In this second edition of her 2017 book, veteran environmentalist Maya K. van Rossum shares her roadmap to a healthier world. This roadmap uses the law to empower people and provide hope for communities everywhere by showcasing her plan for a green future. Van Rossum believes change can be achieved by bypassing local laws and instead leveraging the ultimate authority of a country i.e., it’s constitution. And through this ensure people have the right to a healthy environment. In other words, she proposes securing constitutional environment rights nationwide.
Van Rossum begins by explaining a surprising fact. That in the United States, people have a fundamental right to speech, property, and gun rights. But within the country, their right to drink clean water, breathe clean air or live in a stable and healthy environment is not meaningfully recognised.
Instead, she argues these rights are mostly entrusted to political systems with competing demands, where money, power and connections have priority over justice and basic human needs. And where political games are often more important than facts, science and problem solving. This results in laws which are often on the side of big industry and big polluters and not on the side of the environment and people. And particularly not on the side of what she calls “non-elite Americans.”
The author points out that whenever individuals or communities find themselves facing a threat to their water, air, climate or environments, their options to defend themselves are limited. And therefore, it is within the legal framework that she promotes her environmental advocacy.
Call to action
This book includes numerous environmental stories that are harrowing and outrageous for those living through them. It also outlines the knock-on effects of the issues within those stories for those downwind, downstream, or up the food chain, who may not even be aware they are in danger.
These stories are just a sample of the many environmental injustices that people are experiencing every day, across many countries.
While the stories are shocking, she provides hope and a solution. She urges the readers to not despair, and to not feel powerless. Instead, she encourages the reader to work together so we can all help protect the environment, now and for future generations.
Her solution is to fight for a Green Amendment in your state or country. As she writes: “It’s time for we the people to take our power back – and make clear to government that our rights to a clean and healthy environment are now among the rights they must protect.”
A strategy for success
Van Rossum argues that to be successful, the concept of the Green Amendment must be tailored to the state or country you are in. What is important is to understand the process of constitution change, this will help you craft the best strategic path forward.
In addition to understanding the process is of course collaboration. The process will only work if you bring together support from all quarters. This includes experienced environmental activists, lobbyists, and environmental justice leaders. Those who already know the ropes when it comes to successful grassroots organising and environmental activism. These experienced people will also bring credibility and pre-existing relationships that will encourage open and wide-ranging consideration of the Green Amendment approach.
Long term impact
Van Rossum mentions in the book that many activists have “faced a lifetime of small victories but also big defeats.” However, she also argues that feeling powerless and overwhelmed is normal. But the effort is worth it.
Amending a state constitution is never easy. But once the protection is secured, it is most likely to remain in perpetuity, regardless of future opposition or lobbying efforts, which must make the effort worthwhile.
Inspire and empower
Van Rossum firmly believes in the power of constitutional Green Amendments. She has seen them work. And she has seen their ability to inspire and empower people to rise up in defence of themselves, their loved ones, and their environment.
For this reason, she encourages those who want to see change to go out there because they can make it happen. Just get started!