Earth Charter Plus 15 celebrations in the Netherlands

On June 29th in the year 2,000 the Earth Charter was officially launched in The Hague, Netherlands after almost a decade of work and global consultations. 15 years later to the day the Earth Charter was celebrated in the Netherlands at an event to mark the anniversary. Many Earth Charter friends from Europe and around the world attended the celebration and affirmed the importance of the Earth Charter document and the global movement to foster the sustainability vision expressed in the declaration.

The evening before the celebration, a dinner and welcome event brought together several Earth Charter Commissioners including Steven Rockefeller, Ruud Lubbers, and Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, senior advisors Mary Evelyn Tucker, Rick Clugston, Jan Pronk, and Herman Mulder, Earth Charter Council Members including Kartikeya Sarabhai, Ama van Dantzig, and Alide Roerink, Earth Charter partners from organizations such as Soka Gakkai International, and Earth Charter Affiliates from Belarus, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and Great Britain.

The 29th started out with facilitation from Ama van Dantzig, who acknowledged the team who helped organize the celebration, including Alide Roerink, Ignaz Anderson, Ama van Dantzig, Lynn Zebeda, and Carolien Koehorst. ECI Executive Director Mirian Vilela and Kartikeya Sarabhai, co-chair of the ECI Council from CEE – India, continued the morning with reflections on the 15 years of the Earth Charter, as well as adding some memories from before the launch in the 90s. Ms. Vilela quoted from speeches by Kamla Chowdhry, Mohamed Sahnoun, and Wangari Maathai given on this same day in 2,000. Kartikeya Sarabhai talked about resilience, faith, and the wisdom found in places of struggle and poverty. He spoke about the Earth Charter in Action and all the different actions and initiatives around the world and the importance of sharing tools and good practices. He also spoke about the Earth Charter as a lens and how it unites people worldwide.

Steven Rockefeller followed with the keynote address and introduced his new essay on Democratic Equality, Economic Inequality, and the Earth Charter. He reminisced about the beginnings of the Earth Charter, thanked the present co-chairs of ECI and Executive Director Mirian Vilela, and Ruud Lubbers and others in the Dutch network who have been so supportive of the Earth Charter for many years. He continued with formal remarks on his new publication. He spoke about the Pope’s Encyclical and its power as a teaching tool and inspiration for educators and policy makers. He related some of the larger points of the new essay and talked about how the Earth Charter’s holistic vision can lead societies towards a sustainable future. The essay also addresses the Sustainable Development Goals from an Earth Charter perspective. He added points on the Earth Charter’s focus on respect for nature and asked some compelling questions about economic growth and the pressure put on earth systems by the growing consumer society. He spoke about the precautionary principle, the meaning of moderation, and the values needed to shift society towards a sustainable model.

The following session was a dialogue between the Archbishop of South Africa Reverend Dr. Thabo Makgoba and Mary Evelyn Tucker. The Reverend related a story about turning a tragedy into a possibility for reconciliation. Mary Evelyn Tucker responded by talking about President Obama’s recent speech in Charleston in the aftermath of the recent mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. They both spoke about hope and its importance in mending relationships. The dialogue shifted into the hope provided by the new Encyclical for mending the relationship between humans and nature and the necessity of developing an “integral ecology”. They both stressed the importance of the Encyclical’s mention of Mother Earth and the emerging worldview of Earth Community and spiritual-ecological awareness.

After a brief small group discussion of the previous session, the meeting continued with a conversation among two younger members of the Earth Charter Initiative, Erik-Thijs Wedershoven from the Netherlands and Kerstin Veigt of Germany, accompanied by Ruud Lubbers and Awraham Soetendorp. Erik-Thijs and Kerstin spoke about the emerging values coming through youth work. Kerstin spoke about the importance of intergenerational communication and learning. Rabbi Soetendorp responded that there are both present dangers and also great hope for the future. He cited the ever-present quality of compassion of simple people as a source of inspiration for the present silent revolution and realization that we need each other, to take care of each other and the community of life. Ruud Lubbers continued with words of gratitude for the Dutch Earth Charter Friends network. He spoke about the long history of acceptance in the Netherlands, of the help of immigrants and refugees, and his hope for the continuation of that noble tradition.

The following session comprised five parallel sessions, including a curated walk in the woods, a screening of the Journey of the Universe accompanied by its producer Mary Evelyn Tucker, a dialogue on a world free of nuclear weapons, a dialogue on the Earth Charter as a basis for a new circular economy, and the opportunity to play the Earth Charter game. The activities were enjoyable and the dialogues offered an opportunity for smaller group discussion and participation.

Lunch was served in a section of the woods near the conference center and following the meal there was a ceremony and tree planting in honor of the Earth Charter’s anniversary and also to celebrate the third birthday of Ella Dantzig, the daughter of Earth Charter Council Member Ama van Dantzig. Wanjira Mathai, present Director of the Green Belt movement joined the conference by skype and offered thanks and a few short remarks on the Earth Charter.

The afternoon session resumed with a plenary dialogue among former Dutch Minister of International Cooperation and Environment
and ECI Special Advisor Jan Pronk, World Connectors’ Herman Mulder, former ECI Council Member Rick Clugston, Sister Jayanti of Brahma Kumaris on the Earth Charter and the Sustainable Development Goals. The panelists discussed the potential for the SDGs, enthusiasm at the national level and within the business sector. Herman Mulder felt that the SDGs are offering a moment for a revitalization of the Earth Charter. Several of the panelist expressed the opportunity the SDGs offer for allowing the Earth Charter to act as a lens and a guide for the implementation of these goals.

Kartikeya Sarabhai announced a special initiative led by the Center for Environment Education and assisted by ECI called Earth Reports. Earth Reports consist of periodic reports, each separately looking at the State of the World through one of the sixteen principles of the Earth Charter. The Charter is used as the ethical lens for looking at a particular theme, assessing the year’s global situation. The current Earth Report will soon be accepting submissions on Earth Charter principle 11 on Gender Equality.

The meeting continued with a small group discussion on ideas for implementing the Earth Charter. Participants shared strategies including approaching politicians, using music as a universal language, identifying and illuminating multiple local initiatives that fall under Earth Charter intentions, and other excellent ideas. Kartikeya Sarabhai summed up the session and responded to the different interventions emerging from small group discussions. Kartikeya also stressed the need for individual actions and the sharing of actions.

Once again the conference split into five parallel sessions. The forest walk, the Earth Charter game, and Journey of the Universe sessions were repeated, and sessions on sustainable communities and Earth Charter cities, and on future generations and the SDGs were added. Again, the sessions were enjoyable and allowed for deeper discussion and collaboration on specific issues seen through Earth Charter lenses.

The final plenary session to close the conference showcased a group painting with contributions from all the speakers of the day. Ama van Dantzig walked the participants through the exciting events of the day, highlighting some of the major themes of the meeting, the interconnectedness among efforts, and the feeling of hope at confronting the challenges of the future. A music video-photo montage was shown in honor of Ruud Lubbers and his 20 years of service to the building of the Earth Charter movement.

Finally, the meeting was privileged to hear several songs performed live by Neda Boin and Dr. Rum, two young musicians who sang R and B songs and recited some poetic verses.

The celebration concluded with a dinner and many heartfelt and some teary goodbyes. It was clear from the meeting that the Earth Charter is alive and well, that it is more relevant than ever and that the world is starting to catch up to its high standard of values and principles. There is plenty of work to do to make the Earth Charter vision a reality but the participants of this celebration were clearly determined to work together to bring that vision to life.

To view more photos of the event click here.