Why we need an Earth System Treaty

Sep 1, 2023
A little boy is exploring nature outside by looking at grass through a magnifying glass.

“Humanity created its current dire trajectory. It is now time to change course with a binding global treaty designed to empower individuals, institutions, and policymakers, and through this shared effort, reduce the existential threats to civilisation. The Earth Systems Treaty is potentially a major step forward, a step towards a healthy future for all.”–Paul R. Ehrlich, Emeritus Professor, Stanford University

A Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) dialogue with Julian Cribb, Council for the Human Future.

Geoff Holland–What is an Earth Systems Treaty, and what are its primary elements?

Julian CribbAn Earth System Treaty is a global legal agreement committing its signatories to protect a habitable planet far into the future. It addresses all the catastrophic threats to humanity and the living world. It seeks to repair, regenerate and prevent fresh disasters. It ensures that solving one threat does not make another threat worse.

GH–What is it about this point in human history that makes an Earth Systems Treaty so essential to the future of life on Earth?

JC–Scientists, the UN, and the Council for the Human Future have all warned that unless the ten main threats are addressed, then human civilisation is at risk – and possibly the human species too.

GH–Is the United Nations the most appropriate cultural conduit for implementing an Earth Systems Treaty?

JC–The UN is the only body capable of making a legally binding agreement applying to the whole planet and all humans. It will require the support of many UN member nations. It will be greatly enhanced by the added signatures and commitment of individuals, groups, and companies.

GH–Should we expect support for an Earth System Treaty from the politically powerful whose self-interest is wrapped up in our current winner-take-all economic system?

JC–Political and economic power both depend on having a stable, sustainable human society and a habitable Earth. A collapse in society is in nobody’s interest. Sooner or later, the powerful will grasp this. A global Treaty will help immeasurably to bring it to their attention and make clear the path forward to a safer future. 

GH–Why are our world’s nation-states likely to resist an Earth Systems Treaty without a supermajority of citizens demanding support for it from our political leaders?

JC–Nations often invoke their own short-term self-interests at the expense of the planet and humanity at large. However, a Treaty, by assembling a global following of enlightened nations, individuals, and corporations, will help others understand the dangers of their position and build their willingness to act positively to restore and protect our world. 

GH–For thousands of years, humans have assumed they are above and superior to nature with an obligation to exploit the natural world without limits. Does our own survival demand that we humans get past that kind of thinking?

JC–All humans have to live within the finite boundaries of a habitable Planet Earth. If these are lost, there is ‘no Planet B’. At present we are well outside many of those boundaries, placing our survival at risk both as a civilisation and as a species. We need to reduce our numbers, our demand for resources, and the damage we cause to a level where we are no longer a threat to the Earth and its life support system.

GH–What is the proper relationship between humans and the natural world we all depend on?

JC–Humans are a part of the natural world. However, while the natural world can survive without humans, humans cannot survive without the natural world supplying them with breathable air, drinkable water, nutritious food, good health, and safe shelter. If we destroy nature none of those things will be available to us. 

GH–Like never before, the human family across our planet is linked in real-time by the internet and social media. How does that add up potentially to a transformative cultural pathway shaped by cooperation and common purpose?

JC–The joining of human minds, at lightspeed, across a planet is the greatest evolution our kind has ever undergone. It means we can share ideas, thoughts, and solutions with everyone as fast as electrons and photons can travel. It gives us the capacity to understand and tackle global problems with a common appreciation and an agreed course of action. 

GH–How important is it for humans to recognise that we are becoming something akin to a collective consciousness defined by the same life-affirming values?

JC–Human survival depends on people collectively understanding what is good for us all – and how best to achieve it. It depends on us ceasing to fight and inflict carnage on one another, but instead on committing ourselves to solving the ten major threats addressed in the Earth System Treaty.

GH–How do you see our world evolving over the next few decades if we can get past our own worst human instincts?

JC–The processes we have set in motion – resource scarcity, climate change, nuclear armament, global poisoning, food insecurity, etc. are unstoppable in the short term, and many people will suffer from them. However, they all have practical solutions that can bring them under control in the medium term, provided we act together, with urgency, on the measures set out in the Earth System Treaty. 

Find out more and sign the petition for the Earth Systems Treaty here.

Julian Cribb is an Australian author and science communicator. He is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, the Australian Academy of Technological Science (ATSE) and the Australian National University Emeritus Faculty. He is a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia (General Division)

His career includes appointments as a newspaper editor, scientific editor for The Australian daily newspaper, director of national awareness for CSIRO, member of numerous scientific boards and advisory panels, and president of national professional bodies for agricultural journalism and science communication. He is a co-founder of the Council for the Human Future.

The MAHB Dialogues are a monthly Q&A blog series focused on the need to embrace our common planetary citizenship. Each of these Q&As will feature a distinguished author, scientist, or leader offering perspective on how to take care of the only planetary home we have.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org


First published by MAHB August 24, 2023


Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!