Earth Rights

The earth belongs to all of us!


“Our existence as creatures of flesh and bone is totally dependent on the land and natural resources of the earth. This earth, which no one of us made, is simply a given”. – Allana Hartzok

After my talk at the Green Festival in Washington D.C.

I met Alanna Hartzok at the Green Festival in Washington D.C. in May. Alanna happened to be one of the attendees of my “What’s in your water might surprise you” talk.

We spoke after my talk, and she mentioned she was the co-founder of the Earth Rights Institute. Alanna gifted me a copy of her book, which is a compilation of articles she had written over the years.

As an aspiring speaker on sustainability-related topics, I try to grab every opportunity I can to learn from those who have spent years working in the field.

The rightful owners of the earth

In the introduction, Alanna explains the breakdown of land history and how it came about. John Mohawk, a Native American scholar born into the Seneca tribe, believed trade could be neither free nor fair when so few own such a disproportionately large share of natural resources.

The question of how the disparity of natural resources came about was addressed through the lens of history. The introduction of enclosures occurred after the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. The enclosures redefined land as “private property” and thereby gave property the status of a commodity, tradable within an expanding market system. Most people denied access were forced to become wage laborers, and labor also became a tradable commodity.

Most modern legal systems are built on the foundation of Roman law. The Romans developed the ownership concept that legitimized the accumulation of wealth by a few at the impoverishment of the many.

Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Roman law of dominium was adapted into its laws. From that point forward, Christianity was associated with the forces of conquest of the territory-grabbing imperialist state.

Hundreds of years later, English citizens who wanted ownership could go to America to stake a claim to the vacant land, based on the Roman law. This formed the justification for the English and other Europeans to take unclaimed areas from native peoples because they didn’t possess titles to the land. That made the property vacant in their eyes.

The earth belongs to all of us

An earth that belongs to everyone is owned by living people. In this case, every person lives in a world that is truly his or hers. A key component is building an economic democracy based firmly on this basic principle: the earth belongs equally to everyone.

Alanna suggested that an Earth Rights democracy is an essential ethical framework for creating a world of peace and plenty for all. An Earth Rights democracy consists of a contract between people and their government and contains three primary components. The first maintains that the equal right to property and natural resources is a fundamental human right. The second component states that the earth and all its life forms have a right to biological and ecological integrity and well-being. The final component states that taxation and political principles and policies should be constructed based on the rights defined in the first two components.

The next Earth Rights-based economy

I realized that we as human beings are trustees and caretakers of the many life forms that dwell here with us. The next economy will extend the democratic mandate to solve this problem by affirming the equal rights of all people to the earth. This economy will have a balanced and just relationship of citizenry to government, with enlightened public finance policy grounded on land and land rent for the people. Money will be issued and circulated as a service for the people rather than used as a mechanism for the exploitation of the many by the few.

The price we pay until the earth belongs to everyone

Sustainability experts are aware of the costs to the planet when wealth and power spiral into the hands of few. Loss of species and topsoil, deteriorated air and water quality, global warming – the list of catastrophes and potential catastrophes grows each day. We can do better.