As a first post and as with any good beginning, I will open with a story. A story of the origin of what I am calling Intergenerational Law.
In third grade, I had an art teacher named Mrs. Fowler. I remember one art project when we made Kachina dolls out of toilet paper rolls, papier maché and paint. I kept that Kachina doll until well after high school when I lost track of it through various moves, out of and back into the country, in my early twenties. There was one notion she instilled upon us through her stories and that art stuck with me and deeply influenced my outward behavior in life. More so than I realized until just a couple of years ago.
The concept is simple, one I believe everyone understands innately and intuitively, namely, that every important decision we make (as humankind) has ramifications into the future.
Interestingly, only a couple of years ago, I was talking with one of my brothers about what I was researching at the time and I brought up the notion Intergenerational Equity. During the course of our conversation, Mrs. Fowler came back up as I was explaining my studies in Diplomacy, International Relations and Environmental Law. While relating how the concept I was researching – that simple notion conveyed to us over 30 years hence – was the core principal I was focusing on in my research, he brought up the fact that she had, in part, also influenced his core beliefs as well.
This went unknown to us both our entire lives, that a single part-time art teacher had such a profound developmental impact on each of us and, hopefully, countless other children, helping to guide our decisions to be more full of care and empathy towards others and towards the world around us.
Personally, I am not able to litter because I think about what effect it may have on animals, people and environment. I also find myself getting annoyed when I see others do it. As a native Californian living through the drought in the 1980s, I constantly think about my water usage and I am very aware of how others consume. I think about how much energy it takes for a light-bulb to illuminate and consider whether or not I should turn a light off if I know I’ll be returning within a certain period of time. Habits like these were definitely nurtured in my upbringing, but when I look at them through the lens of Intergenerational Equity, I feel that how I consider the long-term effects of my actions and how they play such a large role in my decision-making process, I realize that the seed was planted in third grade.
It really goes to show you how effective good teachers are and how impactful art can be to the development of a child. Hats off to you Mrs. Fowler from Rescue, California.
So how does a Kachina doll and an art teacher play into a naissant global legal structure whose aim is to address the needs of both living and future generations?
The idea of Intergenerational Equity is very well known among aboriginal cultures the world over. From the 13 Grandmothers to the Iroquois Confederacy, recognized by the US Congress as having significant influence on the creation of the US Constitution. This notion has been in practice for a great many years by cultures whose livelihood depend upon the natural world. Unfortunately, until the latter part of the 20th century, this concept went unrecognized as a principal worthy of exploration, expansion and integration into existing human structures.
My official introduction to Intergenerational Equity came during the very first seminar of my graduate studies when I was introduced to the Green Theory of International Relations. From the moment I first read the description, I knew it was the same notion that had been germinating and guiding me throughout my life. From that moment on, I viewed everything I learned during my Master’s degree through the lens of Intergenerational Equity. Every assignment, research project, essay, article summary and case study I worked on, I intentionally viewed through the eyes of future generations.
Understanding that climate change is upon us and actionable measures are moving at a snail’s pace, it was during my International Law seminar that the concept of Intergenerational Law would be born.
Here I found myself becoming completely absorbed by the case-law and research to find any references where court decisions integrated the notion of Intergenerational Equity or the concept of considering the impact to and the needs of future generations. This lead me to write an essay on why cultural heritage should be included within the definition of Intergenerational Equity within International Law. Another essay I thoroughly enjoyed writing ties Intergenerational Equity into all iterations of sustainability (sustainable development, environmental justice, sustainable growth, social justice, sustainable communities, smart growth, etc. and really, anything using the notion of “green” as being environmentally friendly). This course culminated in a research paper entitled Perspectives on Intergenerational Equity.
From here, I realized that, although there are a significant number of political, legal and economic structures that employ pieces of Intergenerational Equity, the enforcement mechanisms are cumbersome, if not weak. This brought me to the notion of pursuing Intergenerational Equity as a universal human right to be understood, codified, implemented and enforced in the same manner as one’s right to life. However, witnessing the slow and difficult, yet respectable and necessary progress of the UN’s Millenium Goals, all of which I consider to be manifestations of Intergenerational Equity, I realized, as have many others, that a paradigm shift and a global constitutional convention is needed.
It is from this same viewpoint that the Intergenerational Law Project was born. If we as humankind want to retain our planet for years and generations to come, how we proceed from this moment forward will make all of the difference. This means that the legal structures at all levels will need to be turned on their heads by creating a new legal structure, an Intergenerational legal structure. One that will serve as an umbrella under which all other legals structures – international law, corporate law, political treaties, economic resolutions, corporate charters, national constitutions, state/provincial constitutions, municipal and city charters, etc. – will receive form, function, context and intent. Whereas the current legal structures were created over time and can be very disparate even contradictory, Intergenerational Law will guide the mechanisms by which we will protect our planet and ensure that the generations yet unborn will have the same opportunities in life enjoyed by those living today.
to be continued…