The Earth Belongs to All of Us

In a  recent opinion article in the April 5th issue of the digital version of YES Magazine, David Korten wrote about how preoccupation with labels such as socialism, capitalism, or communism are warping understanding of efforts to address climate change, specifically of efforts to address climate change via the bill for the Green New Deal.  (In the digital version, the article may be located by first clicking on the article “How Tribes Are Harnessing Cutting Edge Data to Plan for Climate Change” and then locating the Korten essay on the sidebar.) 

Mr. Korten writes, “Our living spaceship is dying by our hand, and there are no escape capsules, and no place to go if there were.”   This avowed critic of current capitalism then proceeds to explain how the verbal throwing around of political labels clouds the meaning of the bill, and often blocks any progress to be made on the subject of climate change.   He then continues that he concluded that economic and political labels are useless to finding answers ” because it was clear that neither socialism nor communism in their commonly understood expressions offered a solution.”  He also suggests why those currently in power may be clinging to labels, not realizing that the situations are not the same as they once were. “The world of my earlier years has changed beyond recognition. The Soviet Union, along with its celebration of armed revolution and the collapse of its self-proclaimed dictatorship of the proletariat, disintegrated almost 30 years ago. The Russia that has emerged is an unabashed capitalist dictatorship of the mafia. China’s Communist party now rules the world’s most aggressive and successful capitalist economy. And in the United States, the middle class is disappearing as the division between rich and poor becomes ever more extreme…..I sense the public may be ready for a thoughtful search for solutions that link public and private initiative beyond the grand labels—a search reflected in the substance of the Green New Deal.’

I was moved by Mr. Korten’s communication. There is a certain frustration in watching our leaders do almost anything other than concretely address the climate crisis we have been entering and in which we currently find ourselves.  Children call out and demonstrate, missing school to do so (a true function of youth, to call attention to what needs be addressed) while many of our elders who are in leadership positions either condemn the children’s protests or ignore them.  A function of elders is to address the issues that youth highlight, and our leaders are failing to do this.  A similar response is given to the protests of environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and interested citizens, such as family farmers, naturalists, ranchers and lovers of nature.  That we need to move on the issue of climate change, and the corresponding socio-economic issues, is obvious.

Of course, the Green New Deal is not the only solution offered to address climate change; the issue has many factors, not all addressed in this one article by Mr. Korten. One such issue is the ownership of land. In the Spring 2019, #182 issue of the Communities Magazine, ( ) Cassandra Ferrera comes to the conclusion that the ages old concept of land ownership is also a social building block which has contributed to not only climate change, but to the current social and economic injustices of our time.  

The concept and structures of land ownership have been with us for a long time.  The social and political structures of the Middle Ages are a good example; most of the land was owned by the nobility, almost none of whom personally worked the land.  The land was worked by those who did not own it and who did not benefit from it.  They were essentially slaves, although they were not called that; they were labeled as serfs.  However, land ownership and the unequal distribution of land and the benefits of its productivity were there long before the Middle Ages, in cultures in Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

 Indigenous people did not have a concept of land ownership.  To them, the land could not be owned – it was considered the mother of people, animals, plants, life on Earth, and as such, did not have an owner.  People worked the land that was near them, but they did not own the land.  Produce of the land was shared, and the land itself worked in such a way as to care for it.  Mother Earth provided her human and non-human children with all they needed to sustain life.  

When their land was conquered by settlers, who claimed land belonged exclusively to individuals among themselves, native peoples not only lost the sustenance of Mother Earth, they also felt the deep grieving pain of that loss and of the way the Earth was being treated.  The way we treat our Earth, without respect and with the attitude of conquering it and forcing it to produce for our exclusive benefit and according to our dictates, has created the crisis we call climate change.  If we are to address the crisis, we must abandon the idea that we own and can dictate to the Earth.  Ms. Ferrera writes, “Ultimately we must pull apart the concepts that are bundled into the legal fiction we call private property ownership and address the questions of power, responsibility, equity, security and legacy.”

So how are we to live, if we cannot own land??   Our entire social structure, equitable or not, is based on the ownership of land.  We cannot even have a home unless we pay someone who owns the land (developer, landlord, government) for the privilege of living on it.  Our urban communities are not designed to preserve or cooperate with the land, or with each other either, for that matter.  Our rural areas are often owned by huge corporations, whose care for the land is minimal, if at all.  We have with our ownership polluted the land, water and air, and birthed for ourselves mutagenic foods, new diseases, and ongoing anxieties.   However, if we cannot own land, then how will we live?

It seems to me that the only way to do that is to hold the land in common, to live in groups small enough for everyone to know everyone else and to make common decisions, and for the land on which we live to be in the protective custody of those who live upon it.  We must be stewards of the lands upon which we live, not conquerors and despoilers.  Should we despoil our own nest, we may not take the nests of others for ourselves.   The Earth is given to people to sustain them; this relationship also requires that they care for the Earth.  This is the message we seem to have forgotten, perhaps in our mad rush to embrace the newest and best technology.  However, technology cannot replace the land, although, used correctly, it may help us to nurture the Earth.

Spring is here.  It is the time of new life.  Let us then ponder how the concept of the commonly-held nature of land, and how the political innovations of the young can help us restore the life to our planet, which is in danger of losing that life.  The planet itself, including all that live on it, is an endangered species.   Let us attempt to restore it. 

Peace, Diane