Earth, Its Inhabitants, and Their Survival Viewed as a Multi-Stakeholder Process


The basic premise I shall expound upon in this brief reflection paper is the notion that in order for human beings to live more sustainably with the environment they will have to ask all members of the five kingdoms of life, and the natural worlds provisions upon which they are reliant for their survival, what their interests are in the gross interplay of the dynamics of self-organizing organic systems.


To consider this idea immediately poses a problem for most modern civilized westernized cultures – which I shall refer to as occupiers; the situation is quite different for many indigenous cultures whose survival is intimately intertwined with the land they inhabit – thus, I shall refer to these people as inhabitants.


Since we can’t communicate directly to organisms other than humans in a language that is familiar to us we have decided to make decisions for them without asking them what they want. In the best case, we have decided to be the stewards of nature. In the worst case we have decided to consider other living organisms and the organic systems upon which they are reliant as resources for us.


This speciesist arrogance poses a severe problem for humans regarding their survival. Since the air we breath, the water we drink, the land on which we walk, and the atmosphere that protects us are all influenced by human activity and, for so long, humans have not considered the other than human living beings and the water, earth and sky’s needs for their health – if not happiness – humans are finding that the normal structure and function of the earth’s inhabitants and environment have been influence in a way that has not only harmed other organisms and the environment, humans themselves are suffering the consequences of their own actions. Perhaps the most noteworthy examples of the consequences of humans not paying attention to the environment is global climate change and the fifth mass extinction.


It makes sense, however, for an occupier to ask, “What should we do to find out what they want if they can’t represent themselves at a MSP party when we get together to determine how we shall exploit natural resources for benefit and profit?”


The answer to this questions is quite simple: ask them.


“How do we know what the answer to our questions are,” would be a next logical question?


As you might expect, the answer is quite simple: pay attention and listen.


So, for example, if you ask the diatoms in the oceans, which supply a majority of the atmospheric oxygen that people like humans need to survive, if they enjoy and appreciate the temperature changes and toxins we give them as a result of our activities if they are happy and healthy and then listen to the signs they are giving us we might quickly conclude that our actions, which will ultimately not benefit us, do not benefit them. If we ask the tens of thousands of species of amphibians who have gone extinct because of human behaviors which have caused changes in weather patterns and acidification of the rain and earths waterways what they want we shall see and hear no response. However, I speculate we can take their silence as a sign that they are dissatisfied with our selfish behavior. If we ask the river, who provides life for vast numbers of species in vast numbers of ecological niches, if the dam that was built by humans served the river well in providing for the welfare of the interconnected webs of lives, you might speculate that it’s diminished flow was simply a stream of tears from the sadness and humiliation it feels for not being able to provide for the lives of its inhabitants and for not being able to control its own destiny.


These words and thoughts should not be taken to imply that every species that becomes extinct and every diatom that dies is the result of human activity. Likewise, it is also clear that it is impossible to consult all beings of all species all of the time to determine if it is FOK to burn this tree for warmth or to kill this opossum for food. Similarly, there is no absolute proof that global climate change is the direct result of any and all human activities – as local, and even global, fluctuations are perhaps the result of other factors. There is no certainty in these areas. This, however, does not and should not warrant arrogance and ignorance of the lives of others and, of course, the organic systems upon which they rely for their survival.


It is, in my opinion, always better to error on the side of caution. Especially in cases where so much is at stake. If we consider the notion that ‘effectiveness is the measure of truth’ and we ask ourselves how it is that in the last 45 years approximately, since the publication of “Silent Spring”, so much environmental degradation has taken place and so many non-linear changes have taken place in the environment and compare that to, for example, some indigenous cultures of the North American continent who had lived for 12,000 years, sustainably, in their environment who did strange things like asking trees, snakes, spiders, lakes, rivers, streams, and even their dreams, what it is they wanted out of this shared existence – this co-existence – they might very well say something like this, “The same things you want: to be considered, to be cared for, to be loved, to control my own destiny, to provide for my basic needs, and to be happy – as a bare minimum.


The challenges for a culture of occupiers, who consider the earth’s inhabitants and systems as resources for exploitation, to transform their behavior to an inclusive disposition in a global multi-stakeholder process are significant but not, theoretically at least, impossible. In order for a change to take place such that there is a shift in the perceptions of humans to consider the welfare of other living beings and systems as being important to those living beings and systems (let alone important for the survival of human beings) there will have to be a change in the attitudes and behaviors of people and this can be achieved through education. This shift in attitudes and behaviors has certainly begun as it is obvious that there is great attention being paid to the earth’s inhabitants and organic systems by children, educators, scientists, politicians and even business persons for they/we all realize that everyone’s survival, ultimately, is at stake.


