Eugenics and Environmentalism: From quality control to quantity control

Friday, June 6, 2008

Old-Thinker News | April 30, 2008

By Daniel Taylor

Has eugenics faded away with time, or has the pseudo science morphed and cloaked itself under new auspices? Were some of the original founders of population control efforts themselves eugenicists? How and when did eugenicists shift from Galton era ideals to Malthusian population control? The history of eugenics is incredibly detailed and expansive, but there are certain issues that are not given as much attention as others. This article attempts to answer these questions and provide a wider perspective on these important issues.

From quality control to quantity control

While there are examples of eugenics still in practice in its pre WWII form, eugenicists were forced to scale back rhetoric and reframe their ideas in the post WWII world. Hitler’s actions embarrassed eugenicists in America enough for them to at least publicly change their ideas.

China currently has Galton-era eugenics laws on the books which only allow pre-approved couples to marry and have children. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care states that if the approved couples children are deemed to be inferior they are to be terminated. [1]

The United States was the first to enact eugenic sterilization laws in the state of Indiana in 1907. By the mid 1930’s, 34 states had passed mandatory sterilization laws. Many of the laws remained active as late as 1974. Eugenics officially ended, yet remained.

Dr. David C. Reardon has documented the shift to population control among eugenicists in chapter five of his work in progress, The Eugenics Connection: Shapers of Humanity. He writes regarding the earlier eugenic practices in the United States,

“During the early 1930’s, eugenics reached the height of its popularity in pre-World war II America. It was during this period, when their political power was greatest, that eugenicists and Neo-Malthusians became increasingly radical in their demands to eliminate the ‘unfit,’ whom they called a “race of chronic paupers, a race parasitic upon the community.” The eugenic weapons to be used in this ‘war between races’ were increasingly coercive and destructive. In 1932, at the Third International congress of Eugenics held in New York City, proposals were made to prevent the ‘further dilution of the American gene pool’ by those who possessed ‘inferior genes’ through segregation, sterilization, birth control, abortion and even infanticide.” [2]

Reardon then documents the discrediting of eugenics and the toning down of rhetoric coming from its supporters. One of the factors cited by Reardon which dampened enthusiasm was the targeting of upper classes for sterilization due to their financial dethroning as a result of the great depression. Reardon writes,

“Suddenly, many of those in the upper and middle-classes, who had previously judged hereditary ‘unfitness’ on the basis of economic poverty, now found themselves impoverished. These ‘new poor’ feared that the selection of the ‘unfit’ might be confused. Finding themselves labeled ‘the aristocracy of the unfit’ by eugenicists, they feared that they might be the ones to suffer from compulsory sterilization, not just the “truly unfit.” [3]

James Lovelock, a prominent environmental activist, recently made headlines with his comments on what he calls imminent environmental calamity. Interestingly, Lovelock stated that the world faces an environmental crisis largely brought on by over-population in which he would like to see “the best of our species” survive. [4]

This brings us to the post WWII era of eugenics. Eugenicists who still held on to the discredited principles of eugenics now attached these ideas to environmentalism and population control in an attempt to carry on eugenics in a more veiled form. Malthusian population control was now emphasized.

The Rockefellers and the Osborns

An important point to be made when covering these issues is that the very same families who had previously funded and popularized eugenics in America prior to World War II shifted their resources into funding and promoting population reduction and control in the post WWII era.

Several prominent families are responsible for funding and promoting eugenics in America, namely the Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman, and Osborn families. Two families, the Rockefellers and the Osborns, are particularly significant. John D. Rockefeller Sr. contributed a large amount of money to build the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the early 1900’s, which housed the Eugenics Records Office from 1910-1944. Rockefeller influence also spread overseas to Germany, where the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Eugenics, Anthropology and Human Heredity resided. Much of the money used to run these facilities came from Rockefeller. [5] These institutes became centers for Nazi eugenics programs during the reign of Adolf Hitler.

The influence of the Rockefeller family continued in 1945 when John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated the land upon which the United Nations stands in New York City. The U.N. plays an important roll in population control, a subject which will be covered shortly. Watch the video below to see former New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani introduce a short documentary regarding Rockefeller’s influence in the founding of the U.N.

In 1952, John D. Rockefeller the 3rd, the oldest son of Rockefeller Jr., founded the Population Council. The organizations stated goal is to seek “…better understanding of problems relating to population.” [6] The first president of the Council was Frederick Henry Osborn, who was appointed by John D. Rockefeller himself. Osborn was a prominent eugenicist who helped found the American Eugenics Society, now called The Society for the Study of Social Biology. Osborn headed the AES from 1946-1952, when he began to place greater emphasis on population control, signaling the shift of post WWII eugenicists. [7] Osborn wrote in his 1968 book The Future of Human Heredity that “Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under another name than eugenics.”

