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Four Freedoms, Four Changes and the Earth Charter
Alex Steffen, 8 Aug 07
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I've been thinking about two powerful statements of values, both designed to mobilize movements for social change -- FDR's Four Freedoms speech, and Gary Snyder's Four Changes essay. The fact that many people see these works as addressing different goals is part of the overall problem we face, it seems to me.


In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.


The Condition

Position: Pollution is an excess production of substances which cannot be absorbed or transmuted rapidly enough to offset their introduction, thus causing changes the cycle is not prepared for. All organisms have wastes and by-products, and these are indeed part of the total ecosystem; energy is passedalong the line and refracted in various ways, "the rainbow body." This is cycling, not pollution.

Situation: The human race in the last century has allowed its production and dissemination of wastes, by-products and various chemical substances to become excessive. Pollution is directly harming the ecosystem. It is also ruining the environment in very direct ways for humanity itself.

Goal: Clean air, clean clear-running rivers, the Presence of Pelicans and Ospreys in our lives, unrnuddied language and good dreams.

If you don't know these documents, they're really worth spending some time with. Then check out the Earth Charter, a global declaration of the fundamental principles underlying the creation of a sustainable society:

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.

Worldchanging contributor Alan AtKisson is one of the leaders of the Earth Charter process, so I won't say too much more about it, other than this: you owe it to yourself to read it.

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I am glad you mention the earth Charter, Alex. Many organisations like mine (IUCN) are signatories.

Worldchanging teaches us a lot about technologies and tools, but nothing will happen globally without a strong (and shared) ethical ground. The EC provides a very good starting point by stating "all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings"... contrary to the Convention on Biological Diversity who does not includes... humans... in it definition of biodiversity.

I am currently putting together a network of professionals interested in global socio-ecological laws and policies. That's quite innovative! Please check our manifesto at

cheers, laurent

Posted by: laurent granier on 9 Aug 07

I first saw "Four Changes" as a poster without an author's name attached to it at a bookstore in Isla Vista, CA in 1969 or 1970. I brought a bunch of them back east and left them at a bookstore on St Marks Place in NYC when next I visited.

It is indeed a founding document with relevance that resonates even stronger today. Always good to reread.

Here's one vision from Snyder's original prose broken up into what I see as the underlying poetry:

A technology of communication, education,
and quiet transportation,
land-use being
sensitive to the properties of each region...  
Careful but intensive agriculture
in the great alluvial valleys,
deserts left wild for those
who would live there by skill.  
Computer technicians who run
the plant part of the year
and walk
along with the Elk
in their migrations
during the rest.

Posted by: gmoke on 9 Aug 07

In 2004, I was reading FDR's fireside chats and other speeches. The Four Freedoms speech, which was delivered almost eleven months to a day before Pearl Harbor, made the greatest impression.

Reading the Four Freedoms, the passage you include here, outlines for me the exact way we need to conduct ourselves in order to defeat our enemies and reward our friends today. I tried to use my tenuous connections to the Kerry campaign to convince them to start quoting the Four Freedoms and hunted down the Norman Rockwell illustrations, especially Freedom from Fear which shows a mother and father tucking in their sleeping children at night. No response.

A few months later, Peter Beinart spoke at a "brown bag lunch" at the Shorenstein Center on the topic of his book _The Good Fight_, advancing the argument that the model for "fighting liberals" defeating terrorists should be Truman. I told him that I thought that FDR and the Four Freedoms were a better model and he replied to my suggestion, as I recall, by saying the Four Freedoms would be a good model if anybody actually took the them seriously. I was left with the impression that Beinart believed nobody today, in this world would.

In 2006, I went to YearlyKos to exhibit my Solar Survival Show, trying to promote the idea of doing practical solar, renewables, and efficiency demos at such events as the over 4000 farmers' markets that happen every week around the USA during growing season and one of the posters I included was the same passage you picked from the Four Freedoms speech.

It was in that speech, I believe, that FDR announced the lend-lease program to re-arm the Allies, too. FDR raised the flag of the Four Freedom and besides the fine rhetoric put some money and muscle behind it as well.

Posted by: gmoke on 9 Aug 07



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