THE BLOG

The Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

04/22/2015 08:08 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

It's time to sweep aside all the illusions:

*That the national environmental organizations have a secret plan to save the environment but just haven't told us yet

*That local acts of environmental sanity in a few dozen urban areas will make a dent on the global degredation of the life-support-system of the planet

*That "new technologies" will solve the problem

*That individual acts of recycling and "conscious consumerism" will change what is being produced

*That good guy corporate leaders will eventually turn around the massive impact that global corporations have been having in undermining Nature's balance

*That political sanity will prevail if only we get a new president (remember when you thought that about Obama? Are you now thinking it will happen with Hillary?)

Illusion after illusion after illusion.

We are up against a global economic and political system that has only gotten worse and worse over the course of the 45 years since Earth Day 1970. Consciousness has grown, small battles have been won, and the people who worked so hard on both fronts deserve our commendation. But don't deceive yourself: the situation of the planet has gotten worse and worse, and it will continue to do so until we have a movement capable of fundamentally changing our economic and political system.

The reason: most of the mega-corporations of the world must constantly expand in order to survive in a competitive global marketplace. As long as the corporate leadership has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize the investments of their stockholders, they have no choice but to make profits their "bottom line." True, they can sometimes use token environmental steps to assuage the consciences of some of their investors, customers or clients, but only to the extent that those can be shown to contribute to their old bottom line of money and power. Individually, many people in these corporations are very decent human beings, and some go home from work and contribute to environmental causes. But they know they will lose their jobs if they don't promote the old bottom line. And to do that, many of those corporations will have to extract resources from the earth in the cheapest possible way, engage in environmentally destructive processes in extracting, refining, and producing their goods, moving their operations to other corners of the globe where environmental restrictions are less constraining and/or workers' pay easier to restrict to low levels, safety conditions less rigorously enforced. In the process, air, water, and ground land will be increasingly polluted and we and our children and grandchildren will pay the consequences. Sadly, many of the very people who care most about these issues will nevertheless provide the funding for candidates in 2016 who are too timid to address these issues, or too misguided, but instead will insist that "growth" is the golden calf which must be worshipped (as though the earth were a bottomless cookie jar and one could take without restraint or worry about future generations).

But there is a solution to all this. Partly it involves a new consciousness that is already developing in which we come to see the earth not primarily as a "resource" to use for human benefit, but as a sacred source of life that deserves to be responded to with respect, love, awe, wonder and radical amazement, and come to see ourselves as part of the earth and able to feel and mourn the assaults on it in ways similar (not exactly the same, but close) to the ways we would experience an Islamic State ISIL or Boku Haram fundamentalist terrorist hacking off one of our limbs. When we can feel that pain, we will stop eating cows and other forms of meat and allowing forests to be cut down so that cows or other animals can be grown for consumption. We will join efforts to get our governmental bodies, universities, religious and civic institutions, and anywhere we have investments or savings accounts to disinvest in corporations with dubious environmental practices, and we will refuse to buy their services or products.

But that can't be enough. If most oil companies are among the worst polluters, you still have to get to work and there are no mass transportation options, you may feel bad but you'll continue to buy the oil from one polluter or another. If organic food is only available at higher prices than the more polluted foods, but your children are hungry and you have been one of the tens of millions of Americna workers whose wages have not grown significantly plus now you have to buy various electronics to keep your children from being seen as bizarre if they don't own what "everyone else" is giving their kids, you'll sacrifice a little on organic foods and eat ones that may or may not in the long run cause a variety of health problems.

Moreover, the 1% of the richest people in the advanced industrial countries have so much more disposable income than almost everyone else that the economic marketplace will respond far more to their interests than the interests of tens of millions of others. The consumer marketplace doesn't respond on the basis of one consumer one vote, but rather one dollar one vote. And the top 1% owns more of those dollars than the 50% of Americans earning below the median income level.

A first step is to promote a New Bottom Line, so that every corporation, government policy, our legal system, health care system, educational system, and every other major system is judged efficient, rational and productive to the extent that they maximize love and caring, environmental sustainability and responsibility, ethical behavior and generosity, enhance our capacities to treat other human beings not merely instrumentally to achieve fulfillment our own personal needs but as sacred beings, and our capacities to transcend a narrow utilitarian or instrumental approach to nature and instead respond to the Earth and to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and preciousness of all that is (of which we each are an important part). This New Bottom Line is a way of making whatever "new story" or "new consciousness" become a reality in our daily lives. But to make that happen, we need to translate this New Bottom Line into specific programs.

That's why we at Tikkun and the interfaith (but also secular-humanist and atheist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives have developed two key programs that can make a major difference: The ESRA and the Global Marshall Plan.

The ESRA

The ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Constitution) has the following planks:

1. It bans all private money from state and federal elections and permits only public funding, thereby eliminating the huge advantage that the super-rich have to shape the Congress, the presidency, and the various state legislatures. This is a far more powerful step than allowing the Congress to set limits on money donations by overturning "Citizens' United" decision of the Supreme Court. ESRA also does make clear that corporations are not "persons" with rights that are granted to human beings in the Constitution and that money is not a form of speech protected by the Constitution.