Frederick Henry Osborn’s nephew, Henry Fairfield Osborn, carried on the banner of population control. His 1948 book Our Plundered Planet covers many of the issues that environmentalists are concerned with today. Osborn states in the book that over-population will destroy the planet and that drastic measures must be taken to curtail population growth. He takes a moment to reflect on the savage nature of his outlined proposal, but states that it will have to be done. He writes,

“Of course, as we all know, these are momentous days and many things can happen to check population growth, even including the devastating use of atomic bombs in a new war. It is difficult to adjust one’s mind to the possibility that the present negotiations between nations could fail to prevent such a savage denial of the right to human existence, and that the problem of the pressure of increasing populations – perhaps the greatest problem facing humanity today – cannot be solved in a way that is consistent with humanity.” [8]

Steven C. Rockefeller, a fourth generation member of the family, has remained dedicated to the family’s history of philanthropy and promotion of population control. He played a central role in the writing of the United Nations Earth Charter, and chaired the Earth Charter International Drafting Committee from 1997 to 2000. He is currently a member of the Earth Charter Commission. [9] Echoing past writings of Osborn and others, he stated in an interview at Tilburg University in the Netherlands that,

“Third, the Earth Charter recognizes that the dramatic rise in human population is putting great pressure on the resilience of ecological systems and has overburdened social and economic systems.” [10]

The Earth Charter itself says, “An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous but not inevitable.”

Others involved in the post WWII shift

Before we look at recent examples of population reduction being funded and carried out, there are other prominent individuals who played an important role in this shift from eugenics to population control.

Frank Notestein was one of the most prominent individuals who made the study of population an institutional practice. His bio summarizes his numerous memberships, which include the American Eugenics Society.

“He was a member of the American Eugenics Society, the American Philosophical Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Statistical Institute, the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, the Population Association of America, and the Century Association.” [11]

Notestein also served as president of John D. Rockefeller’s Population Council after Frederick Osborn stepped down. He was also the first director of the United Nations Population Division from 1946-1948. In a 1969 paper written by Notestein titled The Problem of Population Control, he outlines a strategy to depopulate target populations. Notestein admits that economic modernization would “…bring the birthrate down automatically.” However, he goes on to state that more drastic measures must be taken because in his opinion this method would not be fast enough. He writes,

“Given existing preferences in family size, governments must go beyond voluntary family planning. To achieve zero rate of population growth governments will have to do more than cajole; they will have to coerce.”

“…to impose more drastic changes on a large scale implies many risks, not least to the regime that undertakes them. The price for this type of population control may well be the institution of a totalitarian regime.” [12]

Another individual, Guy Irving Burch, who wrote for Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review publication, also played a key role. Burch’s 1947 book Human Breeding and Survival combines the ideas of both eugenics and population control. He writes,

“It appears what the United Nations needs to do is to recommend to all nations that adoption of laws which will… actually lead to the sterilization of all persons who are inadequate, either biologically or socially, and encourage the voluntary sterilization of normal persons who have had their share of children.”

Burch described plans for attaining “peace goals” and national security objectives through population control. Similar arguments and proposals are made in Henry Kissinger’s later 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200, which was influenced by the 1944 Royal Commission on Population. Burch states that, “… if we are willing to keep the focus on undesirable parentage… then sterilization can play a rather large part in the attainment of the peace goals…”

Richard C. Reardon writes again in his Eugenics Connection work in progress regarding Burch, pointing out the shift from Galton era eugenics to Malthusian population control,

“The ideas of Galton were becoming unpopular, so the ideas of Malthus needed to be stressed. If the public could be made to believe in the need for quantity control, they would again accept its logical extension – quality control. So in 1940, while serving as director of his Population Reference Bureau and the editor of its Population Bulletin, Burch helped found another “population” front for eugenicists – the Population Association of America.” [13]

Population reduction operations today

In 1989 research was conducted by the National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi India on the use of ‘carriers’ such as Tetanus Toxoid and Diphtheria to bypass the immune system and deliver the female hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). The research paper was carried in the Oxford University Press in 1990 and was titled “Bypass by an alternate ‘carrier’ of acquired unresponsiveness to hCG upon repeated immunization with tetanus-conjugated vaccine.” [1]

While hCG is required to maintain pregnancy, the injection of hCG bound to Tetanus Toxoid triggers an auto-immune response, thus causing sterilization. The NII research cited above used four women as test subjects – who had been surgically sterilized prior to the experiment – and found that multiple doses of the Tetanus Toxoid hCG carrier vaccine was required in order to achieve the desired results. The research also found that if an alternate carrier such as Diphtheria was used as a booster in combination with Tetanus the sterilization vaccine would be more effective.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council are listed in the document as giving grants for the research.

