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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 27th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

We met Israeli Retired Judge Shlomo Shoham in the corridors of the UN Headquarters in New York, about a dozen years ago.

I learned from him how he was trying to enact in the Israeli Parliament – The Knesset – a system where the legislature will have to test every proposed law for its effect on future generations – or read it simply – its effect on sustainability. The essence of this is the implementation of the concepts of Sustainable Development. I was so taken by these ideas that I actually raised the question to a panel from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, that is the UN grouping of the Asian Arab States from which Israel is excluded, at a meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development – what would be if every State in the region would have a provision that requires the implementation that comes with National Responsibility for the Future Generations, in matters of the environment and general well-being? The Syrian Chair of the grouping, and the Iranian UN employee who was in charge of ESCWA responded that many of the countries had their Agenda 21 – specifically Syria had one – and they were bound to implement such goals. Clearly, they did not take my bait of collaborative work with Israel in the attainment of regional goals. But this is not the topic of this posting.

This posting is about my having found out that in May there will appear a volume by Shlomo Shoham that depicts the Israeli experiment with rational sustainable law-making, and I wanted to bring this before our readers, specifically these days of attempts at legislating in the energy and climate, and even on financial institutions and debt, as an ultimate goal for the Washington US Congress, and any law making institution. Let us simply conclude that if an activity does not pass the  sustainability test, we probably should desist from bringing it about.

Now, please let Shlomo Shoham speak for himself:

A NEW BOOK:” Shlomo Shoham – FUTURE INTELLIGENCE, SUSTAINABILITY, AND THE STORY OF
THE COMMISSION FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS  IN THE ISRAELI PARLIAMENT.”

2010, Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung (Bertelsmann Foundation is the publisher).

—————

Shlomo Shoham says: “I pray that this book—bringing in the call of our preferred future will encourage us in creating our desired reality of life and well being for our planet earth.”

Shlomo Shoham, 2010 –  Creating a desired future as intelligent behavior:

In 1995, I left the judge’s bench to work in Israel’s parliament as the legal advisor to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Many of my friends and acquaintances did not understand my intent in taking this unusual step. At that time, most of Israel’s judges served in the judiciary not only until their first opportunity to retire, but for as long as they were allowed to sit on the bench—that is, until they were 70 years old. I, on the other hand, was appointed to the bench at a very early age and left it at age 45, after only 12 years. I explain to anyone who asks, that beyond personal and professional reasons, the force that drove me was the desire to stop dealing with traumas of the past and to be part of a team that had an impact on the future.

——————-

In its mere 60 years of existence, Israel has achieved much. It is considered to be a developed western state with a flourishing economy and impressive development momentum. Yet these considerable achievements, in one of the most crowded states in the world, have taken a heavy toll in terms of a problematic view of the future and considerable environmental costs.

————–

The Commission for Future Generations was born out of a great vision of the future. Lapid’s intention, subsequently adopted by the members of the Knesset, was to establish an honorable position for the Israeli parliament among the nations of the developed world. Indeed, the Commission was established in 2002 out of the conviction that those who formulate the legislation shaping Israeli society ought to consider the consequences of that legislation, and that the various interests informing legislation should remain beholden to an overriding principle: protecting the interests of our children and grandchildren—of future generations and preserving a broad scope of choices for them. In short, the Commission was to help the Knesset to take seriously the goals of intergenerational justice.

From a legal perspective, the Commission for Future Generations is defined in Chapter 8 of the Knesset Law. The idea was to establish an intra-parliamentary body with the resources to develop a comprehensive picture of Knesset legislation, and carry out an audit of ramifications that could affect coming generations. The statute provides the Commissioner for Future Generations with the power to examine bills that, in his opinion, hold the potential for future harm, and to bring concrete data and recommendations to parliament.

The commissioner can expresses his opinion during the deliberation of legislative committees, or submit it as an attachment to bills being discussed in committee or voted on by the parliament in plenum.

The commissioner also has the authority to express his opinion and make recommendations on various topics unrelated to specific bills, as well as on secondary legislation brought to vote in the Knesset. He has the authority to advise members of the Knesset on any topic that has special relevance to future generations.

During my five years of activity on the Commission 20012 -2006, every bill tabled in parliament was also presented to us. This included private bills, government bills and secondary legislation. As commissioner, I had the statutory authority to announce our involvement in a particular bill; when this happened, I was invited to the meetings of the relevant committee to offer a written and oral opinion.

———-

One of our first steps in establishing the Commission for Future Generations was the significant need to explain and define what constitutes “of particular interest to future generations,” as stipulated in the wording of the law. In the beginning, we defined this in terms of our understanding of the term sustainability, which expressed the values on which responsibility to future generations is based. Surprisingly, though the concept of sustainability—to the best of my knowledge—was not a concept the initiators of the law were aware of, the 12 areas which legally fell within the Commission’s authority matched the principle components that make up the concept, as it is described in scholarly literature.

