|Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, 5.15.15|
You can tell yourself--indeed, folks at NCRN, CELDF, PA CRN can tell themselves that the community rights model is without parallel, that it represents precisely how things ought to be. It has many many virtues--but it is not without serious deficits in an age where the consequences of the actions of some--corporations--reach well beyond communities, indeed, to the planet itself. A loose confederation of communities--of NIMBY fiefdoms--will not mitigate climate change, will not prevent an outbreak of infectious disease, will not thwart terrorism, will not prevent war, will not put a stop to human trafficking. These vital issues demand communication across communities--across the globe. And if we fail to address them globally, communities will eventually cease even to be fiefdoms--they'll simply be annihilated in wars fought over water, land, and fuel. There are communities in Mad Max--but no one wants to live in them.And that's about as clear as it gets, I think. The rights of communities to self-determination are surely values worth fighting for--but they are not intrinsically valuable such that community self-determination overrides the rights of others--wherever they are--not to be harmed or disenfranchised by that self-determination.
**UPDATE: I recently received a very thoughtful email missive from a friend concerned with my criticism of CELDF. The tone of the missive suggested that anyone who generally supports the concept of community rights and charters ought to treat CELDF and its recently formed outreach arm--the Community Rights Network--as a sort of sacred cow beyond the pale of critique. That I certainly cannot do--and none of us ought to trek that route. Indeed, any organization that's unable to address the reasoned questions and criticisms of the very citizens it would claim to represent is doomed to atrophy from within, and in CELDF's case risks the appearance of a sophisticated NIMBY-ism dressed up as community rights codified in charters and ordinances. To be very clear: I think CELDF does some very fine work, and I also think it has some real work to do on at least two fronts relevant to the essay below:
(1) When does the appropriate response to a global issue trump the rights of communities to self-determination? CELDF's answer here seems to be "never." But this opens itself up to a cornucopia of objection not the least of which is that climate change demands an orchestrated global response. A community of climate change deniers does not have the right to contribute to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gasses. A community of vaccination-avoiders does not have the right to make other people's children vulnerable to measles. A community of animal-body eaters does not have the right to expose other communities to the massive pollutants of their factory farm cultivation, execution, and waste disposal processes. Minimally, where the issues are a matter of public health, communities do not have the right to expose other communities or individuals to activities that threaten the public health--especially when that public is global.
(2) "Rights of nature" is very very vague. Does it include the rights of nonhuman animals not to suffer unnecessarily? does it refer to nature external to my body or internal to it? Does it refer only to nature--like the Ecuadorian Amazon--that's relatively pristine? Does it include urban parks? CELDF must get clearer about this if this idea is going to have any legitimacy within a community ordinance. The evidence that it is not clear is CELDF's support of a chicken bar-b-que fundraiser to generate funds to defend against the incursion of a pipeline. This is self-defeating, and it risk hypocrisy.
While I am not going to reveal the writer's name, sex, or affiliation, I am gong to post my answers to the questions of the missive I mentioned above. I have altered the questions so as to avoid quotation:
1. The writer suggests that my essay below is an effort to damage CELDF. I respond thusly:
There is a world of difference between "seeking to damage a thing" and raising important questions. I am clearly engaged in the latter. There are truly serious tensions between the rights of communities and our responsibilities, individually and collectively, to issues that exceed any community's geographical, political or cultural boundaries. Both pipelines and climate change exemplify these issues. As I said several times in the piece, I respect the CR approach greatly--and I do. But if waging community struggles for self-determination is going to mean more than the assertion of NIMBY interests, CELDF/CRN MUST confront the sorts of questions I raise in the piece. It is otherwise going to gradually but inexorably be reduced to the defense of competing fiefdoms--and that's not what any of us meant by community rights.
2. The writer asks the following question--rephrased to doubly respect the writer's anonymity: "If CELDF's aim is to teach communities how to defend themselves from the corporations and stand up for their constitutional liberties so that they can define their communities for themselves, wouldn't it be hypocrisy for CELDF or the National Community Rights network to try to make a community follow a rigid notion of "sustainable"?"