Henry Kissinger’s 1974 National Security Memorandum 200 document cites “Injectable contraceptives for women” as a possible method of population reduction and control. Depopulation, as stated in the document, should be pursued because it would be in the “…economic interests of the United States.”

“Wherever a lessening of population pressures… can increase the prospects for such stability, population policy becomes relevant to resource supplies and to the economic interests of the United States.”

On November 4, 1996 the publication Vaccine Weekly carried an article titled “Study Suggests Women Were Injected with Contaminated Tetanus Vaccine.” The article details an investigation that was carried out by the Philippine Medical Association into the discovery of hCG in tetanus vaccines. While the article brands the vaccine as being “contaminated”, the Rockefeller funded research cited above indicates that this is not a case of contamination. As reported,

“Have women in the Philippines, and possibly elsewhere, surreptitiously been used as guinea pigs in an international anti-fertility campaign?

A medical study in the Philippines suggested that may well be the case. A study conducted by the Philippine Medical Association on behalf of the Philippine Department of Health revealed that almost 20 percent of the tetanus vaccine sampled positive for the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), according to Human Life International.

Vaccines containing the hormone immunize women not only against tetanus but also against pregnancy by inducing the body’s immune system to attack the hormone needed to bring an unborn child to term.” [2]

Thailand is ripe with stories of miscarriages and sterilization. According to the local population of the Akha, pregnant women are forced to receive a tetanus vaccine in order to get ID cards for their children. The vaccine often results with violent miscarriages. In the video below, Matthew McDaniel, a human rights activist who has been working with the Akha people of Thailand, speaks with two Akha women about the forced Tetanus vaccine and the resulting miscarriages.

The current world-wide focus on global warming takes us to another angle of present day population control operations. China has boasted that their family planning policies have cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 1.3 billion tons, thus cutting their impact on supposed man-made global warming. [3]

China’s often brutal population control policies have been supported by the Rockefeller enterprise. The Washington Post reported on October 12, 2000 that the Rockefeller Foundation had donated two million dollars to upgrade a Chinese drug factory that produces the abortion drug RU-486. The Washington Post reports,

“RU-486 has been a key ingredient in China’s population control strategy for years. Of the estimated 10 million abortions performed annually in China, about half are carried out with RU-486, said Gao Ersheng, director of the Shanghai Institute of Planned Parenthood Research.” [4]

Ted Turner recently made headlines when he stated that “voluntary” one child policies should be adopted worldwide to slow population growth. “…we`ve got to stabilize population. On a voluntary basis, everybody in the world has got to pledge to themselves that one or two children is it,” stated Turner. [5]

In Australia proposals have been made to tax parents who have more than one child. As CNS news reported,

“Having babies is bad for the planet, and parents of more than two children should be charged a birth levy and annual tax to offset the “greenhouse gases” their child will be responsible for over his or her lifetime.

At the same time, those who use and prescribe contraceptives and sterilization procedures should earn tax relief for such greenhouse friendly services” that help to keep the population size down.” [6]

In a 1994 presentation before the Business Council for the United Nations, David Rockefeller, son of John D. Rockefeller Jr., took time to talk about over-population as a threat to the environment. Rockefeller also said that “…unrestrained economic growth poses further threats to our environment.”

Watch Rockefeller’s presentation:

What you have read here is a collection of a few of the major points in an expansive history. Population control today – and the corresponding environmental movements – grew out of the post WWII shift from eugenics to Malthusian programs. The line connecting eugenicists to population control is unmistakable. Population reduction is being used by the elite as a weapon of war against competition, as an assurance of continued domination.


From quality control to quantity control

[1] Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care. http://www.women.org.cn/english/english/laws/09.htm

[2] Reardon, David C. The Eugenics Connection: Shapers of Humanity. Available in PDF here

[3] Ibid.

[4] “We’re all doomed! 40 years from global catastrophe – and there’s NOTHING we can do about it, says climate change expert” Daily Mail. By Sarah Sands. March 22, 2008. Available here.

