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Boston University Baroque Orchestra, Martin Pearlman, conductor, Tuesday, March 16, 8 p.m. Marsh Chapel

Week of 12 March 2004 · Vol. VII, No. 23

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Ecological activist Rockefeller to discuss Earth Charter

By David J. Craig

Steven Rockefeller


Steven Rockefeller

The United States has been waging two wars and has spent billions of dollars on security measures to combat terrorism since 9/11, but unless America and other developed nations redress dramatic inequities in the distribution of wealth worldwide, those efforts will be in vain. That's part of the message that Steven Rockefeller is bringing to BU.

Rockefeller, a professor emeritus at Vermont's Middlebury College and a scholar of religion, ethics, and philosophy, will deliver a free public lecture entitled Ecological and Social Responsibility: The Making of the Earth Charter, on March 17 at the Photonics Center. The chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the philanthropic organization of the famous New York oil family, Rockefeller led an international consortium that in 2002 created the Earth Charter, a set of ethical standards for governments and corporations.

“Right now, close to three billion people in the world live on $2 a day or less, and that's a tinderbox,” says Rockefeller. “That problem is related to terrorism, because terrorism is the poor man's weapon. We obviously have to take very specific actions to counter terrorism, but unless we address large underlying problems, there will continue to be serious conflicts. If it isn't with Islamic fundamentalists, it will be with some other group.”

In his lecture, Rockefeller will describe his experiences as chairman of the Earth Charter drafting committee from 1997 to 2000, bringing together scholars, political and religious leaders, and representatives of grassroots organizations from more than 100 nations to create a list of 16 principles necessary for developing, the charter states, a “sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.”

The document emphasizes the importance of protecting the natural environment — which it considers intertwined with a wide range of social and economic justice issues — as well as eradicating poverty, fairly sharing resources and wealth, supporting the development of democracies, and protecting human rights. The charter is not legally binding on institutions that adopt it, although the drafters hope that it will influence international law.

“The Earth Charter is one of the most important environmental initiatives in the last decade,” says David Eckel, a CAS associate professor of religion and director of BU's Institute for Philosophy and Religion, which is sponsoring the lecture in conjunction with the CAS Core Curriculum. “There's a great deal of interest in environmental issues at BU. This event shows how scientific values intersect with the humanities, and it should be of interest to scholars across the University.”

A panel discussion, moderated by Arts and Sciences Dean Jeffrey Henderson, follows the lecture. Panelists are Victor Kestenbaum, a CAS associate professor of philosophy and an SED associate professor; Glenn Loury, a University Professor, a CAS professor of economics, director of the Institute on Race and Social Division, and coordinator of social sciences in the Core Curriculum; and John Finnerty, a CAS assistant professor of biology and coordinator of natural sciences in the Core Curriculum.

Rockefeller, whose books include Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment Is a Religious Issue and John Dewey: Religious Faith and Democratic Humanism, became involved in the Earth Charter project in 1995. The son of Nelson Rockefeller, the former New York governor, 1964 Republican presidential candidate, and vice president under Gerald Ford, Steven Rockefeller recently has focused his studies on international law relating to environmental protection and conservation and the interconnection between ecology, democracy, and spirituality. Currently he is cochair of the committee that supervises the Earth Charter initiative.

The project, in part, grew out of the United Nations 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and in the mid-90s attracted strong support from the Dutch government and Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2001, the Earth Charter was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Rockefeller says that a decadelong educational effort on sustainable development to be launched in 2005 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will incorporate elements of the charter in educational materials for use in public schools around the world.

In addition, he says, the nonprofit World Resources Institute (WRI) is developing “a system of goal strategies and measurable indicators” for each Earth Charter principle to help governments and corporations implement them and to enable nongovernmental organizations to judge how well institutions abide by them.

“As well as being a valuable ethical framework for sustainable development and an educational tool,” Rockefeller says, “the Earth Charter is an instrument that can be used to hold individuals and corporations and governments accountable.”

The lecture is at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, at the Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary's St. For more information about the lecture, call 353-3067 or e-mail ipr@bu.edu. Also visit www.earthcharter.org, www.unesco.org, or www.wri.org.


12 March 2004
Boston University
Office of University Relations