Thematic Keynote Address on The Ethical Imperative to Protect the Earth by Henriette Rasmussen, Third Forum


Thematic Keynote Address on The Ethical Imperative to Protect the Earth

Henriette Rasmussen
Former minister of Culture, Education, Research and Church of Greenland, and Earth Charter Commissioner

The aims of the Third Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children and the vision are about the right of every child to live in peace, dignity and wellbeing. It is envisioned we create a world where people of faith and good will of all communities together uphold universal spiritual values and the principles of justice and respect. In such and enlightened world, adults and children alike will live in security as citizens of a shared and caring planet, honoring all life and the environment.

These are very much the same goals for the Earth Charter, of which I have had the privilege to be a member of the commission to write it. We could say, that just like the world community stood together at a critical moment of the human history to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Earth Charter Commission, consisting of people from all over the world, admitted that we are living in a very important moment in Earth’s history, and that it is necessary to have an Earth Charter to protect the Earth, because it does not protest against abuse. Therefore, we cultures of the world must get together to protect nature, to respect human rights and to create a world where all can live together in peace and justice. We admit that we human beings have a common responsibility to care for life – both at present and into the future.

Let me quote The Earth Charter for Children:

“The Earth is our home: The Earth is only a small planet of the immense universe in which we live. The Earth itself is full of life, with a rich variety of plants, animals and peoples. In order to survive, we as human beings need the soil, the water, the air, the plants and the animals. It is our duty to take care of life on Earth.”

The global situation: Today, our way of living often harms the environment. The way that we produce and consume goods depletes the Earth of its supplies of water, air and soil, endangering the life of many plants and animal species. The growing world population continues to drain the Earth of its natural resources. At the same time, we are faced by war, famine, misery, ignorance, disease and injustice.

What can we do? The choice is ours: We can start making changes so that we can build a better future for everyone. The Earth Charter gives us a path to follow.

Everybody is responsible. To change our world we need to be responsible to our actions, because everything that we do is interconnected – everything on our planet is woven together into the fabric of life. We need think about the way that we use resources and the way that we care for plants animals. We need to think about the way that we treat other people. If we all take responsibility for our own actions, we can start to work together to care for the present and future well being of the human family and of all the living things on this planet. All of us can share in the hope for the future.”

This children’s version and many other educational materials based on the Earth Charter are being used widely in schools, colleges, universities and seminaries to educate about shared ethical values and global ethics, and provide an excellent overview of what is required to build a global culture of peace in the 21st Century.

To strengthen the educational use of the Earth Charter, Earth Charter International (ECI) operates an Earth Charter Center for Education at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. ECI has also just launched a new program on religion and sustainability that seeks to help religious communities to understand and act on the global challenges of our time.

The Earth Charter is a valuable teaching resource for a number of reasons:

  • It emphasizes that all human beings are one human family interrelated with the larger community of life and all share a common destiny.
  • It clarifies the critical challenges and choices facing the human community.
  • It presents an inclusive, integrated ethical vision that builds on international law and the findings of UN summits, draws upon the wisdom of the world’s religions, and expresses the consensus on shared values taking form in civil society.
  • The Earth Charter principles present a comprehensive definition of the meaning of sustainable development and they can be read as core elements for creating a culture of peace.

UNESCO’s conference of member states has endorsed the Earth Charter as a valuable ethical framework for sustainable development and teaching tool, and Earth Charter International is a partner with UNESCO in promoting the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

In October 2007, ECI Council Co-Chair Steven Rockefeller briefed UN member states on the Earth Charter in an Informal Hearing of Civil Society that was held in the context of the UN General Assembly’s High Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Cooperation and Understanding for Peace. Rockefeller especially highlighted the instructive methodology that was used in the unprecedented worldwide consultation process that generated the Earth Charter:

Emphasis was put on the increasing interdependence of all peoples and attention focused on the fundamental challenges faced by the whole of humanity. The goal was to identify widely shared ethical values and principles on which the human family must act in order to address these challenges. We found that people from different cultures and religious traditions often have very different philosophical and religious reasons for embracing ethical values. In the Earth Charter consultation process we respected and learned from these differences, but we did not try to bridge them. Instead we focused primarily on reaching agreement regarding the basic ethical principles that should guide conduct in the 21st Century. With this focus and close attention to the use of appropriate language, we were able to give expression to the consensus on critical ethical values that is taking form in the emerging global civil society.

Drawing on the Earth Charter’s significant contribution to promoting collaboration and understanding among different religions, cultures, and sectors of society, and building on its many first hand experiences in promoting and implementing ethics education for the protection of our planetary home, I would like to extend ECI’s heartfelt initiation to the Global Network of Religions for Children to explore using the Earth Charter as an instrument for raising awareness about the global challenges of our time and making clear the interdependence of environmental sustainability, universal human rights, social and economic justice, and non-violence, democracy, and peace.

The vision of the Earth Charter that individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and multinational institutions throughout the world, including United Nations General Assembly and its agencies, acknowledge the Earth Charter, embrace its values and principles, and work collaboratively to build a just, sustainable and peaceful global society.

The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental principles for building a peaceful global society in the 21st century. It has already been endorsed by thousands of organizations and prominent global institutions. It seeks to inspire in all peoples a new sense of interdependence and shared responsibility for the wellbeing of the human family and the larger living world. It is an expression of hope and call for greater global partnership and action at a critical juncture in our common history.

The Earth Charter is an inclusive ethical vision. It recognizes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible. It provides a clear, comprehensive framework for thinking about and addressing these issues.

At a time when major changes in how we think and live are urgently needed, the Earth Charter challenges us to examine our values and to choose a better way, It calls on us all, to search for common ground in the midst of our diversity and to embrace a new ethical vision shared by growing numbers of people in many nations and cultures throughout the world, just like this great conference is seeking new ways.

In fact we have also a Japanese member of the Earth Charter Commission who made the Charter, and is it the Honorable member of the Parliament Mme Wakako Hironaka. She has been doing great work by translating the document to Japanese and published material with examples of how it could be interpreted and used.

Let me also draw your attention to the Earth Charter Youth Initiative. Youth from all over the world are very active in interpreting and working with the Earth Charter in educating for youth leadership. One of the newly launched projects is collecting personal experiences of oneness, isn’t it a magic word? ‘Human existence is full of moments of connection that transcend our separate realities – the barriers that divide us from each other and the Earth – and reveal a common oneness, often when we least expect it.’ You who are attending this conference may wish contribute. Their invitation is for all ages, cultures and religions. The contributions for such submissions of stories and photos will be collected from all over the world and they will be published in a book to be released in 2009.

Please let me end by wishing everyone assembled here an inspiring and successful conference, and please let me quote the final lines of the Earth Charter:

“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

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