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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.” 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.”
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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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).” 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.
 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.
 Caney, 133.
 Caney, 133.
 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
 Page, 16.
 Ibid, 6.
 Ibid, 7.
 John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty,” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 144.
 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.
 Page, 7.
 Caney, 130-131.
 Page, 9.
 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.
 Shue, 105-107.
 Caney, 136.
 Page, 13.
 Shue, 105.
 Caney, 136.
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. 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. 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.
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), 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.
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.
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. 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 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.”
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.” 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.”
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). 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.” 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. 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.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
 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.
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), http://ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml
 John Rawls, Fundamental Ideas and The Basic Structure as Subject
 John Locke, “The Second Treatise on Government” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 71-79
 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. 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.”  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. These European concepts of natural law included an opposition to things such as “cannibalism, sodomy, idolatry, and human sacrifice.” 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/
 Locke, p. 74
 Locke, p. 79
 John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty,” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 143-144
 Mill, On Liberty
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
 Henry Shue, Basic Rights, p. 37
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
I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.
I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.
I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.
Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.
Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.
If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.
While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.
I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.
During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.
In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).
Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.
At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.
In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.
During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.
The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.
My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.
The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC. But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.
Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation. With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.
Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.
I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.
As it stands now there are approximately 7.3 billion people on the planet who identify with many different religions, nationalities, countries, cultures, economic systems, family structures, political ideologies, and tastes. The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 there will be over 9.7 billion people on the earth. To put that figure into perspective because just hearing the difference between seven and nine makes it seem miniscule; that is over eight times the current United States population. People in Seattle, Washington can barely afford their rents as it is now and if we are still following the same supply and demand, ‘invisible hand’ economics that are in effect today, I dread being alive to see the horrendous conditions that are in store for us. It is already being reported that wage gaps this large between the rich and the poor have not been witnessed since the fall of the Roman Empire and it is increasing at an exponential rate.
As if matters were not bad enough with only the population explosion, in addition to that is also the vast environmental degradation and destruction, which is increasingly causing our planet to become uninhabitable. The cumulative impacts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from our collective consumption of fossil fuels in our combustion vehicles, coal fire power plants, fracking plants, and oil burning are occurring simultaneously with the eradication of our forests that are the natural carbon sinks that could have restored the planetary ecosystem to equilibrium. Thus, instead of there being a fluid and efficient carbon cycle, the carbon our practices are releasing is getting stuck in the atmosphere, our public good, which traps in the heat from our Sun and leads to global warming. Global warming and climate change are natural occurrences, scientists and archeologists have confirmed this unequivocally. However, historically speaking, since the Industrial Revolution began in the 19th Century, human ingenuity has dramatically shifted the rate at which the natural process of climate change is occurring.
The net results stretch from rising sea levels to desertification of once arable land, of which the former is leading to the submersion of many inhabited regions and the latter is leading to famines and wars over limited resources. Furthermore, both are factors in mass migrations and the global apartheid unfolding before our very eyes. Take the migration crisis in Europe for instance, those people are fleeing from war and famine torn regions in the Middle East and Africa, fleeing over both land and water risking dehydration, starvation, death of both themselves and their families, or eternal isolation because those risks are more acceptable in comparison to the conditions they would otherwise suffer. The only difference between them and us is quite honestly, where we were all born and when. Yet, the massive influx of people has caused a panic among the peoples and the governments of the receiving nations who are ‘protecting’ their interests with sanctions, gates, walls, and brute military force to keep the migrators out. Ann Coulter, opening for presidential candidate Donald Trump at a convention said: “I love the idea of the Great Wall of Trump. I want to have a two drink minimum. Make it a big worldwide tourist attraction and every day, live drone shows whenever anyone tries to cross the border.” She was talking about making a spectacle of killing people—in this case from Mexico—looking to improve their life-conditions and life-chances, and these are Americans that we are talking about, and people who want to be at the head of the United States, no less. So, it is not the case that the issue is only something that happens abroad. Notwithstanding where it occurs, this is what is called, Feudal Privilege, because there is nothing that any of us did prior to any of our being born that justifies any of us possessing access to the necessities for life while others do not, and yet, we do possess those necessities, nonetheless. Our borders are symbolic extensions of the castle walls that once separated the affluent from the peasant, what was once called a birth right.