The Commission had been authorized to act in policy areas falling within three broader areas that often involve interrelated issues: society, economics and the environment. And indeed, one of the Commission’s successes was to raise public awareness of sustainability in a way that encompassed all three, in a period when the idea of sustainability was associated almost exclusively with environmental issues.

Soon after the Commission’s formation, Israel began intense preparation for the United Nations’ World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Internationally, vast amounts of knowledge were being collected with an eye toward application of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (to which Israel is a signatory) based on the principles developed at the United Nations’ Earth Summit, held in Rio in 1992. In preparation for the Johannesburg summit, I—as Commissioner for Future Generations—participated in the final meetings of the interdepartmental committee established by the government for
this purpose, and later took an active part in representing Israel in various committees and events at the summit.

————

To some extent, these questions had already become part of Israel’s public discourse. A 2002 shadow report on Israel’s progress toward environmental sustainability released by environmental organizations found a pattern of development underway which contradicted the principles of sustainability, in certain cases irreversibly (Friends of the Earth Middle East 2002). From examples like this, it was clear that the process of embedding the principles of sustainability and building a strategy unique to Israel was unavoidable. At the Commission, we began to see legislation focusing on sustainability as a critical tool to help implant futures thinking and long-term thinking in Israel’s decision-making processes and governmental policy design.

After the Johannesburg summit, the Commission drew up a proposed government bill to create a strategic plan for sustainable development, which was presented to the government on January 30, 2003. In the Knesset, we pressed for the advancement of a basic law on the topic, since this would raise the issue to the status of constitutional law.2 As such, it would serve as a counterweight against the interests that opposed sustainable development.

The bill was intended to establish—at least as a goal—that all economic, societal and environmental development be conducted in a sustainable manner. Indeed, the U.N. Plan of Implementation signed at the Johannesburg summit spoke specifically of an institutional framework as the proper way to embed and advance sustainable development at all levels of government. The plan called for the use of all means available to the government to embed these principles, and specifically mentioned the use of legislation and the rule of law alongside the activity of governmental institutions (United Nations 2000).

It is worth noting that following the Commission’s initiative, the right to sustainability found its way into the map of rights contained in the proposed bill for the Israeli constitution. It is my hope that the transition from a legal system based on basic laws to a legal system based on a written constitution will take place quickly, and that with it the rights to sustainability will be anchored in the constitution.

————

And now let’s read the following quotes. Let these sayings seep into our consciousness and see if our images of the future change as a result, and if so, how.

Let’s allow ourselves to release our hold on the ideas we have about education, and read the following material as a clean slate. Even if these quotations are familiar to us, it is still very important to let ourselves see how reading them anew influences our perceptions:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

(Khalil Gibran 1996)

“In such a world, the most valued attributes of the industrial era
become handicaps. The technology of tomorrow requires not millions of
lightly lettered men, ready to work in unison at endlessly repetitious
jobs… but men who can make critical judgments, who can weave their way
through novel environments, who are quick to spot new relationships in
the rapidly changing reality…

“Finally, unless we capture control of the accelerative thrust…
tomorrow’s individual will have to cope with even more hectic change
than we do today. For education the lesson is clear: its prime
objective must be to increase the individual’s “cope-ability” — the
speed and economy with which he can adapt to continual change.” (Alvin
Toffler 1970)

“The aim (of education) must be the training of independently
acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service
to the community their highest life achievement.” (Albert Einstein)

“Know that each person is unique in the world…

And he would do well to bring his uniqueness to perfection.”
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

“Know yourself before you attempt to get to know children. Become
aware of what you yourself are capable of before you attempt to
outline the rights and responsibilities of children. First and
foremost you must realize that you, too, are a child, whom you must
first get to know, bring up, and educate.” (Janusz Korczak 2006)

“In Waldorf education, we aspire to enable our children to become
healthy people of body and mind and clear of spirit. Bodily health,
freedom of mind and clarity of spirit are things that humanity will
need more and more in the future.” (Rudolf Steiner)

“The rapid obsolescence of knowledge and the extension of life
span make it clear that the skills learned in youth are unlikely to
remain relevant by the time old age arrives. Super-industrial
education must therefore make provision for life-long education on a
plug-in/plug-out basis…..If learning is to be stretched over a
lifetime, there is reduced justification for forcing kids to attend
school full time…

…places an enormous premium on learning efficiency. Tomorrow’s
schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate
it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to
replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn.” (Alvin Toffler
1970)

“The changes and uncertainty that characterize the society of our
day are so large that it is dangerous and mistaken to base the
curriculum on any static view of reality—whether of the past, the
present, or the future… We must select for the curriculum those
elements which can provide true preparation for most of the
possibilities that the future world holds. In the new age, students
will need new skills, primarily in three areas: the expertise to
learn—to teach students how to learn, how to forget what they’ve
learned, and how to learn anew. Skills in creating human
connections—through groups for study, or to accomplish a task. And
skills of choosing and initiating.”(David Passig 1997)

“I didn’t teach Anna to do things the right and proper way. There
is no doubt I taught her how to do things—in quick ways, funny ways,
hard ways, all kinds of ways, but not the right way.