[5] “The horrifying roots of Nazi Eugenics” History News Network. By Edwin Black. Nov. 24, 2003. Available here

[6] Population Council FAQ. http://www.popcouncil.org/about/faqs.html

[7] Wikipedia. American Eugenics Society. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Eugenics_Society

[8] Osborn, Fairfield. Our Plundered Planet. Little Brown and Company, Boston; 1st edition, 1948. p. 41.

[9] Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Steven C. Rockefeller. http://www.rbf.org/trustees/trustees_show.htm?doc_id=495673

[10] Steven Rockefeller: The Earth Charter. Interview by Patricia Morales. http://www.earthdialogues.org/documents/interview/rockefeller.html

[11] Princeton University Library. Frank W. Notestein. http://diglib.princeton.edu/ead/eadGetDoc.xq?id=/ead/mudd/publicpolicy/MC184.EAD.xml

[12] Ed. Hauser, Philip Morris. The Population Dilemma. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1969. pages 145 – 166

[13] Ibid. 2.

Population reduction operations today

[1] A copy of this document can be obtained at the Oxford Journal website here: http://intimm.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/2/2/151

[2] “Study Suggests Women Were Injected with Contaminated Tetanus Vaccine” Vaccine Weekly. Nov. 4, 1996.

[3] “‘One-child’ policy aids climate change battle: China” AFP. March 11, 2008. Available here

[4] “Chinese To Make RU-486 For U.S.” Washington Post. By Philip P. Pan. October 11, 2000. Available here

[5] “Ted Turner Pushes One-Child Policy In PBS Interview”. NewsBusters. By Tim Graham. April 5, 2008. Available here

[6] “‘Tax Parents for Children’s Carbon Emissions'”. CNSNews.com. By Patrick Goodenough. December 10, 2007. Available here



a series of interviews with outstanding personalities

Interviews by Patricia Morales
Globus Institute, Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Steven Rockefeller: The Earth Charter
Interview by Patricia Morales

Download the word document —>here

(Note: this interview was made in October 1999 and therefore focuses on the Earth Charter Benchmark II (1999). In the Appendix this version of the Earth Charter and the final document of 2000 are attached.)

Q. Could you explain the innovative vision that is offered by the Earth Charter and its system of values including the meaning of the “intrinsic value of nature”?

A. The heart of the Earth Charter is an ethical vision of the community to which we belong that is more inclusive than the traditional visions that have been dominant in Western culture and most other cultures as well. The Charter understands each one of us to be part of an interdependent community that includes not only the whole human family and future generations but also the greater community of life.

It is the position of the Earth Charter that humanity’s survival hinges upon our willingness to recognize our interdependence with the larger living world and the responsibilities that go with this interdependence. The history of human ethics has involved the slow progressive evolution of a sense of moral responsibility from the family and tribe to ever-wider spheres of human association. Now this evolution of ethical consciousness must expand further to include animals, plants, ecosystems, and the Earth as a whole. As long as human beings tend to think of the Earth as just a collection of resources to be exploited for human purposes, human beings will continue on the destructive path that has characterized the spread of industrial technological civilization in the twentieth century.

In truth, we belong to the larger community of being that is the cosmos something vast, grand, mysterious, and wonderful. The deeper meaning and joy of life involve the realization that we human beings are not here in this world alone, and we are not here for ourselves alone. Our ethics must make this clear, and we need forms of spiritual practice that empower us to live in this truth.

In line with this outlook, the opening sentence of the Preamble of the Earth Charter introduces the Charter as a declaration of interdependence and responsibility. The Preamble makes clear that everyone shares responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family and the greater community of life. This is what is meant by universal responsibility, a concept that is emphasized in the Charter. The spirit of universal responsibility is expressed in the ideas of human solidarity and kinship with all life and in the notion of global citizenship.

The Earth Charter makes reference to the “intrinsic value of all beings.” This affirmation seeks to change the way people think about and relate to nonhuman species and nature at large. The point is that animals, plants, and ecosystems are not just things to be used. They do not exist merely as means to be exploited for human ends. Quite apart from whatever utilitarian value nature and non-human beings may possess for people, nature, and other living beings are worthy of respect and moral consideration. Each living being is a unique manifestation of the larger whole, which is the universe. Each living being is interdependent with all others. Each living being should be treated as a subject, not just as an object. This is the meaning of the concept of the intrinsic value of all beings.