2. It requires the wealthier corporations (those with incomes of over $50 million/yr--but excluding all the small businesses) get a new corporate charter once every five years which will only be granted to corporations that can prove a satisfactory history of environmental behavior and social responsibility--to a panel of ordinary citizens who will also hear the testimony of people from around the world who have had their lives impacted by the behavior of the corporation being reviewed. The system of "regulatory agencies" doesn't work--the regulated corporations have succeeded in getting their own leaders, lobbyists or other loyalists, appointed to these agencies by presidents of both major parties--so the ESRA extends to ordinary citizens (with environmental experts as consultants) the ability to decide the fate of corporations just as our legal system now gives those citizens the right to decide the fate of fellow citizens facing crimes that might even lead to a death sentence. The ESRA specifies a set of areas that the panel must consider, but it can also bring in other environmentally relevant considerations. This part of the ESRA applies to all corporations selling goods or services in the US (whether based here or not) as well as US corporations operating only outside the US, and it provides a massive incentive to corporations to change their corporate behavior (because with the ESRA, the environmentally sensitive people within corporations will be able to insist to their corporate leadership and to investors that they risk losing their license to function and hence the investments of their stock holders totally unless they dramatically change their practices to be dramatically and demonstrably less destructive to the environment).

3. It requires every school from k-to graduate or professional levels to teach environmental practices, latest information, skills both in working with and protecting Nature but also in empathic communication, caring for everyone on the planet, and learning how to organize and use democratic and nonviolent methods for protecting the earth and humanity's future.

4. It overturns any treaty or trade agreement (including the currently secretly negotiated TPP that Obama and the Republicans in Congress have sought to give "fast track" approval) which can be shown to be destructive to the wellbeing of the environment or to working people or is judged by a court to stand in conflict with the intent or specifics of the ESRA. It also requires corporations which seek to move assets or operations out of the US to provide reparations and compensation to the people of the area in which it previously had been operating. And all terms of the ESRA apply equally to any firms to which these larger firms subcontract.

Though it is written more like legislation than like previous constitutional amendments, a necessity given the propensity of the corporate-oriented Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional Congressional legislation and past Supreme Court decisions that limit corporate political and economic power, the Constitution does NOT specify what form an amendment can or cannot take. And while the Congress in the next few years (probably until post 2020 elections and the subsequent reapportionment and redrawing of electoral districts that might then be possible) is unlikely to pass this amendment, it may become easier for our movement to win support of State Legislatures which could call a Constitutional Convention to consider this and related potential amendments.

The Domestic and Global Marshall Plan

I wish I could say that this would be enough, but it needs another piece. No matter how effective this will be in the U.S., as long as people around the world are facing starvation or extremes of poverty, they will have a massive incentive to cut down the forests and sell their minerals and produce in environmentally destructive ways to sell their products in the international capitalist marketplace. So it becomes a major environmental measure to eliminate global poverty, homelessness, inadequate education and inadequate health care--so that people do not have to choose between the short term survival interests of their families on the one hand and the long term environmental safety of their children on the other. Hence the need for the Domestic and Global Marshall Plan (download the full 32-page brochure at www.tikkun.org/gmp).

The Domestic and Global Marshall Plan (GMP) calls upon the US to take the leadership by example in convincing all the top 20 industrial powers to dedicate 1-2% of their gdp each year for the next twenty to eliminate (not reduce or ameliorate, as the Millenium goals and other UN summits aim at) poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and to repair the environmental damage caused by 150 years of irresponsible forms of industrialization pursued by self-described capitalist, socialist and communist societies.

The plan is too detailed to lay out fully here, which is why I am urging you to read it at www.tikkun.org/gmp. But its key elements avoid the past failures of aid programs. It ensures that monies will go to working people and poor people in localities, not to national elites of political or economic power or to US corporations using the money to adance their own interests. It overturns all trade arrangements that have led to impoverishment of local farmers around the world to the benefit of the advanced industrial countries, particularly the U.S. It eliminates all loans from US and other banks and private agencies to poor developing countries. It creates local and international governing bodies composed of social change activists and cultural and spiritual leaders in the relevant recipient countries. It encourages and seeks to develop an understanding that homeland security is best served by a spirit of generosity (embodied in this GMP) rather than by military, economic, political or cultural domination. And much more. If implemented as described, it would end the immigration crisis faced by the US and Europe, because people would no longer have to risk their lives to get to the advanced industrial countries as their only way to get income sufficient to provide for their families without having to sell their children into prostitution or to engage in the international drug trade.

Congressman Keith Ellison of Minneapolis has introduced a House Resolution to support this proposed GMP.

What you can do is to build support for the ESRA and GMP in every possible place where you interact with others. You can seek to get them endorsed by your civic or religious organization, the social change organization to which you are affiliated, your union or professional organization, your universities and local school districts, the local branch of the political party to which you belong, your city council, state legislature, and representatives to Congress. And you can join our organization, the Network of Spiritual Progressives and work with us on a concerted campaign to save the environment. Do so at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join (you do NOT have to believe in God or be part of a spiritual community to be a spiritual progressive--you just have to want the New Bottom Line I've discussed above and which is critical to winning these kinds of programs.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine www.tikkun.org, chair with Vandana Shiva of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Ca. He is the author of 11 books including two national best-sellers: Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. He welcomes you to join with him in the path described above: rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com