First of all, I myself wasn’t sure what the right way was. So Anna
was naturally forced to find her own way…” (Fynn 1974)

“The primary aim of our education must be the cultivation of
people who are skilled, caring, and who can give and receive love.”
(Shlomit Grossman, Former Head of the Education Section of Israel’s
Commission for Future Generations)

When you are finished reading—and make sure to take time to think, and
let your mind wander across any unexpected terrain—write down any
questions about the future that occur to you as you are reading.

—————–

I have just returned from a twilight stroll with two of my
grandchildren, the twins Tamar and Yael. As we walked, the sun was
setting, autumn breezes began to blow, the crisp air caressing their
heads, and the horizon appeared closer than ever. I pushed the double
baby carriage quickly as the two of them watched me, babbling and
smiling contentedly. The quiet was exalted—a perfect evening,
worry-free.

When I look at them, I feel the confidence they place in me, the
confidence of those who know that all is well and will be well for
ever and ever, for eternity. I see in their eyes the security they
feel in the world and in me. We have just celebrated their birthday.
They have just completed their first year upon this planet.

In my imagination, I see them as 20 years old, happy, beautiful and
intelligent. The year is 2027. The world is calm. Peace and
tranquility prevail everywhere. The environment has been preserved.
All the dire prophecies predicting that global warming, extinctions
and greenhouse gases would destroy our planet have been averted. Tamar
and Yael are privileged to live in a sustainable world—the fruit of
the future images that we created 18 years ago, in 2009.

In this vision, we have listened to calls coming from the future, the
voices that pleaded with us: “Please, watch over this planet so we
will be able to live on it in health, happiness, and security.” We
succeeded in changing the direction the Earth was heading back then,
in 2009, abolishing the existential threat to ourselves and our
planet. We acted out of the innate human instinct that preserved and
still preserves the existence of the human race—our concern for our
children, our concern for future generations.

——————

Watching my grandchildren, I imagine what would happen if someone
dared to threaten them now. I would give my all to prevent any hurt to
them. What would I not do to keep even a hair on their heads from
harm, to keep their tiny fingernails from being scratched? I ask
myself—what am I really prepared to do today to ensure that the world
will look like a paradise when they reach the age of 20? What are any
of us really prepared to do for our children so they will have air to
breathe and water to drink in 2027? What are we prepared to do to keep
the oceans from rising and submerging the coastal cities in which we
live?

—————–

Epilogue

It’s 3 a.m. in India, where I am, on the beach.

The sound of waves lapping upon the beach—soothing and embedding
nature’s rhythms inside me.

The sensation of being one with the universe enfolds me.

In my imagination, I hear Mother Earth’s voice calling us to create,
for our planet, a desirable future, a loving future, a future of well
being for humanity and for the planet.

This book tells the story, one of several kinds, of the human
existential instinct awakening to our responsibility to coming
generations and to the planet.

This is the story of the era in which the awakening consciousness of
humanity’s basic life force, of the driving force of sustainability—is
spreading like fire in a field of dry thorns.

This is a period in which the human species is beginning to free
itself of the chains of consciousness that divide and discriminate
between people. It is a period in which we are creating a realm of
conscious understanding that we are all one and that creating a
desirable future cannot leave any one of us behind.

The fabric that joins all of the creatures living on this planet is
growing stronger and the network that is connecting many people in
this plane of awareness is transforming the concept of a global
village into an existing reality.

The story of the Commission for Future Generations in Israel’s
parliament is a unique tale of a concrete human attempt to bring the
concepts of sustainability into the world of deeds.

While it cannot be said that the Commission brought about all of the
hoped-for change in consciousness within the Knesset, at the same
time, the Commission represents a spirited human attempt. In its
originality of concept in calling the Commission to life, the Knesset
showed courage. And in our success in influencing legislation and
bringing a new concept into the legislative realm, we see an
unprecedented event.

I am pleased to see that the idea is already being imitated in other
parliaments of the world—and I anticipate that this is only the
beginning.

And now from the general to the personal: my term as Commissioner of
Future Generations clarified my vocation, the one I must serve as
effectively as possible.

Every morning, I anticipate with great eagerness the way in which
existence is bringing this vocation into contact with the world of
action.

I am the founder of the Centre for Sustainable Global Leadership at
the Yitzhak Rabin Centre in Israel.

I invite anyone who sees herself as a partner in mind with the ideas
in this book, who sees her own mission as connected to this path, and
who is prepared to be a partner in the processes of creating
sustainable global future leadership, to contact me at:
Shlomoshoham@gmail.com

We who are alive today have a great privilege—to experience and to
create the space that will build the sustainable infrastructure for
humanity and its children, who are arriving every day and who will
forever continue to arrive.

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