Q. Would you describe the Earth Charter process as concerned with cross-cultural understanding and world consensus?

A. Yes. One of the major purposes of the Earth Charter international consultation process is to promote dialogue on shared values and common goals, and to build consensus on a vision of basic values that will provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community.

We live in an increasingly interdependent world. As a result, we must cooperate together across all boundaries of nation, culture, faith, and race and at all levels locally, nationally, regionally, and globally if we are to achieve our basic environmental, economic, and social goals. Furthermore, if we are to make wise choices and to cooperate together effectively, we urgently need a shared vision of fundamental ethical values to guide us. In other words, the development of global ethics is essential. Our very survival as a species is in doubt if we cannot clarify our ethics and develop common values around such basic issues as environmental protection, justice, human rights, cultural diversity, economic equity, eradication of poverty, and peace. The Earth Charter is part of the global ethics movement.

Q. Do you believe that the Earth Charter will contribute decisively to the empowerment of people? What role do NGOs and civil society have in this process?

A. The Earth Charter is designed to promote the empowerment of people in a number of different ways. It clarifies the rights and responsibilities of people. It emphasizes the importance of transparency and accountability in governance, access to information, and inclusive participation in decision-making. Some of the principles in the Charter explicitly call for the empowerment of local communities, youth, women, and the poor. In addition, the Earth Charter can be used to promote awareness and it can serve as an effective educational instrument. It contains an integrated vision of basic environmental, economic, and social aspirations that can provide individuals, NGOs, and civil society at large with a clear sense of direction. The Charter can be used to mobilize people and to generate commitment and action.

Q. What is distinctive about the Earth Charter in comparison with other international documents being prepared for the next millennium? Could you compare the Rio Declaration and the Earth Charter, in particular, with respect for species and respect for all individual living beings?

A. First of all, the Earth Charter is the product of a unique international consultation process that has extended over ten years and has involved tens of thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations. No other international document has involved such an extensive consultation process. Secondly, the Earth Charter sets forth both an inclusive and an integrated ethical vision for the next millennium. These qualities distinguish it.

I have already commented in response to the previous question on the inclusive nature of the ethical vision in the Earth Charter. The Charter is also based on the conviction that humanity’s social, economic, environmental, ethical, and spiritual problems are interrelated, and therefore, humanity must cooperate in developing integrated strategies to address them. For example, poverty is both a cause and a consequence of environmental degradation. Consequently, the eradication of poverty and the protection of the environment are indivisible goals. Caring for people and caring for the environment are interrelated objectives.

The Earth Charter builds on the Stockholm Declaration, the World Charter for Nature, the Rio Declaration, and many other international law instruments as well as dozens of NGO declarations and the seven major UN summit meetings held during the 1990s. It seeks to give coherent expression to the emerging world consensus that one finds taking form in these documents and international conferences. The Earth Charter may well be the best concise summary to date of this emergent way of thinking and acting that understands the interrelation of humanity’s fundamental environmental, social, economic, and spiritual aspirations.

Regarding the Rio Declaration and the Earth Charter, there are several especially important differences to note. The Earth Charter does build on the Rio Declaration and includes many of the principles found in the Rio Declaration. However, the first principle of the Earth Charter, which is a call to respect Earth and all life, is not found in the Rio Declaration. In short, the Earth Charter affirms the moral standing of all life forms and all beings, and here lies the major difference between the two documents. The Rio Declaration is focused primarily on the needs and interests of people, and its call “to conserve, protect, and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem” is stated from that perspective. Implicit in this language found in the Rio Declaration is a concern to protect biodiversity, but the Rio Declaration makes no explicit reference to nonhuman species and biodiversity. The Earth Charter has a more inclusive and balanced approach than the Rio Declaration. It emphasizes the needs and interests of people, but it also emphasizes humanity’s interdependence with the greater community of life and the moral responsibilities to nonhuman species that go with this interdependence. The Earth Charter gives special attention to the urgent need to protect biodiversity.

Like the Stockholm Declaration, the Rio Declaration affirms the sovereign right of states to “exploit” their natural resources. This language is unfortunate. One definition of the verb “exploit” is to use in an unethical way. For example, the exploitation of people is generally viewed as immoral. If humanity is to change its destructive patterns of behavior in relation to the environment, it is important that people cease thinking of nature as just a warehouse of resources to be exploited. Therefore, the Earth Charter avoids this language.

In addition, the Rio Declaration does not contain principles on environmental justice and on the urgent need for environmental education. The concept of environmental justice involves the notion that all persons have a right to an environment supportive of their dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being. This principle is especially important because it integrates the agendas of the human rights and the environmental movements. The Earth Charter includes principles on environmental justice and environmental education.

