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The Declaration of Interdependence

By Joe Romm  

"The Declaration of Interdependence"

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http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/07/Us_declaration_independence.jpg/200px-Us_declaration_independence.jpgWhen, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Okay, the Declaration of Interdependence sounds a lot like the Declaration of Independence.

By saying that it is a self-evident that all humans are created equal and that our inalienable rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, our Founding Fathers were telling us that we are all in this together, that we are interdependent, that we have a moral duty to protect these inalienable rights for all humans.  President Lincoln, perhaps above all others, was instrumental in making clear that the second sentence of the Declaration was “a moral standard for which the United States should strive,” as Wikipedia puts it.

The double appeal to “Nature” — including the explicit appeal to “the laws of Nature” in the first sentence — is particularly salient.  For masters of rhetoric like the authors of the Declaration, a repeated word, especially in an opening sentence, is repeated for the singular purpose of drawing attention to it (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“).

Yes, the phrase “laws of nature” meant something different to Jefferson than it does to us (see here).  But as a living document, and as a modern Declaration of Interdependence, the words have grown in meaning.

It is the laws of Nature, studied and enumerated by scientists, that make clear we are poised to render those unalienable rights all but unattainable for billions of humans on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.  It is the laws of Nature that make clear Americans can’t achieve sustainable prosperity if the rest of the world doesn’t, and vice versa.

Ironically — or perhaps intentionally — the toughest inalienable right to maintain is “the pursuit of happiness.”  Certainly, the catastrophic global warming we know we face (thanks to our understanding of the laws of nature) threatens life and liberty (see “Memorial Day, 2029“).

But if we keep listening to the deniers and delayers, if we fail to sharply reverse our current emissions path nationally and globally, then we are headed towards 5°C (9°F) planetary warming this century and 900+ ppm — with sea level rise of 5 feet or higher, rising 1 to 2 inches a year or more for centuries, the U.S. Southwest and one third of the Earth’s habited land a permanent Dust Bowl, half or more species extinct, and much of the ocean a hot, acidic dead zone (see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“).

Not bloody many people will be pursuing “happiness” under those conditions.  They will be desperately trying to avoid misery, when they aren’t cursing our names for betraying our moral values.

If we don’t aggressively embrace the clean energy transition starting immediately with the climate bill in front of Congress — and help lead the entire world to a similar transition — then the Ponzi scheme we call the global economy will probably be in some stage of obvious collapse by our 250th anniversary, July 4, 2026.

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

And so “happiness” is repeated also, underscoring its importance to the Founders.  “Life” and “Liberty” are really the very minimum we owe our fellow humans.  We have a moral obligation to work toward freedom from want and care for all.

The party of Lincoln has, tragically, abandoned the values embraced and articulated by its greatest thinker and rhetorician — and those embraced and articulated by our Founders in the Declaration. When is the last time a major conservative politician ever talked about “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” except to mock the entire notion (see Gingrich sums up GOP ethos: “I am not a citizen of the world! I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous”).  That is one reason why the parting is shrinking, one reason why Americans chose to “alter or abolish” conservative rule of the U.S. government.

We live in unique times.  We must all hang together or we will surely all hang separately.

Happy Interdependence Day Century!

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15 Responses to The Declaration of Interdependence

  1. Gail says:

    And a Happy Fourth of July to all! I am putting the apocalypse aside for the day, to have a barbeque on the dock in Jersey City, and then sail around the Harbor and watch all the fireworks from every direction. Rumor is Obama will be there for the opening of Lady Liberty’s crown. Yay!

  2. Let’s not forget the Preamble to the Constitution – authored shortly after the Declaration of Independence – and also a nice bit of text worth parsing carefully. The key phrase – “to ourselves and our Posterity” to me means our Constitution and our nation is meant for our children and grandchildren – our posterity is all those in the future.

    =================
    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    =================
    There is some debate about how strong these words should apply in constitutional law.

    ==============
    PURPOSE AND EFFECT OF THE PREAMBLE
    from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/preamble/

    Although the preamble is not a source of power for any department of the Federal Government, 1 the Supreme Court has often referred to it as evidence of the origin, scope, and purpose of the Constitution. 2 ”Its true office,” wrote Joseph Story in his COMMENTARIES, ”is to expound the nature and extent and application of the powers actually conferred by the Constitution, and not substantively to create them. For example, the preamble declares one object to be, ‘to provide for the common defense.’ No one can doubt that this does not enlarge the powers of Congress to pass any measures which they deem useful for the common defence. But suppose the terms of a given power admit of two constructions, the one more restrictive, the other more liberal, and each of them is consistent with the words, but is, and ought to be, governed by the intent of the power; if one could promote and the other defeat the common defence, ought not the former, upon the soundest principles of interpretation, to be adopted?”
    ==================

    Nice day for either quiet reflection, or percussive celebration.