While the shifts in perceptions, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors is obvious, the question I have is is it still possible for this shift to be reinstated as a part of a culture of inhabitants in time for the general trends of species extinction, climate change, resource wars, and so on to be slowed down and/or reversed in their course. Clearly, an extinct species will not come back to inhabit the earth, but maybe the general trends of climate change can be affected by changes in human behavior. My knowledge and understanding as a scientist is that it is already too late for the general trajectory of environmental degradation to be changed. The human population is increasing. While first world nations are struggling to limit, not necessarily reduce, the greenhouse gas emissions they produce, the second and third world nations are struggling to exploit more resources and produce more waste.


There are many other impediments to this shift in attitudes and behaviors that prevent attention and energy from going to the dire environmental circumstances on earth that threaten human survival and, of course, the survival of all living beings and the organic systems upon which they rely. I argue that these impediments are largely based in issues of identity. For example, while people are busy with their gender identity, or their national identity, or their religious identity, or their personal identity as relates to things like styles of hair, clothes, shoes, nails, eyes, lips, money, etc, attention to the environment is reduced to a minimum or is simply not there at all.


Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and so, as it becomes more and more necessary for people to focus on survival, perhaps the attitudes and behaviors of humans will change such that they/we begin to take into account the needs, desires, wills and expectations of all of the stakeholders in this multi-stakeholder process of the large scale dynamic of life on earth (generally best referred to as either ‘survival’ or ‘reality’).

Just War and the Case of the US military action in Iraq in 2003

The issue of just war elicits a gross interplay between competing and cooperative concepts such as the moral worth of the individual, competent authority and state sovereignty – to name a few. At this time in the moral evolution of human kind we see international agreements yielding the effect that state to state conflicts are virtually non-existent. However, there is a rise in non-state vs state conflict (terrorism) and intrastate (civilian vs state authority) conflict. Both cases call into question the use of different types of intervention: humanitarian intervention and preemptive use of military force. Both of these issues are dealt with in International Law – International Humanitarian Law (ius in bello) and International Human Rights Law; they can also, in specific cases, fall under the jurisdiction of International Criminal Law. In highlighting the relationship between the moral and ethical foundations of the establishment of a just peace, it is necessary to note that International Law is largely the result of several thousands of years of philosophical discourse, dialog and debate on the morality of armed conflict and establishing and maintaining peace as a response to long and brutal history of human-kind engaging in armed conflict – most notably, the two world wars that led to the establishment of the United Nations.

This reflection paper will look through the lens of International Law (IHL, IHRL, ICL) – as a culmination of a moral ethical evolution of humankind – at the case of the US military action against the sovereign state of Iraq (2003) as a preemptive war which violated both US domestic law and International Law and, because of the relationship between moral/ethical principles and international law, the United States has violated fundamental ethics which govern the relationships between sovereign authorities as well as the responsibility to protect the peoples of Iraq. In this light, we note that the basic mechanisms of international law are substantial to deal with the illegality, and thus moral irresponsibility, of the United States and the high ranking members of the George W. Bush administration; yet, the means of enforcement are not in place to hold those responsible for such violations accountable and bring them to justice.

While it can be argued that all branches of ethics have a part in the formulation of International Law, I believe the preeminent ethical formulations – based on my brief introduction to the field of Ethics – are founded in the Utilitarian, Contractualist and Kantian Deontological formulations with the addition of the Ethics of Care and Feminism adding to more recent developments such as the responsibility to protect. It should be duly noted, as well, that the ideas of pacifism espoused in the New Testament would, in essence, prevail in preventing armed conflict and, thus having been challenged by protestations within the christian church to pacifism, the need for international agreements became paramount.

As NATO claimed in it’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Kosovo, the war was not legal but it was ethically justifiable because of the grave humanitarian crisis unfolding. The United states argued numerous points – in succession – as justification for the use of preemptive military force against Iraq; I shall consider only two of these arguments. In the first case the US argued that there was an imminent threat from Iraq – that it had chemical, and potentially nuclear weapons and could launch an attack against the United States – and that the only way to prevent this potential attack was to attack Iraq first. The US sought authorization from the UN and was given conditional authority. However, the US could not prove to the UNSC that it had demonstrated an imminent threat since the inspections regime had neither verified US claims nor was given enough time to further investigate before the US began military action – in violation of both U.S. Law (The War Powers Act) and International Law (the UN Charter).

