I love learning from history.

For instance, did you know that in 1217 English royalty established the Charter of the Forest which, among other things, instituted the right of access to lands and forests for ‘free men’, thus acknowledging that the forests were an important natural resource which belonged to the many and not just a privileged few?  And this most basic of concepts had endured throughout the centuries and for very logical and sensible reasons.  It was understood that the forests and its surrounding lands provided the means for living and survival which everyone should have the right to use.  Sustained attention to the needs of the environment was therefore seen as essential to the health and welfare of the population and as stewards, people could use, share and enjoy the woods to nourish their daily life.

If you’ve ever strolled through your local park or played softball on your city’s ‘commons’ you’ve benefited from the legacy of the Charter and its intent to protect green areas, even within the core of modern urban sprawl, for the mutual benefit of all.

But the lessons perhaps begrudgingly learned by English Lords over seven hundred years ago are today seemingly lost in what could be described as this political generations’ ongoing contempt for ecological sustainability.  The forests are not seen as intrinsic to our survival, rather they are viewed as an impediment to fiscal expansion as defined by current economic policy.

What accounts for this paradigm shift?  While King Henry understood the folly of endless growth and appreciated the value of a shared and sustainable ecosystem, the one thing he didn’t have to endure, that his contemporary political counterparts must, are the mighty corporate lobbyists.  Given that in today’s world political will is escorted through the corridors of power by those with the most money, it’s the corporations that dictate policy, superseding all other considerations.  The business of government is now just that, a business.

As David Suzuki recently wrote in the context of the controversial and forthcoming Enbridge B.C. pipeline project:

“Humanity has become so powerful in numbers, technology, consumption and a globalized economy that we are altering the physical, chemical and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale. In the process, we are undermining Earth’s life-support systems – the air, water, soil, photosynthesis and biodiversity that keep the planet habitable.”

I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that unlike the forests, economic systems are not natural entities, they are systems we’ve created.  We invented them to serve our needs, not the other way around.  If the argument is that our economic survival depends on the erosion and inevitable destruction of the same environment we all depend upon for our physical survival here in the real world, then frankly we’ve lost the plot.

Meanwhile the Charter of the Forest and its spirit wither from neglect and indifference, a situation the government and their corporate patrons may one day soon scramble to reverse, once the predictable and self-inflicting consequences of their policies start redefining their own myopic notions of ‘the bottom line’.

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