Making the situation even more complicated is the fact that the environmental degradation and destruction that is leading to these mass migrations from the less affluent nations and states, is a direct result of the practices of the more affluent nations. In the United States, based on our consumption rates cumulatively, it would take four and a half entire earth’s worth of resources to fulfill the demand if everyone on the planet today in all the states consumed as US citizens do. That is, US citizens have a carbon footprint of four and a half earths, while those in less affluent regions, like much of the African continent has a carbon footprint of less than one earth. Thereby resting the responsibility for the increased rate of global warming and climate change causing the rising tides and famines squarely in the hands of those from the more affluent nations; primarily, Western Civilization, where many of the migrators are seeking refuge and are being barred access to. Furthermore, at the moment we are only talking about millions of people migrating, and the people and governments from the more affluent nations are in a panic. However, this is nothing compared to the over two billion increase in population projected for 2050 while the environmental ecosystem collapse is exacerbated at the same time.
This is a huge problem, I know. A problem so large that it does not seem like there is a solution to it. But I think the heart of the issue resides within our definition of community: “A social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.” More important than this characteristic of the definition of community, is that implicit in the definition and the common understanding of the concept is the multiplicity of communities as being distinct from one another, or in other words, different or separate from each other. And therein is the crux of the problem. This notion of distinctness is what maintains the separation between the sexes, and genders, between the social-construction of races, ethnicities, nationalities—which is different from the arbitrary political boundaries—of people, between states, social classes, and so forth. The notion of distinctness is what was at the foundation of slavery, the Jim Crow segregation that led to the Civil Rights Era of the mid-20th Century and to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the New Jim Crow and state sanctioned violence in the form of police brutality. Inherent in racism is the notion of distinctness and scientific racism gave it fangs. Social Darwinism and the concept of “survival of the fittest” are both laden with the notion of distinctness and provide a quasi, but fallacious justification for acting on that distinctness.
We are inundated with this notion of distinctness each and every time we are told that we are individuals and that we have to achieve on our own. Our society and our complete set of ideologies are designed to isolate people from one another, to put us into competition, and to set us at odds with each other. Take the grading system for example, instead of the entire class being graded collectively on the achievements of the group, individuals are rewarded or punished for their own merits. This is the case even though they all participate in the class collectively and it provides the incentive for students not to have as heightened of an interest in assisting their fellow classmates. It’s as if we were to somehow conceive of ourselves as something other than individuals that our personal identities would somehow dissolve into nothingness, but I believe this to be an unjustifiable fear. Nonetheless, as a result of this distinctness and individuality, we humans love to categorize ourselves; black, white, rich, poor, tall, short, German, Peruvian, smart, ignorant, man, woman, felon, law abiding citizen, alien, but therein between the categories is where most of the strife among and “between” us emerges. Because with the distinctions comes an arbitrary system of hierarchical valuations and judgments that result in hyperbole and humiliations that provide reasons for segregation and delineation.
This individualistic conception destroys our relationships with our selves, other people and with the earth, of which we are not truly separate. If there was not an earth, then humans as we understand our selves could not exist. The earth on the other hand, existed long before the human species and will most likely exist long after our species has vanished. Relationships are the key to community and to healing the ills of our civilization. Relation is the characteristic that is missing from the definition of community and culture, which emerges within and through a community, as a strategy for survival and as such, it is utterly dependent upon relationships. The reality is that we can do nothing alone and that there is no such thing as individuality. The words “alone” and “individual” are components of a language, that by its very definition necessitates a relationship because for communication to exist at least two parties must agree that a particular symbol will have a particular meaning that is transmittable. That is a relationship and without it there could be no culture to transmit to subsequent generations; there would be no commerce, no morality, no religion if there no people who formed instructional relationships with us. By corollary, there would be no societies, no cities, no schools, no families, and no identities. Relationships are at the core of everything it means to be human as we currently understand ourselves to be.