The answer here is a resounding NO. Here's why: anthropogenic climate change is well-established in the scientific literature. Moreover, it's consequences present and future are clearly global. No community has the right to enact charters, statutes, laws that clearly conflict with the well-established science when their laws--say a community of climate change deniers--then allow them to engage in activity--say factory farming--that will produce negative consequences for other communities and persons--in this case the global community. Here's an analogy: Does a community have the right as a community to structure its public school science curricula to teach that the earth is flat? No. Why? Because the earth is not flat, and in teaching so false a doctrine people--especially children--will be harmed. Ditto for evolution. Ditto for vaccines. The principle is this: However much a value is the right to self-determination for a community, that does not imply that the rights of communities exceeds the rights of individual human beings, nonhuman animals, or ecosystems. No community has the right to realize its desire for self-determination where the established potential for harm to others within and without that community is significant.
3. The writer refers to a rigid definition of "sustainable.""
I am not sure what you mean by "rigid definition of sustainable," but what I do know is two things: (A) we don't need "iron clad" to demonstrate to us that if we continue to emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere we and futures generations of "we" will suffer greatly. We know that any industrial scale extraction or animal agricultural operation does emit greenhouse gasses. Therefore, the minimal definition of "sustainable" must include curtailing the emission of greenhouse gasses--that is the sine qua non of "sustainable," and that in no way guarantees a future that's desirable. (B) "Rigid" is fallacious appeal to straw argument--it sets up a distorted, easy to dismiss--version of an argument, and this is frequently used by the climate change deniers who insist that "the science is not settled." Their reasoning is absurd. No science is ever settled. But that does not prevent us from, for example, administering antibiotics, sending probes to the moon, or tracking the processes of photosynthesis. Climate change is no different. Hence communities have a clear moral duty to act to mitigate it.
4. The writer asks: "how could it be acceptable to only agree to help a community to keep out something like a pipeline if their members are all vegan?"
Let me turn this around: Given their explicit and heavily promoted commitment to rights of nature, how can CELDF represent any community who is not vegan/vegetarian? This is manifest hypocrisy. Unless CELDF can give a convincing principled argument that rights of nature precludes the rights of nonhuman animals not to suffer unnecessarily, this is a serious problem. Moreover, it's not only about this commitment--it's also about the effects of factory farming. A community that tacitly condones factory farming by have a bar-b-que fundraiser in fact is caught in a plain contradiction--and their actions are NIMBY: they want to stop a harm for their community, but are unconcerned with the consequences of animal agriculture for other communities. This is a cake neither the community nor CELDF can have and eat too. It undermines their credibility, and puts the lie to their commitment to rights of nature. Indeed, it makes the appeal to rights of nature look more like an advertising strategy than a principled moral value.
I would welcome a response from members of CELDF. Indeed, their mission is certainly advanced through this variety of respectful public discourse. Addressing observations, questions, and criticism is how worthwhile organizations demonstrate their commitment and their capacity for thoughtful exchange to their members and future members. I hope CELDF/CRN will take this opportunity and rise to the occasion. We would all be benefitted--especially the communities CELDF purports to defend--if they did.
*The following is a set of observations posted on a Lancaster On-Line article, written by Ad Crable
What is track record of community-rights ordinances sought by some in Conestoga and Martic townships? - LancasterOnline: Local News
1. If what CELDF means by "community rights" necessarily includes nonhuman nature and animals, then it cannot attach its name to an event that violates the rights of nonhuman animals (especially factory farm animals whose lives have been nothing but misery). That includes chickens.
2. If what CELDF means by "community rights" is negotiable around nonhuman animals, it's negotiable around human animals. Hence nothing prevents a community from writing a charter that converts women to sex slaves or any other group of people into subservients.
3. If CELDF's response here is that ALL charters must recognize at least people equally, fine--but then it must remove its references to rights of nature.
4. If CELDF removed the references to rights of nature, any and all cases against factory farms, and gas company activity including pipelines is seriously weakened since a crucial part of the fight against the latter industry was premised on environmental considerations.