ancient Rome, our
legal systems have aimed to maintain
social order and protect
On the whole, they have been successful. One might even say that the
history of law is one of humanity's greatest success stories.
Today, something is happening that never happened before. Both these
goals are threatened by
economic globalisation, which has for the first time established a
clear causal connection between the actions of rich countries and the
suffering of poor countries. The suffering currently is mainly about
poverty. Increasingly, it also involves global warming.
I am not a lawyer or a legal scholar, but I do know that in modern
industrialised countries the law suffers from some fundamental
problems that have become particularly evident in an age of global
warming. The law primarily
enables citizens to defend their own rights. It ignores altruism and
the natural environment. You cannot defend the
rights of people in foreign countries, or future generations.
cannot defend the climate, or species that are threatened with
We are told that "everyone is equal before the law", but in many cases
that is clearly not the case. Instead, those with more money are "more
equal" - reminiscent of Orwell's Animal Farm.
Those who can afford the best lawyers tend to win cases. The law is
often driven more by economics than human rights. In extreme cases,
financial interests are given preference over human lives.
The rights of the bottom billion, now and in the future, can only be
effectively protected if there is constitutional
in industrial countries to correct these problems at the highest
level. Do legal scholars and politicians care about this? If
are the proposals? Where is the public discussion?
Here's an example. If Poland can completely abolish the death penalty
to satisfy Protocol 13 of the European
Convention on Human Rights,
as it did in 2013 (and thank god it did, if there is a god), why can't
the same convention or similar documents be changed to stop hundreds of millions
of present and future people in developing countries from being effectively sentenced to death
by hunger, preventable disease or curable disease, with a certain
probability? These people really exist. Their deaths are really
Acute poverty could be eliminated and global warrming brought under
control in two decades if we invested a few percent of GDP in
global development and alternative energy. We are not doing that.
Instead, we are behaving as if
that money, which we can easily afford, is more important than the
rights of a billion people.
The most reliable way to stop such selfish and arrogant behavior and
such shocking neglect of human rights at the highest level is to change
Industrial nations have constitutions that regulate power at the
highest level and oblige them to
fulfill their most important moral commitments. Global warming is
threatening the foundations of societies and nations. Constitutional
texts regulate those foundations. Why don't we change our constitutions
to tackle global warming?
Every national constitution was a response to the challenges of the
in which it was written. Things have changed in the past few decades,
centuries and millennia. Our constitutions must be changed accordingly.
Of course this is unrealistic. There is no need to remind me. But it
is even more unrealistic to steer the world toward unprecedented
disaster. Later this century, one or more positive feedback
mechanisms could cause the global atmospheric temperature to rise even
humans stop producing greenhouse gases. After that, there will be no
turning back. Which kind of "unrealistic" would you prefer?
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