from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

A Responsibility to Protect the Earth? Reframing Sovereignty in the Anthropocene

A person holds a globe during the Global Climate Strike of the Fridays for Future movement in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 20, 2019.
A person holds a globe during the Global Climate Strike of the Fridays for Future movement in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 20, 2019. Nacho Doce/Reuters

Protecting the biosphere requires new conceptions of sovereign obligation.

March 2, 2020

A person holds a globe during the Global Climate Strike of the Fridays for Future movement in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 20, 2019.
A person holds a globe during the Global Climate Strike of the Fridays for Future movement in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 20, 2019. Nacho Doce/Reuters
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In my weekly column for World Politics Review, I argue that reconciling global politics with geophysical realities requires expanding notions of sovereign obligation to encompass environmental stewardship. 

The biggest challenge humanity faces this century is ensuring that the march of civilization does not degrade the global environment so much that we irreparably harm the planet on which our own survival depends. The advent of the Anthropocene—a new geological era in which humanity is the most important force shaping the biosphere—has revealed a fundamental contradiction between the Earth’s own integrated natural systems and a hopelessly fragmented international system. The former is an ecological and geophysical whole, as apparent in the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas Eve, 1968. The latter is an artificial human construct that arbitrarily divides the planet into 193 mutually exclusive, independent territories.

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Global Commons

Sovereignty

Climate Change

Energy and Environment

Brazil

The question is whether a world so organized—or more accurately, disorganized—can possibly address grave environmental challenges that pay no heed to national borders. The evidence to date suggests that it cannot.

Read the full World Politics Review article here.

More on:

Global Commons

Sovereignty

Climate Change

Energy and Environment

Brazil

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