Life & Style

November 30, 2015

Why Nature Needs a Seat at the United Nations

The ecologist and adventurer David de Rothschild on why the COP21 summit in Paris is missing the point

  • Written by David de Rothschild

David de Rothschild is an ecologist and adventurer who thinks about the future of the planet possibly more than you and I. When he was 22 he trained as a naturopath, when he was 26 he crossed the Arctic on foot, and also crossed the Antarctic. Since then he has travelled to some of the world’s most pristine ecosystems and threatened places to draw attention to its plight. This included a voyage from San Francisco to Sydney on a boat made of recycled plastic to raise awareness of a giant patch of plastic rubbish floating in the middle of the north Atlantic, and more recently, a marketing agency helping brands like Levi’s make their practices more planet-friendly, and is currently in the process of launching his own ecologically-conscious lifestyle label, The Lost Explorer. This week, the COP 21 climate negotiations are happening in Paris and David will be there chairing a round table discussion – he’s despairing, but has an idea.  

Photography by Misha Taylor

For years, rumours have circulated that the Las Vegas casinos pump oxygen into their hotel rooms during the night to keep guests awake, energised, and gambling.

By making an exception of these synthetic absurdities—the millions of lights and the spectacle of ‘civilisation’ that is Sin City—we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that back at home at least, things are normal; that Las Vegas is insane, and we therefore must be sane. Of course, the reality is that Las Vegas is our creation; its synthetic splendour has more in common with our way of life than it differs from it. If it is the epitome of excess, it is the epitome of our excess.

“If Las Vegas is the epitome of excess, it is the epitome of our excess”

This excess now follows us around as a nauseating list of human fingerprints and self-perpetuating apocalyptic booby traps: polluted air, overfished seas, strip-mined mountains, species loss, plastic oceans, melting glaciers, toxic wastelands. The list is expanding rapidly.

So here I am, on my way to Paris this week, where the world of environmentally-minded smart people—climate scientists, politicians, activists and the curiously concerned—have arrived for the Conference of Parties (COP) negotiations.

The plan is to reach a global, legally-binding agreement to stabilise and then reduce carbon emissions in the hope of keeping global temperature rises below two degrees by the end of the century, so that the glaciers at least won’t melt.

These well intentioned talks have been billed as the last hope for a livable planet, and the answer I would want to hear more than anything is: “Yes, it’s all going to be just fine.” I want to believe that if enough people decide that we can avert catastrophic meltdown by changing a lightbulb, or remembering our re-usable bag.

But as these deliberations begin, all I can really think is that my fellow humans have gone and done it again. We’ve totally missed the point. We’ve created the illusion that Nature is somehow a choice. That we can influence and control Nature with the swipe of a pen, a snazzy tie and a sound bite.

“We’ve created the illusion that Nature is somehow a choice”

We’ve mono-cropped Nature’s brilliance and complex diversity into a series of catchphrases originating from the two emotionless and unerring pillars of ‘Energy and Carbon.’ Phrases that not only serve to disregard the broader living organism of activism, but in reality do nothing more than reflect our consumer lifestyles. Nature inspires us; consumerism obliges us.

The language we use to speak of the world and its creatures, including ourselves, has gained a certain analytical power along with a lot of expertish pomp. Yet it has lost much of its power to designate what is being analysed, or to convey any respect, care, affection or devotion toward it. Is it because, for most of us, nature is not a part of our daily lives, and comes mediated in the form of a cable subscription or some mega-storm entertainment feature on the news?

It isn’t. Our oceans really are rising and have already risen. It already is hotter and it’s going to get hotter. It’s dry and going to get drier. The familiar shape of continents and countries soon won’t be so familiar, as by the middle of this century we’ll be redrawing the maps as we know it. We are killing ourselves quickly and slowly. We are losing against ourselves. There is no off switch.

I’ve travelled a lot and do what I can to turn this knowledge into positive action. I’m generally an optimist, but I am shit scared.

Anyway I have an idea and this is it: it comes in the form of a conveniently forgotten resolution called the World Charter for Nature – a 1982 resolution that was passed by 111 nations at the UN General Assembly (and rejected by the United States). There were only 153 member states when it was first adopted in 1982, so by updating  and re-tabling the charter to all 193 of the UN’s members today, the charter provides the basis for a philosophical and political framework for how conservation efforts could be approached at the national and international level.

“When we gather such a distinguished pool of talent to discuss the future of our natural world, Nature needs a seat at the negotiation table”

Permanent representation of Nature at the UN goes to further elevate the conversation to the level of global policy, beyond any one conference and one moment in time. An official place at the table ensures that a voice for Nature will always be present in shaping the future of our planet, and can create harmony between not just humans and their environment, but also between people and nations.

Without this, it’s hard to see how Nature can gain the legitimacy and the respect that she deserves within our international systems.

Nature is not a choice that negotiators in Paris may or may not choose to make concessions to. It’s you, it’s me, it’s everything. The world we live in, from the suburban development or crowded apartment; to the daily commute; the plastic bags in your streets to the trash at your feet – none of that is distinct from Nature.

Nature is not anywhere else. It is not way out in a federal parcel of land ‘out there’, or hiding inside your electronics. It is right where you are. This is your Nature. This world, the one you’re living in now is Nature: Nature flattened, bricked, smoothed or simply belched out from a passing exhaust pipe.

So the next time we gather such a distinguished pool of talent to discuss the future of our world, Nature needs a voice in these discussions and a role in the decisions. Nature needs to have a seat at the negotiation table.


Image Credit: NASA



  • Desert8Eagle9

    It is a consciousness shift we need. We’ve found a way to accelerate access to the central channel. We’d like to provide that to people committed to this work for Nature. It takes about an hour. We need you here. Or you can gather a group of ten and arrange travel. Email me at

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