Q. Do you believe the Earth Charter will become a sort of world constitution?

A. The Earth Charter sets forth an inclusive and integrated ethical vision that can provide individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments with much needed guidance in making the transition to sustainable living and sustainable development. As an ethical vision, it provides foundations on which future international and national law can build. Endorsement by the United Nations General Assembly in the year 2002, which is the tenth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, would enhance the influence of the Earth Charter in both civil society and government circles. It is my hope that the values and ideals expressed in the Earth Charter will increasingly become embodied in the new world order, helping tocreate a bright future for humanity.

Q. Could you mention the major tensions around the Earth Charter?

A. In the course of the consultation process, the Earth Charter Drafting Committee has had to deal with a number of differing perspectives and points of view. It is, of course, not possible to satisfy all groups. The Drafting Committee seeks to identify principles around which there is consensus. When it encounters differing points of view, it works with the groups involved in an effort to find common ground. In what follows are four examples of controversial issues and of the way the Drafting Committee has sought to deal with them.

First, some groups would prefer a short Earth Charter that is a prayer or poem, or a declaration with five to ten principles only. Others strongly favor a more substantial document that is more like an intergovernmental declaration. In an effort to address these different concerns, the Drafting Committee has created a layered document with a Preamble, sixteen main principles, fifty-five supporting principles, and a conclusion. The principles are divided into four parts. Part I contains four General Principles, which can be used as a very short articulation of the Earth Charter vision. Part II (Ecological Integrity), Part III (A Just and Sustainable Economic Order), and Part IV (Democracy and Peace), contain a total of twelve additional main principles that follow from the General Principles. The Preamble and sixteen main principles can serve as a relatively short version of the Charter.

The supporting principles offer clarification and elaboration of the ideas in the main principles. The fifty-five supporting principles provide an overview of the many issues that have been raised by various groups in the course of the international consultation process. Those who favor a very short Earth Charter would like to see the supporting principles significantly reduced in number or eliminated. Others feel passionately that the supporting principles are an essential part of the Charter because they make explicit the practical meaning of the main principles with reference to critical issues. The supporting principles are especially important to groups that feel marginalized and excluded from decision-making processes.

Second, some Western philosophers object to use of the term “intrinsic value” on technical philosophical grounds, and many Buddhists object to use of the term, arguing that it suggests the existence of some fixed self in persons and things which Buddhism denies. However, the concept of the intrinsic value of all species is affirmed in international law, and many environmental philosophers strongly support use of this language. In an effort to resolve this conflict, the Drafting Committee links the reference to intrinsic value with a reference to the interdependence of all beings. The concept of interdependence is one that is strongly supported by Buddhism, and it is also, of course, a central idea in the science of ecology. The reference to “the interdependence and intrinsic value of all beings” in Benchmark Draft II combines Eastern and Western philosophical concepts. However, the controversy over intrinsic value has continued, and it may be that the term should be deleted and that the Earth Charter should use other language to express the idea associated with intrinsic value. For example, the Charter might simply affirm: “All beings are interdependent and worthy of respect regardless of their utilitarian value to humanity.”

Third, the Earth Charter recognizes that the dramatic rise in human population is putting great pressure on the resilience of ecological systems and has overburdened social and economic systems. In addressing the population problem, the Charter has adopted the approach worked out during the UN summit meetings in Cairo and Beijing in 1994 and 1995. This means shifting the focus from an emphasis on population stabilization to an emphasis on the empowerment of women through access to education, health-care, and economic opportunity. At Cairo and Beijing, the discussion about health-care involved a special emphasis on the importance of reproductive health care and women’s rights to such care. In the light of all of these considerations, the Earth Charter addresses the population issue by calling for gender equality and access to education, reproductive health-care, and economic opportunity for women. However, a number of conservative religious groups have strongly objected to the Charter’s reference to reproductive health on the grounds that this language involves support for abortion. The argument is made that the link between reproductive health and abortion is established in the Beijing Platform. In response to these objections, the Drafting Committee modified some of the language in the original Earth Charter Benchmark Draft issued in 1997, because it does not want the Charter to become mired in a debate over abortion. The Charter does not take a position for or against abortion. However, universal access to reproductive health-care is fundamental to achieving sustainable development and the language about reproductive health-care reflects the international consensus worked out at Cairo and Beijing. Therefore, there are compelling reasons to retain this language in the Charter. If the Charter were to be perceived as having retreated from the consensus worked out at major international meetings, the document would lose much of its credibility.