Our first relationship is with ourselves, but that relationship can only be understood and fully appreciated in the context of every other human that exists and that has ever existed, and on the context of the earth upon which we exist and rely with all the millions of other species. The individual does not exist in isolation, the individual is not a microcosm, but exists in relation to everything else that exists. John Donne said it best and most simply; “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” Until this is understood there can be no relationship with ourselves because we do not fully grasp who we truly are. And if we do not know who we are, then we cannot transmit ourselves to another because we cannot convey a concept we do not fully comprehend. Thus, until we know ourselves, we cannot have relationships with other human beings, who in essence are of us and we are also of them. And lastly, without that comprehension and feeling, then there can be no relationship with the earth, which connects and sustains us all. This is how the ideology of individualism corrupts and destroys our relationships.
We have to expand our sense of community to recognize, appreciate, and incorporate the entire planet and all the things that exist upon it and in relation to it. Only then, will something like the atmosphere, a public good, something that we all own, have claim to, and are part of, become something that we cherish and love enough not to destroy. Only when we understand that the rainforest are not distinct from us, will we acknowledge that destroying them is in reality, destroying ourselves. Only when we comprehend that all the people on the planet are part of us and that the arbitrary valuations and judgments we currently attribute to them is wrong, will we begin to acknowledge the injustice of segregation and apartheid, murder and isolation. Much like the contemporary interpretation of the identity of a person can exist within the colloquial sense of a community, so too, can identity groups exist within this expanded conception of community. In fact, these identity groups are vital to the evolution of our culture and must exist, because the supposition that there is but one community does not presuppose the presence of a negative peace, which is the absence of conflict, but a positive peace in which the necessary tension required for growth and stimulation flourishes. That is the essence of relationships: gravitational and repulsive forces that continuously interact to maintain balance and harmony in relation to everything else that exists.
If we want to bridge communities and to foster a peace full of symbiotic mutually beneficial relations, then it is necessary to recognize that there is only one community and category that is of any import, the Human Identity Group within the Community of the Earth.
This morning Got Green held a press conference in front of the King County Juvenile, notorious for destroying the lives of young people of color, fighting for rights and opportunities for our community’s youth. The press conference was focused in particular on green internships and gaps in access to sustainable living alternatives for our urban youth.
Speaking and Performing at the press conference this morning were:
Carlynn Newhouse, Youth Speaks Poet
Rashad Johnson, Poet / Performer
Mo!, Got Green, Program Organizer for the Young Leaders in the Green Economy project
Lylianna Allala, Environmental Professionals of Color (EPOC)
Lisa Chen, Executive Director of Food Empowerment Education Sustainability (FEEST)
Mike O’Brien Seattle City Council Member
Green jobs and internships are vitally important to our society because the world we want to live in will not simply materialize, rather, we must live our lives in such a way as to bring it about and, green jobs and internships are one part of that process. Furthermore, because green internships are socially responsible and engaging, providing them for our urban youth will not only provide sustainable and rewarding alternatives to less desirable activities and outcomes, it will also instruct our youth about how to construct and consume responsibly, and how to utilize and maintain community relationships to build the future we desire while providing the resources and services our city and its people need today.
The Youth are engaged, knowledgeable and making moves to ensure their own futures. And at least some of our elected officials are actively engaged in making resources available for our youth to participate in green internships and thus, benefiting the broader community.
GotGreen? Released a Press Release this morning prior to the press conference:
“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2015
Contact: Murphy Stack, 206.466.7712, firstname.lastname@example.org
New Report finds a “Green” Glass Ceiling for Seattle’s Young Workers of Color
Community Leaders Calling for Green Paid Internships
SEATTLE–Today, Got Green’s “Young Leaders” released a new report that identifies access challenges for young workers of
color who want to pursue “green” career pathways and calls on elected officials and public agencies to invest in paid
internships that can provide an entry into these fields.
