However, when we are talking about institutional discrimination, the political assassinations of our people being executed by the police, the school-to-prison pipeline, or any other institutional or systemic issue those two minute time slots are merely not enough.

 

Once, when we went to the King County Metropolitan Council to testify in behalf of King County not building the new juvenile detention center, a black man who had more to say than two minutes worth, was rushed by the police and taken into custody; he was arrested. A black man spoke just too much, shared just a bit too much truth, and they took him down. This is what happens when we follow the prescriptions of the acceptable and respectable channels. The King County Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to build the new juvenile and our youth are continuing to suffer through the school-to-prison pipeline. Nobody who makes the statements that we agree with your message, but disagree with your methods is or has written to King County to protest that behavior or the building of the new youth jail, but they will chastise us in a heartbeat for occupying an intersection, or taking over a meeting to make sure that our testimonies are heard.

 

While marching through Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington during the Decolonize UW Walkout, a woman came right up to me to chastise me about our interrupting their study time to tell me that she agrees with our message, but that she disagreed with our methods. Granted, studying for mid-terms is important, there is no doubt about that. However, the people who were in the library studying only had their studying interrupted for but a few minutes. While the prison industrial complex is responsible for destroying generations of families, and the police brutality that goes hand-in-hand with it destroys our neighborhoods, and both rob us of our brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. When death is the result, often we never get to see them again, “justified” by the establishment or not. The systems and the structures we were protesting and that we will continue to protest until we have eliminated the problems are constant interruptions in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. So, breaking someone’s concentration, or interrupting someone’s commute to or from work long enough for people to pay attention to what is really going on, given what they propose an acceptable and respectable channel of active opposition is to the establishment, and the results of those actions, the interruption is completely justified. As a matter of fact, they should be happy that we have pulled them away from the broken education they are receiving, or interrupting their continuing complicity in the structure of oppression and subjugation.

 

What is worse is when these statements come across with the intent of suggesting that we have no right to protest, that we have no weight behind our complaints and grievances, and that we should be happy with the state of affairs as they now stand. What that is suggesting is that we should be thanking our oppressors for having their knives only half in our backs, paralyzing us, and not all the way in and killing us. Let the government steal their children and force them into slavery; let the government start denying their children access to higher education; let the police start executing their children in the streets and see how fast they take to the streets and shutting down the status quo. They chastise us from the moral standpoint of a double standard without fully divulging the entire story, and argue against our position and methods as if we were wrong and bad. These are half-truths and contradictions, and most of the people who spew them are hypocrites who merely enjoy the privileges their position in this society grants their status.

 

Until it becomes clear the premises and precepts that underlie these statements and these people’s frustrations we will continue to be at odds. They simply do not understand that the same methods that are open to them to address their grievances and harms, are not open to us. They simply do not understand, that the issues we are contending with require and obligate much more than the acceptable and respectable channels permit.

 

Returning to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who is often misquoted and misrepresented to us today as a foil for what a “good negro” should be in today’s society, it was King who after the Watts Rebellion in 1965 said that “I will not let my oppressor dictate my methods.” These people can sit on their high horses, and armchair moralize about what they think is appropriate or not all day long, and they can get upset that their days have been interrupted, but that will not change that we are doing what we must because there are very few practical and reasonable options left to us to select from. Instead of chastising us for being compelled to resort to the methods we have, they should be chastising the systems, and the structures, the administrations, and the governmental officials for creating and sustaining the unjust, inequitable, and subjugating conditions that have forced us to employ these methods. Perhaps if they did, then our struggle would be over much, much sooner and they could get back to the comfort and ease they so seem to love and our people can have some of that too.

 

Prison Divestment

A public institution that only has about 3% Black folx as undergraduate students also has investments in prisons, while the school to prison pipeline is syphoning P.O.C. and Black children into incarceration by the thousands each year. There is a major inconsistency here. The University of Washington claims to have a Racial and Equity Initiative and, to be open and accessible to everyone and yet it is profiting and benefitting from the same system that permitted and promoted the executions of:

#MichaelBrown #TrevonMartin #EricGarner #RekiaBoyd #FreddyGrey #SandraBland #CheTaylor #JohnTWilliams #EmmittTill #MalcomX #MLK #FredHampton

What they tell us is that they do not know if it is financially responsible for them to divest from prisons and what we are telling them is that financial responsibility does not matter in this case; social responsibility does.

Stand with us! SIGN THIS PETITION! Get involved. Do something. And don’t just let the world and I justice continue unchecked either because you think you cannot make a difference or because you do not think it concerns you. It does concern you and you can make a diffetence. You are a fully rational human being with the agency to help shape the world around you.

I am counting on you. We all are.

#PrisonDivestment

#BlackLivesMatter

 

Petition:

https://www.change.org/p/university-of-washington-divest-uw-s-endowment-from-prisons-and-reinvest-in-survivors-of-incarceration?recruiter=52405116&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_facebook_responsive&utm_term=mob-xs-share_petition-custom_msg&fb_ref=Default

 

Song About the Prison Industrial Complex (History