Nature's Trust (Part 3)

04/22/2015 01:31 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

As we consider how we will be able to change our behavior and somehow recoup the loss to our environment on land and sea, we come down to a basic conflict over ownership and control of our natural resources. Do these elements and systems belong to the public or do they belong to the private interests that historically have been licensed and permitted to use them? Are they public property or private property? Do the corporate entities that have privatized access, extraction, processing, and distribution of those resources have an obligation to sustain them for the ongoing benefit of the public, or can they use them to exhaustion, keeping most of the profits for themselves and their limited shareholders? Does the public have the right to establish standards for utility, define sustainable methodology, demand accountability and compensation for indifference, irresponsibility, and accident? Can the pricing of such activity actually be democratic and inclusive of all costs in a highly competitive capitalist corporate society? If there must be change, if the consequences have become so dire, how do we confront the vested determination, the systematic entropy, the judicial compromise and political capture of the systems for change? How do we do this? And how do we do this in time?

Again and again, the argument comes down to ownership and control of natural resources as private property, to the role of government to uphold the fundamental principles, interests, and protections of the governed, to the paralysis resulting from such ideological conflict, determination, and inflexibility, and to the ability of the public to rectify a condition that has become manifestly evident, illogical, and detrimental to the collective interest, and even suicidal, given the critical exhaustion and inequality that we know ourselves and see around us.

It is as simple, and as dreadfully complicated, as that.

The evidence becomes clear in the rapidly growing disparity between rich and poor, north and south, developed and emerging nations. On the one hand, we see enormous wealth concentrated in closed control by totalitarian states, oligarchs and corporations, individual fortunes capable of enormous political influence, corrupt financial schemes and practice, and the most luxurious quality of life for a few, while on the other hand, we see increasing global poverty, declining health and education, economic disruption, physical dislocation, political disenfranchisement, and the most egregiously failed quality of life for so many.

Who are we? What does it say about us as individuals, communities, and nations that we would allow such tyranny to stand? If water is both symbol and reality of this predicament, does that mean that we will keep whatever remains for ourselves, fight over it even to the death, deprive others of it even if it means thousands more will die by its lack and our indifference? Is that how we want to live? And if or when the collapse of our water system affects us in such a way, is that how we want ourselves, or our children, or our communities to die?

This condition cannot, will not, must not stand. In our recent posts focusing on Nature's Trust, we have argued that natural resources are ours to own and to control, and that we have in the public trust document the legal foundation by which to take them back and change how they are used for the benefit of all mankind. We have argued that their value and distribution is a basic human right. We have thereby a strategy grounded in law, a fundamental principle and tool for natural resource sustainability that we have allowed to be eroded by multiple exceptions to the rule. The corporate permitted and licensees, and the governmental agencies we created to regulate and control them, have failed us, and we have lost the knowledge of our rights, even as we have lost the value of those resources to unsustainable, irresponsible consumption.

In Nature's Trust and the Public Trust Doctrine, Professor Mary Christina Wood provides us a strategy by which to take back those rights: "First, it provides tangible legal principles to guide local decision makers in environmental management and sustainable resource use. The fiduciary standards of protection, no waste, and maximization of societal value...can offer beacons of duty for recognized decision making. Second, trust principles provide legal levers by which local communities may assert ecological rights against federal and state environmental agencies...Finally, third, Nature's Trust provides a framework by which local trustees can assess and quantify their global obligations to planetary assets..."

We have three courses from which to choose: 1) we can do nothing, and accept the consequences; 2) we can engage, as so many are today, in violent revolution to protect ourselves and deprive of others of what is left; or 3) we can resolve to use the legitimate tools of law, civil engagement and disobedience, and the force of invention to combat and to change what appears presently destined to destroy us.

We have turned to Nature for support and healing and improvement of our lot since the beginning of time. Why would we not trust Nature now?