The report, “Breaking the Green Ceiling: Investing in Young Workers of Color, Paid Environmental Internships, Career
Pathways,“ is part of Got Green’s Green Pathways Campaign, which advocates for creating more career pathways to
leadership positions for young people of color that will benefit our communities and the environment. The term “green ceiling”
refers to the 16% cap of people of color employed in green fields including, foundations, non-profits, government agencies.
Community partners – Environmental Professionals of Color, Youth Speaks, The Washington Bus, and Food Empowerment
Education Sustainability Team (FEEST) joined Got Green’s Young Leaders to make the announcement outside the King
County Detention Center.
“There’s been a lot of talk lately about income gaps in our region, we need to move from conversations to action,” said Mo!
Avery, Got Green’s Young Leaders Organizer. “The Young Leaders chose the Youth Jail for the press conference to illustrate
where funds that could be used to invest in our youth are actually going. Rather than funding organizations that could train the
youth and give them valuable career skills to help uplift our communities, money is instead being poured into an institution that
often acts as a massive barrier to careers and upward mobility for young people of color.”
According to report findings, in many green industries, unpaid internships have become a replacement for entry-level, paid
jobs. Unpaid internships create significant barriers for many young people of color who often cannot afford to work without
compensation. Instead, young workers of color find minimum wage jobs with no career trajectory and limited employment
skills, making it even more difficult to pursue meaningful work for our communities and environment.
Got Green applauds the Mayor’s recently announced Youth Employment Initiative that will create 2000 new jobs. This is a
move in the right direction that Got Green is working to build off of. Got Green’s recommendations from the report include;
expand the definition and number of “green” paid work experience opportunities which we define as good for the environment
and our communities at the same time; do targeted outreach to young adults of color to increase racial diversity in the
environmental jobs field; develop systems to help young adults move into career pathways.
“Seattle is a leader in climate action, but falls short on equity measures, we risk leaving behind the young adults who can help
us maintain that leadership role tomorrow. The investment in a brighter future and a healthier planet begins with investing in
the empowerment of the youth of color,” said Laurie Torres, Got Green Young Leader.
This group of strong, dedicated, passionate, intelligent and driven women who have been engaged in the climate justice movement have come together to share their experiences as Women and as Activists.
The audience loved them!
Answering difficult questions and sharing their personal stories of growing up fused with depictions of dealing with stereotypes, racism, sexism and self-doubt, they connected with people in a way that is often hard to achieve. Many people thanked them over and over for having the courage to speak out about the things that they too have also felt, but not had the space or felt safe enough to express their truth.
They were also able to pull together many of the organizations active in the climate justice movement into a unified initiative to expose the truth of so many of our movements for justice, that is, they are being led by women; and that women of color from front-line communities need and should be at the forefront of the movement.
It was a beautiful event and I hear that there is much more to come.
Climate change is both a global issue and an environmental justice issue that threatens people of color lives the most.
The same moral justifications that support the Department of Justice and its derivative the police institution, which permits the murder of Black and Brown people, also serves as the moral foundation for maintaining economic disparities, political disenfranchisement, environmental injustice and as a result climate change. If we want to stop killing of black people, we cannot only look at the direct killings, done by police officers we must also look at the slow, insidious killing of black people through environmental pollutants.
As with most things in this racist system, marginalized communities like people of color, migrants and poor people get the short end of the stick. (Poor) Black people are literally breathing different air than rich white people, the places with the lowest air quality and highest levels of toxins are also the places where the majority of minorities live due to the lower cost of living in these places. This is why Black people have the highest rates of asthma and why black woman have high rates of infant mortality. Although climate change is affecting the entire planet, as with everything else, black people are getting the worst of it. We have already seen this during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, where Black people were the last to be rescued from the wreckage, and with climate change these disasters are becoming more frequent. As natural disaster frequency increases, those with money and power will be able to protect their own, leaving marginalized communities to fend for themselves.
