Guardian of Natural Resources
By Adrienne Mongan
Photograph by John Sherman
Daniel R. Lynch is an engineer with a mission. He wants the world to adopt a Declaration of Stewardship Responsibility, akin to the landmark 1948 United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Lynch calls “the greatest document of the 20th century.” Having drafted his own Declaration of Stewardship Responsibility (see below), Lynch is taking his case to fellow engineers, including students in his classes on climate change and engineering and sustainability and natural resource management.
The MacLean Professor of Engineering at Thayer School and an adjunct scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Lynch is an expert in computational techniques for simulating large-scale environments. His finite element mapping of continental shelf circulation in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank has led to greater understanding of those ecosystems, including factors affecting fish populations and patterns of toxic algae blooms.
Lynch spent the 2007-2008 academic year participating in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. During that time he completed his latest book, Sustainable Natural Resource Management for Scientists and Engineers, due out from Cambridge University Press in 2009.
Why are you working on a Declaration of Stewardship Responsibility?
Earlier in my engineering career, my focus was on water resources. As I advanced in the field, I felt a sense of responsibility to use my knowledge to help others have access to this essential natural resource, clean water. Now I’m working to encourage fellow professionals to use specialized knowledge for the global sustainability of natural resources in order to improve upon the common good.
You link protection of natural resources to the idea of basic human rights. Why?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that all people have the right to “an adequate standard of living.” The two international covenants that implement the declaration in law articulate this in terms of housing, water, food, and health. These rights depend on the availability of essential natural resources — clean air, potable water, safe food — for people now and for future generations. To achieve the ultimate goal of sustaining human opportunity, the very essence of the declaration, we must protect natural resources.
What role would a Declaration of Stewardship Responsibility play in promoting human rights and protecting natural resources?
Human rights can only be achieved if the world accepts responsibility for enacting them. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that everyone has “duties to the community” for the realization of rights. Similarly, natural resources will only be protected for perpetuity if people now develop a sense of universal responsibility for stewardship. By codifying the responsibility into a declaration, I hope to stimulate thinking about what individuals and institutions can do to protect the natural resources — and make them available to everyone.
Why hasn’t the world already done more to steward natural resources?
Much good has been achieved within specific nations. There is a vacuum in natural resource governance. Though resources are central to human flourishing, they are outside the bounds of present government and corporate institutions. In part this is because the occurrence of natural resources is seldom congruent — in space and time — with either corporate or governmental domains. The size, dynamics, and time frames of natural resource systems do not conform to human ideas of national boundaries, sovereignty, and rights of ownership. Governance structures that do not match these will not succeed. For example, a transboundary resource cannot be managed by sovereign states alone. Or a slow-growing resource cannot be managed by governance that lacks accountability for long-term consequences. This is a simple dynamic error, well understood yet pervasive. The cumulative effects of overlapping markets, governments, corporations, cultures, and individual action compound the problem. Moreover, most people don’t understand — and in some cases, they don’t accept — the complexities of natural resources dynamics, making it harder to develop and enact safeguards against resource degradation or depletion. This is why it is critical for professionals to accept the twin obligations to develop specialized knowledge and to help people implement it.
Where do engineers come in?
Engineers understand systems, so we’re in an ideal position to analyze how natural dynamics, consumption patterns, and social, political, and economic factors affect resources — and explain it to others. I believe that engineers and other professionals have a responsibility to use our specialized knowledge for the collective good.
What will it take to make natural resource stewardship a universal value?
We need professional, government, and corporate institutions to cooperate creatively to develop new means of collectively safeguarding natural resources. Agreeing that all of us — individuals and institutional entities alike — have stewardship responsibilities is a crucial first step. Each of us must accept this sense of responsibility so that we can pass precious, finite natural resources on to future generations to utilize.
—Adrienne Mongan is a contributing editor at Dartmouth Engineer.
Here are some of the main points Professor Lynch incorporates into his Declaration of Stewardship Responsibility. The full text of his declaration appears below.
- A sustainable relationship among people and natural resources shall be pursued in scientific, economic, and social communities. As natural resources sustain human productivity, so must humans sustain natural resource productivity and availability.
- Everyone has a responsibility to reduce reliance on nonrenewable natural resources, use less, recycle more, and find efficient substitutes.
- No one has a natural or intrinsic right to waste, harm, destroy, pollute, contaminate, or degrade a natural resource.
- Property rights in natural resources shall be understood as obligations to stewardship.
- Governments and public agencies have obligations to steward natural resources on behalf of citizens.
- Natural resources have their own time and space scales that do not obey human political and economic constructs. All concerned with resource use, ownership, or governance shall recognize and respect these scales.
- Natural resources cross political, legal, and economic boundaries, necessitating cooperative governance.
- Cumulative effects of separate actions that have aggregate or synergistic effects on natural resources shall be recognized and accounted for collaboratively among owners, beneficiaries, and governance bodies.
- Habitat for living resources shall be safeguarded against degradation or destruction from individual or collective action or inaction.
- Natural conduits that distribute natural resources shall be safeguarded against degradation or destruction from individual or collective action or inaction.
- Extinction of living resources by individual or collective action or inaction is to be avoided.
