Affirmative Action for Nature will move us towards a Just and Prosperous Society

What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left.    From Plato’s Critias written around 360 B.C.

In the 1950’s there was overwhelming evidence that various groups had not attained equitable rights under the law. During the 1960’s and onward Canadian and United States governments and institutions tried to remedy this discrimination by giving minorities or marginalized individuals greater access to a university education through quotas and fair wages. In America, J.F. Kennedy called this ‘affirmative action’, and in Canada the federal government and Supreme Court Judge Rosalie Abella spoke of ‘Employment Equity’. In 1985 our Charter of Rights and Freedoms spoke of ‘Equality Rights’ that demanded society include women and other groups into a broader and more creative civil covenant and insisted that Canada pull down barriers that encumbered citizens’ full potential. In certain cases it was acknowledged that disadvantaged groups need to be given extra help, if only temporarily, in order to ‘level the playing field’. There is no doubt that minority groups in the United States gained historic access to higher education as a result of affirmative action programs, and when these same programs were taken away, as was the case in California, admissions for black students dropped by 80 percent.

The disabled and the marginalized, including many women and aboriginal peoples, are not the only ones to benefit from affirmative action but society as whole. It is vital to now apply that same vision to Nature; it is long overdue. Balance has not been achieved between economic interests, community/societal goals and Nature, although economists and corporations sometimes declare that to be their goal. For most of human history it was a given that Nature was to be conquered and literally consumed; in 2010, with that destructive legacy, ecosystems are beginning to collapse. Species are being brought to extinction directly as a result of individual, corporate and government prejudice against permitting Nature to recover from past and present human excesses while contemptuously not caring about ecological boundaries that constitute a resilient future. . A recent example of this is Canada’s refusal to vote for protection of many endangered species such as polar bears, hammerhead sharks and bluefin tuna, to name just a few, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species held in Qatar this March.

Although affirmative action is still controversial for some, many countries have been able to give previously disadvantaged groups the means to contribute to their world, and thereby create a stronger and less violent society through programs and legislation in the last fifty years. Disadvantaged Nature can no longer be excluded from societal/planetary aspirations except at our extreme peril. If we have indeed subdued Nature it will be for a very short time. Nature, the fundamental building block for community and the economy, is in deep trouble and so are we.

All citizens need to have the wisdom now to give back to the Earth its health and well being. To read the headline, ”Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry” in the science journal, Nature, that goes on to say, “Canada is the only country that both weakened its ambitions in the course of the negotiations and effectively argued for an increase of 2020 emission allowances…” is to feel ashamed.

Societies, with much smaller populations, have often been ‘skilled’ in not knowing limits to growth, and “these ravages” of ecosystems Plato mentions in his dialogue, had begun before his time. Today’s ecological bottleneck is bred from a history of interwoven ills that have consequences not only for one region like Plato’s but for the entire planet. It is time to not “turn away and lose the name of action” but now steadfastly insist that Nature must have a place at the table at home and abroad while being second to none and then, and only then, there will be true balance and a civilization worthy of the name.

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