If Black Lives Matter as much as White lives, we would have already done something about climate change. But it is not the elite and privileged in the USA, England or Germany who is already being affected by climate change but black and brown lives throughout the rest of the world. Droughts have already caused thousands of preventable deaths in Africa, the monsoons are already drowning people in India, the decreased snow-pack is already causing shortages of freshwater in South America, the melting glaciers have already caused thousands of Indigenous people in the Arctic to be displaced and the rising tides have already risen over Pacific Islanders homes. The failure of the Global community to take action on climate change to stop these impacts tells us that those in power do not believe #BlackLivesMatter.
To oppose one part of the system, and in particular Police Brutality, without recognizing the larger superstructure that is maintained by racist ideologies will not serve to unhinge the system that oppresses us. This superstructure, just like police brutality, is hinged to capitalism, and capitalism, as Malcom X said, cannot exist without racism. Capitalism is an extension of colonialism, which entails the exploitation of both our people and the earth, dislocating and destroying the relationships countless peoples once had with the earth, and commodified both. The White Supremacist Ideology emerged with colonialism as the Europeans systematically exploited the labor of people of color; the Indigenous from the ‘Americas’ and the Black People stolen from the African continent to be enslaved. This is the ideology and system of justifications that has been transmitted to the contemporary corporations that continue to exploit the people and the earth. So, opposing police brutality and not the slow, insidious killing of black people through environmental pollutants is simply not enough.
Climate Change matters to Black Lives because we are the first ones impacted and the most impacted globally, and at its base are the core racist ideologies that have led us to challenge police brutality.
First of all, it is not just apathy or a lack of concern for particular communities that is the problem; it is the blatant oppression and harm to particular communities that is the problem. What Shell and other fossil fuel companies are engaged in is Environmental Racism. Now, I know this may be a concept that is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around so I will explain it to you.
When people in America hear the term racism, they tend to think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Jim Crow and the segregation with all its relevant signage, and Slavery. When people in America think of the consequences of racism they tend to think of Lynchings, Police Brutality, or events such as the Holocaust or the Genocide that occurred in Rwanda.
What is distinct about the list above is that they are all easy to identify, they all possess the characteristic of a particular individual or group as being the cause of the harm done. To flesh that out, the person or group responsible for the harm is seen in proximity to the person or group that is harmed. For example, in these recent police shootings of Black People that are plaguing our country, we can easily trace the path of the bullet from the gun it was fired from, which includes the person who pulled the trigger, to the person who was shot. A person with no scientific experience could identify this.
Climate Change on the other hand, has an issue of proximity, wherein the cause ‘seems,’ and only seems, to be dislocated from the harm that is done. Nothing about the atmosphere occurs in isolation, there is not microcosm about emitting metric tons of carbon on one side of the globe; as to imply that it will not affect the other side of the globe. A teeter-totter is a prime example and elementary algebra is another; what is done to one side of the equation directly affects what occurs on the other. However, regardless of the distance or the time between the cause and the effect, that does not absolve the causal chain and responsibility of what is done on one side of the globe.
The largest consumers of fossil fuel are those in Western Civilizations, such as, the United States, which has a Carbon Footprint of 4 Earths. What that means is that if everyone on the planet were to consume resources at the rate at which US citizens do, that it would require four earths worth of resources to meet that demand. While conversely, countries such as Ethiopia have a carbon footprint of 0.80. Thus, the largest production and emission of carbon is coming from countries such as the US, which is being supplied by companies like Shell at rates vastly surpassing those of countries not counted as being members of Western Civilization.
When carbon is emitted into the atmosphere it is distributed throughout the globe creating a sort of insulating blanket that locks in the heat that our planet naturally receives from the sun in terms of solar energy. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been cycling for millions of years, but since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th & 20th Centuries in many Western Civilization countries, we have exacerbated and augmented this naturally occurring process and exponentially increased the rate at which the insulating blanket is forming. The best scientist in overwhelming consensus (something like 98%) have identified a two degree limit that will result in a plus or minus 25 degrees respectively throughout the planet. The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided this research and the consequences of not changing our behavior to our governments. The results will be #Desertification depletion of water resources, and rising ocean levels.
