The philosophers of the Enlightenment have made use of a simple but powerful rule.
“The more we are capable of using reason to understand the world and understand ourselves, the more we will be able to shape the history to our necessities. To control the future, we must free ourselves from the habits and prejudices of the past.”
After science has shown that what is at stake is not “saving the planet”, but rather maintaining a relatively favourable state for humans, we must change our basic viewpoint.. Our Common Home should not be considered the physical planet with 510 million square km2, but rather the specific favorable state of the Earth System, taking as a reference period the geological epoch of the last 11.700 years, the Holocene. The concept of the “Anthropocene” enables us to say that we are moving out of the Holocene and into a new successor epoch. In doing so, we are transitioning beyond the “Safe Operating Space” into a new and clearly unsafe space, where those vital functions and flows of matter and energy will shift sharply, with negative effects on the stability of the Holocene climate that has supported the development of our civilization so far. In other words we are moving to a state of the Earth System that does not serve as Our Common Home.
The possibility of maintaining "favorable conditions that resemble those of the Holocene" in the new Anthropocene epoch will depend on the self-organizing capacity and ongoing management of our activities. In this sense the new “Common Home” will not be the result of the natural evolution of the Earth System, but rather the result of our capacity to organize ourselves to reach the civilizational journey from Explorers and Exploiters... to Guardians and Managers. “The Common Home of Humanity” must be built on new social and legal architectures based on scientific understanding of the functioning of the Earth System.
The Common Home of Humanity is therefore a house yet to be built.
Due to the reductionist view that exclusively addresses nature as a territorial area or as a protected species, the intangible biogeophysical processes that determine the state and functioning of the Earth System remain invisible in our societies.
With observations of the anthropogenic changes to the state of the Earth System, we have become aware that through these highly vital functional flows of energy and matter, human beings and the rest of nature are integral, interconnected parts of a single global system. The Earth System is what unites us all. These global-scale human relationships resulting from the use of the Earth System as a whole transforms humanity into a great community built on a permanent relationship: all countries and human beings are part of the common system, and everyone through positive or negative impacts could contribute to pushing the Earth System out of the Safe Operating Space, or maintaining it within planetary boundaries.
These global-scale relationships are still unknown to our legal system, and thus humanity remains a disorganized community in terms of managing its relationship to the Earth System. As a consequence, our unregulated use of the Earth System is driving the System away from the “Common Home” state. The current trajectory of the Anthropocene is leading towards a destabilized climate, with global warming, sea-level rise, and all of the other consequences from a rapidly changing climate.
Many other significant changes also characterize the Anthropocene, such as widespread pollution and profound changes to the biosphere, its functioning and the survival of the species that inhabit it.
International Law is not equipped to address these systemic global changes that occur simultaneously inside and outside all sovereignties as both the benefits and harms to the state of the Earth System disappear in the current legal system: a legal black hole that considers Earth System processes as “externalities” in the globalized economic system. As such, to organize the required relationships, it’s first necessary to accept that our “Common Home” is defined by the favourable Holocene-Like conditions of the Earth System. If we agree on this, we have also to accept that our relations should be organized around the maintenaince of “Our Common Home”, i.e. around our use of the Earth System. Therefore, it is necessary for the Common Home of Humanity to exist in our legal system.
Among the existing legal instruments, the concept of the Common Heritage of Humankind is the one that best suits the characteristics of this truly universal good. In this sense we can argue that the state of the Earth System corresponding to the geological period of the Holocene defines the meaning of heritage as something we need to conserve in the interest of present and future generations. It enables the recognition of a new value to be legally protected as an international autonomous legal good.
Managing the Anthropocene means that this new Common Home will be an human-created Common Home, or a least, should be the result of our ongoing, permanent management of our use of the Earth System. The concept of a “Safe Operating Space” as “Our non-territorial Common Home” must be more than an idea – it must be institutionalized. To achieve this, we must combine the legal concept of heritage with the creation of an international authority with the appropriate competences, most importantly the establishment of a multilateral system of accountancy regarding the management of vastly different contributions to the maintenance (or degradation) of tour “intangible Common Home”. Such a framework could allow us to overcome the structural barriers that prevent global collective action.
Acknowledging that the regulation/organization of the use of any good requires as established definition and recognition of its existence and the belonging to some entity, our project aims to build a proposal for the recognition of this new heritage where all of humanity may find a locus for the foundation and representation of its global and intergenerational existence. Therefore, the construction of the Common Home of Humankind is a social construct, and as such it is above all a legal construction. Thus, by recognizing a specific state of the Earth System (i.e., a Holocene-like state, as defined by the planetary boundaries framework) as a Common Natural Intangible Heritage of Humankind, all positive and negative “externalities” can be included within the maintenance system of the Intangible Home of the Human Community.
A new international organization requires an approach that reflects the overlap of two realities, i.e. the sovereignties of individual nations and the functioning of the Earth System as a whole. To achieve this, a dualistic approach on a global scale becomes necessary to take into account not only the existing territorial divisions (where the global commons are only the “left-overs” from the existing areas of sovereignty) but also, in an overlapping manner, the functional elements responsible for the state of the Earth System. The legal model of a condominium would then be an appropriate legal representation of a reality in which there is a clear overlap and mix between the tangible and intangible dimensions of the Earth System. Legally it would be a juxtaposition between the tangible territorial areas of the Earth System under the sovereign jurisdiction of states, and the entire, holistic intangible structure that circulates through the atmosphere and oceans and moves through the biogeophysical flows that, together, determine the movement of energy and materials through the Earth System, and on which it is impossible to carry out any type of ownership or legal abstraction for division, and therefore is truly a common good.