A fourth example of a difficult controversy has involved the way the Charter uses the word “compassion.” In Benchmark Draft II, Principle 7 reads: “Treat all living beings with compassion …” This principle is strongly supported by large numbers of people, and especially by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and other religious groups as well as animal rights and animal liberation organizations. However, some indigenous peoples have objected tothis language, arguing that one cannot hunt with compassion. These groups are also concerned that this language may be used by animal rights organizations in an effort to stop their traditional hunting practices. These objections have come from indigenous peoples in the circumpolar North and sub-Saharan Africa. However, there are other indigenous peoples who support use of the word “compassion” in Principle 7. This issue has been debated in a number of conferences over the past two years. It now appears that a mutually-satisfactory solution has been found. The word “compassion” will be moved from Principle 7 to Principle 2, which will be revised to read: “Care for the community of life with understanding and compassion.” Principle 7 will then be reworded so that it states: “Treat all living beings with respect and consideration …” This seems to be a happy solution to what was a very difficult problem reflecting significant cultural differences regarding the use of language.

These are but a few examples of controversial issues. The good news from the Earth Charterconsultation process is that a substantive consensus seems to be emerging, and, along with honest differences, there is a sincere interest among many groups to find shared values and common ground.

Q. What kind of cooperation do you recommend between traditional human rights defenders and the supporters of the Earth Charter?

A. It is my hope that the human rights movement and the environmental movement will recognize the interdependence of human rights and environmental values and form an enduring partnership. Sustainable development requires justice, human rights, economic opportunity, peace, and environmental protection. These goals are interrelated and indivisible. Furthermore, human rights law is in the process of clarifying a new set of human rights related to the environment. These rights are set forth in the “Draft Declaration of Principles on Human Rights and the Environment,” which was prepared by an international team of human rights lawyers and is under consideration by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Q. Do you believe that the Earth Charter can establish a complementary view between its ecocentric and anthropocentric positions?

A. It is the position of the Earth Charter that the well-being of people and the well-being of the greater community of life are interdependent and indivisible goals. Therefore, caring for people and caring for the Earth must be seen as part of one integrated agenda for the world community. Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that human beings can only realize their moral and spiritual potential by living with a sense of belonging to the universe, adopting an attitude of respect for all life, and embracing an attitude of universal responsibility. It is possible to love and care for people and the larger community of life at the same time. It is necessary for humanity to learn to do so if it wishes to survive and find wholeness and happiness in the future.

Q. The Earth Charter pays particular attention to the rights of vulnerable groups (women, children and indigenous peoples). Do you believe that there is also a particular contribution of these groups to the realization of the Earth Charter?

A. Every individual, family, and group has an essential role to play. Women make up over half the population of the world, and without their empowerment, full participation, and leadership, the world will not achieve sustainability. The future belongs to our children, and if there is to be a major change in how we think and act, our children will have to implement it. Many indigenous peoples have retained a deep sense of belonging to the universe and Earth, and their spiritual and ethical traditions are being rediscovered and are exercising a very positive influence today. The Earth Charter seeks to give expression to many values that have long been fundamental to the traditions of indigenous peoples.

Q. Could you compare the role and complementary characteristics of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Earth Charter?

A. The Charter of the United Nations puts special emphasis on human rights, living together in peace as good neighbors, and equitable economic and social development. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes human rights as the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace. Beginning with the UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, the world community added environmental protection to the agenda of the United Nations, recognizing that a secure and healthy environment is essential to enjoyment of human rights. The Earth Charter builds on this tradition, affirming the interdependence of environmental protection, freedom, justice, human rights, equitable human development, and peace. The inclusive and integrated vision in the Earth Charter defines a new holistic way of thinking and acting.

Q. What are the major challenges for the Third Millennium, with respect to caring for the Earth and humanity?

A. The Earth Charter offers a concise overview of the challenges that humanity faces in the next millennium. The four General Principles in the Earth Charter are a good summary of the goals and ideals that humanity should strive to achieve:

Respect for the Earth and life in all its diversity.
Care for the community of life with understanding and compassion.
Build free, just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful societies.
Secure the Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

Q. What is your dream for the Third Millennium?

A. It is my hope that a growing number of people and communities throughout the world will progressively realize the true meaning of peace. The Earth Charter defines peace as the wholeness that comes with balanced and harmonious relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, the Earth, and the larger whole of which we are all a part. Through peace in this sense human beings can find the happiness for which they yearn. I am confident that humanity can manage the practical and technological challenges that lie ahead. However, the most fundamental problems we face are ethical and spiritual. They concern our ability to master our selves and to employ our freedom with wisdom, love, and compassion. This challenge requires the full commitment of our minds and hearts. We are at a critical moment in the evolution of our species and time is running out. However, it is still possible for humanity to change course and to embrace ways of living that will bring peace on Earth.