Now, most of the countries in Western Civilization have the resources, technology and infrastructure to protect their countries from the harms of climate change. But, the best scientific models do not identify the areas to be most impacted by climate change to be n the Global North, which are primarily populated by people who either are white or look white. The regions that will be most impacted by climate change will be in the Global South, which is populated primarily by people of color, many of who are indigenous peoples, who lack the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms that will result from climate change.
Here it is prudent to incorporate into this analysis the effects of Colonialism and its offspring Capitalism and its foundation of Liberalism and Hierarchical structures. Indigenous peoples throughout the planet have been held in a subjugated position for centuries, and have been continuously denied the ability to develop their own infrastructures and economies. Each time they have attempted to throw off the oppressive reality, they have been confronted with State Sanctioned Violence usually in terms of a military force, but often times in the form of police institutions suppressing their assertions of autonomy and independence from Western Civilization. These Anti-Colonial and Anti-Capitalism movements are nothing new and have been occurring since the advent of colonialism. To clue you in to how far the government and its tool of indoctrination Public School is willing to go to restrict access to this truth take Tupac Shakur for instance. He was named in honor of Tupac Amaru, who was an indigenous revolutionary in Peru in 1780-1781 which at the time was under the colonial rule of Spain. The Crown dispatched a treacherous, rapacious, villainous, genocidal army who murdered indiscriminately the indigenous population of the Andes to suppress the uprising. This was followed by the disbanding and rewriting of the history of the Inca people and the Tawantinsuyu Empire that the Spanish Empire ‘conquered’ in South America. The government, the state, would like the people to believe that the indigenous people, first of all, no longer exist in the lands of their ancestors; and second, that they consented to their lands being stolen and their brethren being viciously exterminated because it makes occupying our lands much more palatable for the average American.
That needed to be fleshed out because I foresaw the rebuttal that if the indigenous people had only ‘assimilated‘ into Western Civilization or ‘made their own way’ that they too would have the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms of climate change; that I have shown they are not even responsible for. So, that argument will not work here.
This now brings us full-circle back to the issue of causality and the fact that the Global North is engaged in Environmental Racism against the Global South. Racism does not require that the person or group responsible for the discrimination be conscious or cognizant of the thoughts or practices they are engaged in that is causing harm to others. Furthermore, racism requires a system of hierarchical power that stratifies and relegates particular groups of people to positions of inferiority. There is no such thing as Reverse Racism and the very term is repugnant. Anyone who argues that reverse racism is a thing first and foremost acknowledges that racism exists. The second thing they acknowledge is that it does cause harm, and this is revealed by the fact that they do not want racism done to them because of its harmful characteristics. And third, it acknowledges that they do not want to do anything to change the impacts of racism because the argument is usually made in response to a suppressed people or their allies promoting some project, policy, practice, or legislation to make the system more equitable. A person who benefits from the hierarchical system of power that stratifies and relegates particular groups to positions of inferiority does not need to be cognizant of the benefit they receive from the system to benefit from it. This is White Privilege and as Sarra Tekola has put it, Climate Change Denial is a “white privilege” because they do not have to be conscious and cognizant of the impacts of climate change, given that they are not in the Global South.
The Shell Oil Rig that is parked in the harbor in Seattle the Polar Pioneer which the corporation is attempting to ship to the Arctic off the coast of Alaska is a continuation of the colonialism, capitalism, liberalism, and oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the entire planet. If they gain access to that deposit of oil it is guaranteed that we will cross the two degree threshold the IPCC has outlined as the point of no return before we enter into a feedback loop of climate change and global harm. If Shell is ignorant of the Global Impact their enterprise will have, that does not absolve them of responsibility or of the blatant racism of their actions. The Selfishness of those who benefit by white privilege is racism when that selfishness has an impact on people of color.