Douglas Adams, in his comic series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, observes that ‘space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is’–only, this is no joke: space really is big. Much, much, much bigger than Earth, our fragile home. We haven’t been to our moon, a mere few hundred thousand miles away, in forty years. Going to our planetary neighbour, Mars, would be a technical marvel. And the nearest star (besides our own), Alpha Centauri, is wa-a-ay beyond our reach.
True, there was a time when this continent (North America) was wa-a-ay beyond a European’s reach. Now, it takes just a few hours and a few hundred dollars. And a lot of energy, and a few planets to supply that energy. But we only have one planet, which we must share. We have to learn to live with that, to clean up after ourselves and look after each other, important lessons in growing up. Engel and Mackey, authors of ‘The Earth Charter, Covenants, And Earth Jurisprudence’ [ewl, 313-323]) call this lesson a covenant, a deeply felt promise, to ourselves, to each other, to our grandchildren, to the future, to all of life, on this fragile planet. They write of ‘this unprecedented challenge’ as one of ‘the defining issues of our age’, similar to our civilization’s task as identified by Thomas Berry in The Great Work, to reunite the human and the nonhuman, reintegrate the parts into the whole, and see the sacred in everything.
But first we must learn in what ways we adversely affect the planet. One such way is expressed by the formula, used for decades, ‘IPAT’ or Impact = People x Affluence x Technology. Over the years, IPAT has been refined, and more recently, they write, ‘nine interlinked planetary boundary conditions that define the safe operating space for humanity’ have been identified. Unfortunately, ‘we have already overstepped three’ (climate change, the rate of biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle [food and water]).
A covenant is more than a contract; a covenant is a change of heart, Engel and Mackey note. ‘Every generation must choose’, they write, ‘the covenants that will define’ it. Covenants encourage morality, whereas contracts merely ‘promote efficiency.’ A contract is a line in a ledger; it has economic force. A covenant is a line in the sand; it has moral force. Engel and Mackey liken globalisation and modern economics to a Faustian covenant with the devil. In fact, they quote the great economist, John Maynard Keynes, who ‘wrote in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s: “For at least another hundred years we must pretend … that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury must be our gods a little longer still.” ‘ Curiously, a hundred years later, in about 2030, is when the Club Of Rome’s The Limits To Growth forecasted that our modern economic system will collapse. Maybe avarice and usury will no longer be our gods. But many things may fall apart and wars may follow, unless….
Unless we pledge a biocentric covenant and the planet comes together. The Earth Charter is one such attempt. There are others, but in Engel and Mackey’s opinion the Earth Charter, ten years in the making and non-governmental, is the best one for it ‘is morally … binding … [and can] serve as a universal guide to public policy, … provide a source of paralegal principles for jurisprudence, and form the basis for the subsequent development of hard [i.e., binding] law.’