Humans constitute a single species, Homo sapiens. While we have developed a marvelous diversity of ethnic, religious, economic, and political systems which enrich our common life, we are in fact one people living on a very fragile planet. The biosphere which supports our lives and our civilizations is extremely thin, like the skin of an apple. Within it is everything we all need to stay alive and well. We all share in one atmosphere, one great ocean, one global climate, one single source of fresh water endlessly cycled around the earth, one great biodiversity. These constitute the biophysical commons on which civilization rests. It is gravely threatened by our industrial way of life, and our common task is to preserve it from destruction if we wish to live on.
Today the single most important responsibility of national governments and governing agreements at the international level is the protection of the commons. We need to think first of the health of the global commons and only second in terms of national interest, for the latter is now totally dependent on the former. A perfect storm of global environmental disasters is already underway including unprecedented rates of extinction, a depletion of global fisheries, an unprecedented soil erosion crisis, massive deforestation, and accelerating and making these worse, a climate disaster in the making. We face a planetary emergency.
The commons also includes the social commons which is the condition of just peace. All must be safe if any are to be safe. The safety of any must guarantee the safety of all. A just peace is a society in which there is no fear of violent attack (war or civil war), of exploitation of one group by another, no political tyranny, where everyone’s basic needs are met, and where all have the right to participate in the decisions that impact them. Just as a healthy biophysical commons requires biological diversity, a healthy social commons requires social diversity.
Protecting the commons is best achieved by voluntary consensus so that it is a self-organizing process from below, a function of shared values and mutual respect that arise out of a sense of responsibility for the planet’s well-being. When consensus is not available, when some individuals, corporations, or nations do not care about the common good, when they want to make war or degrade the environment for gain, then government is needed to protect the commons and that means laws, courts, and the police power necessary to enforce them.
We have reached a stage in human and evolutionary history where the protection of the commons is necessary not only to the good life for humanity, but to our very survival. This means new ideas, especially the realization that we are a single planetary community. It also includes creating new associations, new forms of democratic governance and new agreements between nations to protect the commons.
War not only distracts us from this vital task, but it adds to the destruction. We will never end conflict on the planet, but conflict does not have to lead to war. We are a highly intelligent species who have already developed nonviolent methods of conflict resolution which can, and in some cases are, taking the place of violent means. We need to scale these up until we provide for common security, a world where all the children are safe and healthy, free from fear, want, and persecution, a successful human civilization resting on a healthy biosphere. One people, one planet, one peace is the essence of the new story we need to tell. It is the next stage in the progress of civilization. In order to grow and spread the culture of peace we need to reinforce several already ongoing trends.
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