Happy autumn! SEHN had a busy summer and we’re working on putting our newest ideas into action for fall.In July, I was invited to speak in Geneva, Switzerland, to the Global Conference on “Implementing Intergenerational Equity: Bringing Future Perspectives to the Status Quo.” The working meeting was co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme, and considered how we can safeguard the planet for Future Generations.Our discussions explored new mechanisms and tools, based on existing best practices for fulfilling our responsibility to Future Generations.In the U.S., SEHN is a leading advocate for the Rights of Future Generations, and it is clear that our conceptual work is influencing international thinking. The report from the conference concludes: “All participants were in agreement, without exception, that an organization or institution such as a Guardian for Future Generations at all levels of governance would be important to ensure that the voices of future generations are brought to the table.”SEHN is one of the original champions of the concept of Guardianship for Future Generations, and we are thrilled to see it used in international fora.
Some things surprised me at the event. The first was how the discussion of ethics is more accepted globally than here. Our environmental language in the U.S. is so cool, rational, scientific, and legal compared to the language of wisdom that was used far more freely in Geneva.
The other thing that surprised me was a startling insight of Yves Lador, the Earthjustice permanent representative to the United Nations. He said that there has been a major evolution of rights over the past 30 years: the rights of corporations.
The fact that corporations have “rights” didn’t surprise me. But the history and evolution of those rights — and how we have not seen a concomitant rise in the rights of people, nature, or Future Generations — was a stark and graphic picture, and a real “aha!” moment for me.
At SEHN, we have been working on establishing community rights like Free, Prior & Informed Consent for several years (communities must be able to exercise their right to give or withhold consent to projects such as mining, drilling, or other potentially harmful activity before the project can proceed). Corporate rights have expanded while the rights of nature, the rights of future generations, the rights of people to a clean and health environment and the rights of communities to protect their commonwealth and common health have languished.
We have a great deal of work to do to dismantle corporate rights and put into place the responsibilities and rights that will allow all living things to thrive. At SEHN, we are more committed than ever to visionary yet practical approaches to this work.
Finally–and this gives me great hope–there is a growing cadre of young people researching and advocating for the Rights of Future Generations. At least five graduate students participated in the Geneva meeting, and their contributions were endlessly valuable.
Here is the link to a summary SEHN produced on the Rights of Future Generations. We hope it will be a useful resource to communities, students, and policy-makers.
All the best,
Executive Director, Science & Environmental Health Network