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Young paddlers

Former U.S. Senator and environmental educator. Wayne Gilchrest leads students on a fieldtrip on Maryland’s Turners Creek.



I am an outdoor education teacher in Kent County. My teaching is about the human effort that can be made to live in harmony and respect the natural order of the world so that it remains sustainable, healthy, and just for all living things.

Over the course eons, our planet transformed from a hot, molten cauldron to cold rocks, to weathered earth, to oceans and to bacteria to become what we know today. Life is possible and sustainable because of the interaction between the sun and geologic forces and elements water, soil, fire, and soil.

Understanding and preserving the ways of nature is the first step to caring for ourselves and each other. As peace advocate and long-term friend Saturday ReviewNorman Cousins, editor wrote: Knowledge is the remedy for danger. The knowledge we need now is that the sun shines upon everything, the rain falls equally on the rich and poor, and the wind blows through both Black and White neighborhoods. The viruses that have evolved over time don’t recognize skin color or political views.

Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad star, was a fugitive who was denied citizenship due to her skin color. However, she believed in the grace and beauty of the natural world. She believed in the equal rights of all people to fully express their human dignity. This can’t be achieved in a degraded world. These truths are still held by the nation as a self-evident fact that all men were created equal. They are endowed by their creators with certain unalienable Rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness.

These inalienable rights, especially to life, cannot be fulfilled in an environment that poisons some more than others. Simply put, the human rights to a reasonably benign environment must be protected constitutionally, at least at the state and if not federal levels.

According to environmental rights advocates at the moment, only four states have green amends in their constitutions strong enough to limit industrial pollution. They are Hawaii, Montana, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Maryland needs the same. The Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights is leading the charge. Weve been trying to make it happen since 2019. To amend Maryland’s constitution, it requires a three-fifths vote at the legislature and a simple majority vote at a statewide referendum. Three consecutive sessions of the General Assembly have seen bills to amend Maryland’s constitution to allow for an environmental rights amendment, and to authorize a referendum fail to make it to committee. Bay Journal: Green Amendment proposals rise after PA court victories July/August 2021).

Del. Wanika Fisher, who represents Maryland’s District 47B in Prince Georges County plans to introduce a green amend bill for the 2022 session. Bay Journal article. Is the fourth time a charm? We may not be able to rely on luck, but we don’t have to. We can reach out and tell our state senators or delegates that we support the Constitution.

Consider a clean, livable environment a fundamental human right.

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It means drinking water free from lead and chemicals for life. It does not mean that you cannot live near a Superfund site. It means that your car’s windows and lungs are free from coal dust from an electric power plant. There is no mercury in fish. Microplastics are safe to breathe in and eat. No climate change.

The list is endless. Even daunting. We are all in this together. What affects one neighborhood will impact all neighborhoods.

Indifference and ignorance are no longer acceptable excuses. While we humans are an integral part of nature, we have also become a global pollutant, causing chaos and despair. This is especially troubling for the young, who feel betrayed and fear for their future. Our behavior is disrupting the beautiful symmetry that is nature’s regenerative process. We can fix it. It is possible to make it a matter law that individuals, companies, and governments cannot poison the environment or deprive people their right of health and life.

Living in accordance with nature’s principles means that we must create a world that is regenerative and provides every generation with the same opportunities as the previous generations. And, hopefully, more. We can do this by recommitting to living within Earth’s planetary boundaries. This will ensure that everyone has the right to a healthy and safe environment. We can do this by incorporating an Environmental Human Rights Amendment to Maryland’s Constitution.

Harriet Tubman’s version of reaching the pinnacle symmetry: Justice For All.

Wayne Gilchrest is a nature educator and former U.S. congressman, representing Maryland’s 1st District. The Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights has more information about the effort to create an Environmental Human Rights Amendment. mdehr.org.

The opinions expressed by opinion columnists do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

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