The Earth Charter, March 2000 (abbreviated version)


We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Earth, Our Home

Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Global Situation

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous but not inevitable.

The Challenges Ahead

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

Universal Responsibility

To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature. We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.


I. Respect and care for the community of life

Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.
Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love.
Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

II. Ecological integrity

Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.
Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.
Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.
Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.

III. Social and economic justice

Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.
Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health-care, and economic opportunity.
Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

IV. Democracy, nonviolence, and peace

Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision-making, and access to justice.
Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.
Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.
Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.

The Earth Charter Benchmark Draft II, April 1999 (abbreviated version)

(for the interview with Steven Rockefeller)


In our diverse yet increasingly interdependent world, it is imperative that we, the people of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations. We are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.

Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The well-being of people and the biosphere depends upon preserving clean air, pure waters, fertile soils, and a rich variety of plants, animals, and ecosystems. The global environment with its finite resources is a primary common concern of all humanity. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Earth community stands at a defining moment. With science and technology have come great benefits and also great harm. The dominant patterns of production and consumption are altering climate, degrading the environment, depleting resources, and causing a massive extinction of species. A dramatic rise in population has increased the pressures on ecological systems and has overburdened social systems. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, corruption, crime and violence, and armed conflict deepen the world’s suffering. Fundamental changes in our attitudes, values, and ways of living are necessary.

The choice is ours: to care for Earth and one another or to participate in the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life.

As a global civilization comes into being, we can choose to build a truly democratic world, securing the rule of law and the human rights of all women, men, and children. We can respect the integrity of different cultures. We can treat Earth with respect, rejecting the idea that nature is merely a collection of resources to be used. We can realize that our social, economic, environmental, and spiritual problems are interconnected and cooperate in developing integrated strategies to address them. We can resolve to balance and harmonize individual interests with the common good, freedom with responsibility, diversity with unity, short-term objectives with long-term goals, economic progress with the flourishing of ecological systems.

To fulfill these aspirations, we must recognize that human development is not just about having more, but also about being more. The challenges humanity faces can only be met if people everywhere acquire an awareness of global interdependence, identify themselves with the larger world, and decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life will be strengthened if we live with reverence for the sources of our being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in the larger scheme of things.

Having reflected on these considerations, we recognize the urgent need for a shared vision of basic values that will provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. We, therefore, affirm the following principles for sustainable development. We commit ourselves as individuals, organizations, business enterprises, communities, and nations to implement these interrelated principles and to create a global partnership in support of their fulfillment.


Together in hope, we pledge to:

1. Respect Earth and all life.
2. Care for the community of life in all its diversity.
3. Strive to build free, just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful societies.
4. Secure Earth’s abundance and beauty for present and future generations.

In pursuit of these goals, we will:

5. Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain and renew life.
6. Prevent harm to the environment as the best method of ecological protection and, when knowledge is limited, take the path of caution.
7. Treat all living beings with compassion, and protect them from cruelty and wanton destruction.
8. Adopt patterns of consumption, production, and reproduction that respect and safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.
9. Ensure that economic activities support and promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
10. Eradicate poverty, as an ethical, social, economic, and ecological imperative.
11. Honor and defend the right of all persons, without discrimination, to an environment supportive of their dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being.
12. Advance worldwide the cooperative study of ecological systems, the dissemination and application of knowledge, and the development, adoption, and transfer of clean technologies.
13. Establish access to information, inclusive democratic participation in decision-making, and transparency, truthfulness, and accountability in governance.
14. Affirm and promote gender equality as a prerequisite to sustainable development.
15. Make the knowledge, values, and skills needed to build just and sustainable communities an integral part of formal education and lifelong learning for all.
16. Create a culture of peace and cooperation.

As never before in human history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. Such renewal is the promise of these Earth Charter principles. Fulfillment of this promise requires an inner change a change of mind and heart. It requires that we take decisive action to adopt, apply, and develop the vision of the Earth Charter. Every individual, family, organization, and government has a critical role to play. Youth are fundamental actors for change. We can, if we will, take advantage of the creative possibilities before us and inaugurate an era of fresh hope.


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