In the second case, the US argued that it was liberating the Iraqi peoples from a brutal dictator – essentially employing the principle of a humanitarian intervention based on the responsibility to protect the civilians of foreign states from crimes against humanity and genocide. While it may be true that Iraq’s president was brutal, there was no case for humanitarian intervention under international law. Again noting in both of these cases, the standards of international law are developed as a result of a long history of discourse on the subject of ethics and morality with particular regard to the use of arms in conflict.

At the time of the US preemptive military action against the sovereign Iraq, there were numerous alternatives that could have been employed. Primarily, the current course of UN inspections could have been allowed to proceed to completion. Diplomatic efforts could have been employed but the United States did not appear to have an interest in diplomacy, offering the Iraqi president a deadline which did not allow for reasonable alternative means. One has to question the motivation of an entity that will not allow for reasonable attempts to solve a dispute by peaceful means. It is not unreasonable to speculate, in this case, that the US’s intentions for invading Iraq were dubious – however, this question is beyond the scope of the nature of this paper and I shall not address it here.

In addition to the UN inspections regime, UNSC resolutions, and diplomatic alternatives, the US media and world media could have made a concerted effort to highlight the current political discourse in Iraq (albeit under a repressive regime, but there are means to get information out to the public) along with the history of Iraq and Iraq’s role in international relations politically and economically for the sake of simply creating a more educated and aware public. This would be counter to the role of the US government and media in instilling ignorance and fear into the US population (again, the subject of another discourse) in order to gain support for an unjustifiable preemptive military action.

In view of the arguments used by the United States under the lens of International Law, we see there is a clear violation taking place. This violation indicates, in the least, that there exists an ethical and moral foundation in international law to test the nature of military interventions. The conclusion can be drawn, then, that international law, in its principles, is fully equipped to judge to the value of such actions regarding interventions of the types discussed here but it is not effective, in this case, in enforcing the laws. It may be that in this case the ineffectiveness of the UN in enforcing international law might be due to the fact the the country in question of violating international law is the world’s only superpower. This indicates the difficulties of entangling international alliances as well as a non-equality of sovereign states.

That the UN was incapable of utilizing its established bodies to attempt to hold the US accountable for a preemptive military intervention on fallacious grounds – causing in wake of the invasion, gross violations of International Humanitarian Law, as well as crimes against humanity, crimes against the peace, and violations of state sovereignty – shows the violability and vulnerability of International Law. In order to restore justice and the principle of “pacta sunt servanda”- the legitimacy of the UN and it’s member states, I believe that the United Nations should heed the words and deeds of some of it’s member states who have taken action against the Bush administration as well as individuals and organizations who have called for justice. In the case of member states, several heads of state and/or state authority’s have banned hih ranking members of the George W. Bush administration from entering their country in protest to their violations of international law, and numerous citizens tribunals have been held to show the egregious violations of IL – which, ultimately, amounts to the killing of individuals, amongst other things, and calls into question the ethics of who determines who will live and who will die; the value of individual human lives.

The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court are the two bodies that could and should take action in this case. The ICJ should be challenging whether the US invasion of Iraq was just. If it showed any willingness to do so I believe there would be numerous member states that would challenge the US. A potential case for the ICJ would be Spain vs the US regarding US violations of international law in the case of its military actions against the sovereign state of Iraq. In a similar fashion, the Brussels tribunal, the Tokyo tribunal, and numerous other civilian run organizations/tribunals, and individuals, have valid claims against individuals in the Bush administration who were responsible for violations of humanitarian law and human rights violations, as well as violations of international criminal law. The ICC could handle such cases.

If the ICJ and the ICC were to engage in a fair juridical process, regardless of the outcome, the UN could show that is, and has, the authority to enforce it’s own rules and, through this, could establish its credibility and legitimacy. Without challenging rogue states, regardless of size or power – that is, treating the all sovereign states as equals – the UN, enforcement of international law, and the moral and ethical principles guiding humanity towards peace and security can not be taken to be equitable or just.

Interview with Historian and Author Daniele Ganser on Peace and Energy Research

Posted on 10th July 2012 in Interviews, Peace

I spoke with Dr. Daniel Ganser, founder and director of the Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research (SIPER), about the relationship between energy, the struggle for natural resources (resource wars), Peak Oil, NATO’s covert wars, 911 as well as different ways for those seeking peace, justice and equality to engage in transforming the current paradigm to something a bit gentler on this planet and its inhabitants.

Listen to the Interview >>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research