- Uncertainty and error shall be treated conservatively, that is, with a preferential option for conserving future opportunity.
- Everyone has a responsibility to seek ways of implementing the above.
Full Text: A Declaration of Stewardship Responsibilities
By Daniel R. Lynch
Natural Resources are the necessary foundation of all human material productivity,
Natural Resources are a deposit of live-sustaining opportunity for all,
Natural Resources constrain all human achievement,
Unspeakable damage to natural resources is surely within human capacity,
Human achievement is a good held in common by all people, and transmitted among generations
The human person and his development is the central and authentic concern of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms:
that everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible (Article 29)
that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 25)
that everyone has the right to participation in economic and political society
The International Covenants (on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) recognize ownership of Natural Resources by people as a first principle,
Human activity is needed to preserve, enhance, and direct Natural Resources toward the common good,
Coordination of actions, across Scientific, Economic, Political, and Cultural units, is necessary to achieve common ends relative to Natural Resources
A functioning civil society is necessary for securing orderly access to Natural Resources, and requisite to realizing their benefit
Intending to conserve and enhance the opportunities of all persons of present and future generations,
And Intending to maintain and enhance the life-sustaining capabilities of all nations,
We endorse this common standard of stewardship, to be pursued by all persons, to be realized in law and promoted in custom at all levels, regional, national, and international, and supported by all agencies of governments, corporations and the professions.
Article 1: A sustainable relationship among people and Natural Resources shall be pursued in Scientific, Economic, and Social communities. As Natural Resources sustain human productivity, so must humans sustain Natural Resource productivity and availability.
Article 1a: Everyone has a responsibility to reduce reliance on nonrenewable natural resources. This implies a diligent search for alternatives.
Article 1b: Everyone has responsibility to use less, to recycle more, and to find efficient substitutes for Natural Resources.
Article 1c: Everyone has responsibility to avoid contamination of natural resources.
Article 2: Ownership of Natural Resources by people is recognized by the Covenants; it may not be severed without consent. Private property shall be protected from uncompensated or arbitrary taking.
Article 3: Property rights in Natural Resources shall be encouraged where workable; and understood as obligations to stewardship, the duty demanded by freedom.
Article 4: Obligation to Maintain: No one has a natural or intrinsic right to waste, harm, destroy, pollute, or degrade a Natural Resource. A right to use carries with it the responsibility to maintain.
Article 5: Obligation of Ownership: Owners of Natural Resources shall behave as stewards, now and into the indefinite future. The freedom to own Natural Resources carries with it the responsibility to serve people’s needs for them.
Article 5a: Trusteeship: Governments and public agencies may serve as trustees of Natural Resources on behalf of citizens, for the purposes of stewardship as described herein.
Article 5b: The stewardship obligations so entrusted, shall be initiated and maintained in a democratic manner, and consistent with established norms of ownership and responsibility.
Article 6: Sovereignty shall be respected; it is to be understood as a stewardship responsibility for Natural Resources lying within a political jurisdiction.
Article 7: Time and space scales of a Natural Resource are to be explicitly recognized by all concerned with resource use, ownership, or governance. These scales do not obey political or economic jurisdictions per se and must be respected.
Article 8: Fugitive resources move by nature across political, legal and economic boundaries, necessitating cooperative governance. Property rights and political sovereignty must recognize these natural motions and the overlapping authority implied and required.
Article 9: Ability of persons to form collective governance of Natural Resources, by mutual consent, shall not be inhibited, nor shall it be required except through democratic action consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related Covenants. In forming collective governance mechanisms, due respect for the primacy of property rights, national sovereignty, and international law will be exercised, subject to the joint responsibility for Natural Resource stewardship.
Article 10: Cumulative effects of separate actions that have aggregate or synergistic effects on Natural Resources, shall be recognized and accounted for collaboratively among owners, beneficiaries, and governance bodies.
Article 11: Habitat for living resources shall be safeguarded against degradation or destruction from individual or collective action or inaction.
Article 12: Natural conduits that distribute Resources shall be safeguarded against degradation or destruction from individual or collective action or inaction.
Article 13: Extinction of living Resources, by individual or collective action or inaction, removes future human opportunity; it is to be avoided.
Article 14: Uncertainty and error shall be treated conservatively, that is, with a preferential option for conserving future opportunity.
Article 15: Substitution: In the case of non-renewable resources, the justification for irreversible use is to be found in the adequacy and sustainability of the substitute.
Article 16: Rent: When Resources are exchanged economically, the rent shall be captured on behalf of the original owners and treated as a sustainable substitute for Resource depletion.
Article 17: Protection: Resources that grow more slowly than the financial interest rate, are especially vulnerable to being “mined” as nonrenewable resources. Special protection from simple economic action is required if extinction is to be avoided.
Article 18: Implementation: Everyone has a responsibility to seek ways of implementing the above responsibilities within human institutions, and to seek new institutional expressions of them, consistent with all extant Human Rights instruments.
Article 19: Nothing in this declaration shall be interpreted as elevating Natural Resources above Human Rights. They are subservient to Human Rights and that is the sole justification for stewardship responsibilities described herein.