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Earth Charter sets course for sustainable living

As Earth Day approaches, the Earth Charter outlines 16 principles by which to live.  

April 21, 2000
Web posted at: 2:01 p.m. EDT (1801 GMT)

In recognition of Earth Day, which marks its 30th anniversary Saturday, environmental leaders from around the country are gathered in Washington, D.C., to find ways to implement the Earth Charter for sustainable living and to spread the word about this recently completed people's charter.

The charter comprises a set of broad principles designed to guide all humans toward a sustainable way of life.

"It's a declaration of widely shared values and common goals. It sets forth fundamental ethical principles for protecting the environment, building a strong community locally and globally, and a sustainable way of life. It's an expression of hope and a call to action," said Steven Rockefeller, chairman of the Earth Charter international drafting committee.

"People from all regions of the world and many different cultures worked together to create the Earth Charter. Thousands of individuals and hundreds of groups were involved," said Rockefeller.

The discussion in support of the charter is simple: Form a global partnership to care for Earth and mankind, or risk self-destruction and the loss of diversity of life. The underlying goal is sustainability.

"Sustainability promotes the well-being of both people and Earth, the ecosystems on which all beings depend," said Rockefeller. "Caring for people and caring for Earth are interdependent goals. When we talk about the Earth Charter, we're talking about a sustainable way of life and living in a way that promotes sustainable living."

The charter contains 16 general principles and 60 supporting principles, or ways to implement the principal guidelines. It is designed to serve as a universal code of conduct to guide people and nations toward sustainable development. And it is a call to action in support of the environment, a declaration of interdependence and responsibility.

The major principles of the pact are drawn from international law, science, philosophy, religion, recent United Nations summit meetings and an international dialogue on global ethics generated at the conference and elsewhere.

Rockefeller, professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College in Vermont, said educating young people is the key to a sustainable future. He also believes religion plays a big part in changing people's values, and thus their actions in behalf of the environment, he said.

"Religion has great influence on people's attitudes. Most people will not take environmental issues seriously if their religion and faith doesn't honor and respect (environmental) values. That's especially true in the Middle East," said Rockefeller. "It goes back to the idea of being more, not having more. For many people involved in the charter, it's more a spiritual vision of a better way of life."

The 16 general principles of the Earth Charter are:

1. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.

2. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love.

3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable and peaceful.

4. Secure Earth's bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

5. Protect and restore the integrity of Earth's ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.

6. Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.

7. Adopt patterns of production, consumption and reproduction that safeguard Earth's regenerative capacities, human rights and community well being.

8. Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.

9. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social and environmental imperative.

Principle 12 of the Earth Charter: "Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities."  

10. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.

11. Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care and economic opportunity.

12. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health and spiritual well being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

13. Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision-making, and access to justice.

14. Integrate into formal education and lifelong learning the knowledge, values and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.

15. Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.

16. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence and peace.

Implementing the charter is up to individuals, business and industry leaders and government, Rockefeller said. And as people around the world become more connected to one another through technology, the human race moves toward a civil society. "Government will only move toward change when the people demand it," said Rockefeller. "And with more pressure from civil society and government, business will change."

When a consensus on the charter is reached, the document will be presented to governments and the United Nations for endorsement and implementation at national and international levels. The charter is also intended as an educational tool and as a basis for business and professional codes of conduct.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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The international Earth Charter
The Earth Charter in Australia
The Earth Charter in Korea
The Earth Charter in Norway
The Earth Charter in United States

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