    Thanks Joe for your wonderful forum.

  3. ken levenson says:

    Hear, hear! Jefferson no doubt would approve of such an expansive reading.

    And just nice to see the reprint of the Declaration. Our family reads it every year out loud on the Fourth – although with the new, smaller NYTimes it’s darn near impossible….

    (Must add that it seems to me today’s GOP have more in common with the Royalists.)

  4. Phil Eisner says:

    Joe – Let’s not confuse Lincoln, the first Republican president with Jefferson, certainly not a Republican, when you accuse today’s conservatives of not seeking “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

    [JR: Yes, I can see how my two sentences might create that confusion. I'll see if I can fix that.]

    Otherwise your “Declaration of Interdependence” is a wonderful read on the Fourth of July!

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Well, they call themselves conservatives, but they are not. Radical reactionaries is a bit closer.

  6. From Peru says:

    “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”

    This is clearly stating that the people has the right to overtrown a reactionary goverment by any means, including , if necessary, a popular REVOLUTION.

    That is exactly the thing Americans did in 1776, the French in 1789, the Europeans in 1848 and again in 1918 and Russians in 1917 (sadly the 1948 and 1918 revolutions were crushed and the Russian Revolution was betrayed by her own leaders who become the new dictators of the new state). All of them overtrown the socio-economic model ( monarchic feudalism) that was the main obstacle to the People’s Rights and People’s prosperity.

    The point is that if we do not do a revolution to stop our present leaders and our present socio-economic system (capitalism= massive exploitation of the People and Nature by a group of people avid of richness) destroying our planet, then Mother Nature will rebel against all of us (exploiters and expoited alike) , and then we will join the dinosaurs and all the other extinct species.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Only sorta on topic, “Brave new power for the world”:
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/07/01/brave-new-power-for-the-world/

    IFR would be nice if it works. Shoulda kept at it.

  8. currency says:

    The fireworks at Don’s are supposed to start at 9:30. We’re gonna watch them from our back porch. It ain’t the best view, but it will do.

  9. Will Koroluk says:

    It’s late in the day, I know, but I sincerely hope all you folk had a good celebration.

  10. K. Nockels says:

    Hi Joe , off topic but just read this its suppose to come up at the big G-8 next week http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/03/land-grabbing-food-environment
    would love to hear your follow-up on this!

  11. James Thomson the second says:

    KN – Thanks for the link. It’s easy to see where it’s all heading. Countries like the US were already outsourcing their emissions by manufacturing in China and purchasing international offsets. Now they are “invading” foreign coutries through the wonders of the global market, and to use the land for what? Probably to grow biofuel while the locals starve.

    No-one seems to want global government. Most are even against the UN having any teeth. But the reality is that the human race has no means to tackle global problems in any sort of equitable way while we are all partitioned into competing countries. Worse still, the real actors are global corporations who just follow the money and ignore national boundaries.

    Climate change can ONLY be solved by reaching equitable agreement. Any other approach leaves parties thinking they are getting the short end of the stick and they won’t join in.

  12. paulm says:

    This misery is going to multiply within the next decade. Heart wrenching….

    Devastation in Zambia as climate change brings early flooding

    Mukelabai, 25, and her family packed all the belongings they could into a canoe and paddled 24km to safety. After four months they came back to find the roof of their home fallen in and the mudbrick walls crumbling away. She added: “We are having to start again. There is no food so we are not eating anything. My husband has no job. I worry about the children.”

    Elsewhere, at Soola, the settlement resembled even more closely a desolate refugee camp, with shelters fabricated from thatch and reeds and draped with dirty clothes and blankets. Remnants of sweet potato tubers were scattered on the ground. An area where homes used to be was now a muddy wasteland save for a single door, standing like the freak survivor of a shockwave that vaporised everything else.

    Masela Kababa, 30, a mother of three young children, said: “There isn’t enough food to feed the children. They all have aching joints and eye infections. There’s nothing we can do.”

    She was pessimistic. “This problem is here to stay. I think it will keep happening to the end of time.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/06/zambia-flood-climate-change

  13. Gail says:

    James Thomson (or whatever iteration that sneaks through the moderation) –

    You raise important questions, as to how best are we going to survive given the future climate changes.

    My significant other (being of militaristic bent) seems to be convinced that AMERICA will keep out the hoards of cannibalistic starving refugees from rising seas and agricultural drought-fueled famine from inundating our borders, and we’ll just be okay! The Marines will take care of us, like magic!

    Whereas I don’t think that will be sufficient, especially in a world where unstable governments have armies and nuclear weapons at their disposal. I think mitigating rising seas will require international cooperation.

    A world government seems unlikely. But there must be some sort of universal agreement since everyone on the planet is impacted by everyone else.

  14. Gail says:

    and paulm

    it is heart breaking.

  15. Start Loving says:

    Joseph, your work is of historic proportions and importance. Thank you.