Do not listen to those who say there is nothing you can do to the very large and very real social and environmental problems that beset our world. I am not now talking about a false sense of optimism based on ignoring the several very real crises we face.
But there is so much room for hope and such a need to bring joy and excitement to our commitment to a different future. I swear to you that it is true -- the life of an activist is a good life, because you get up in the morning caring about more than just yourself or how to make more money. A life of activism gives hope (a moral imperative in this work), energy and direction. You meet the best people. You help transform systems and ideas and you commit to leaving the earth in at least as whole a state as you inherited it because every generation has the right to breathe clean air and drink sweet clean water.
And you may very well find yourself inside an important fight for all humanity. Recently, I was part of a delegation to the United Nations, where we presented a new idea to the Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and the General Assembly.
Because our civil society movements believe that there are no human rights if there are no protections for the earth, air, water, forests, wetlands and other species, we presented the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which we hope will become, with time, the companion to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This concept was met with great enthusiasm from the Secretary General and many country delegates and I believe with my heart that it is only a matter of time before it becomes a cornerstone of public policy both at the United Nations and in every country and community in the world.
As Cormac Cullinan, a leading advocate for the rights of nature, explains: The day will come when the failure of our laws to recognize the right of a river to flow, to prohibit acts that destabilize the Earth's climate, or to impose a duty to respect the intrinsic value and right to exist of all life will be as reprehensible as allowing people to be bought and sold. We will only flourish by changing these systems and claiming our identify, as well as assuming our responsibilities, as members of the Earth community.
The great American scientist and environmentalist, Carl Sagan, once said: Anything else you are interested in is not going to happen if you cannot breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out! Do something! You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.
Maude Barlow received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from York University in Toronto recently. This is an adapted excerpt from her speaking notes for the Convocation ceremony.
Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, chairperson of Food and Water Watch in the U.S., and co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which is instrumental in the international community in working for the right to water for all people.