Anne van Leeuwen, co-founder of the Embassy of the North Sea, pronounced this speech during the Human Rights Weekend @DeBalie, Amsterdam:
Dear representatives of mankind,
As the North Sea, I ask you: is there a future for us? In our relationship, I was the onebeing polluted and overfished; my temperature is rising and your ships invade my personal space. So I: where do I fit in this equation?
For a long time people thought they were the only players on Earth. They thought they were the only actors against a passive stage of things. But in our times, the Anthropocene – ironically called the ‘human era’ – this very background of things has tellingly come to life itself.
Icebergs threaten our shores, water decides upon our future and phytoplankton might let us choke on it. Humans have literally crept under the skin of the Earth, with CO2 peaks and plastics in its Earth layers; while plastics return to us in the fish we eat and the water we drink.
Humans and non-humans have become entangled to a point of no discern. Where in climate change does the human end and the non-human begin? In the Anthropocene we suddenly find ourselves on the same stage with so many non-human agents that question us with their interactions. That force us to self-reflect.
What is a human being in the Anthropocene? What are the boundaries of an individual or a self? Do I not breathe phytoplankton, do I not require foreign mitochondria in my cells, do I not need microbes to process food? Am I not dependent upon countless non-humans to simply subsist?
In the Anthropocene, we can no longer reduce an individual to a body. Individuals are not ‘distinct in needs, goals, rights and responsibilities.’ Our ecological footprint shows as no other that we have become ‘entangled beings.’
This is why the Embassy of the North Sea pleads for human rights that are no longer about humans only. Our rights should be entangled with the rights of air, water, soil and resilience. With climate and biodiversity.
Humans are then also recognised as the rich network of relationships that they are. In very rare cases this entanglement has already been recognised. In 2017 the Wanghanui river in New Sealand got its own rights, as a legal person. After a legal battle for many years, the Māori got recognition for their perspective on this river, as their ancestor and their equal.
In fact the Māori could only start a case by stating that ‘they are the river’. As a result the river became a living entity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. It became an‘indivisible whole’.
In the Anthropocene, the ‘indivisible individual,’ as a fundamental entity in human rights, gets a new meaning. As climate change demonstrates, if we want to subsist, we need to understand that non-humans make up an indispensable part of our livelihoods.
The Embassy of the North Sea strives for such emancipation of non-humans: to see phytoplankton, gas fields and bacteria as full-fledged members of society. What are the interests of harbour porpoises? What does a hermit crab consider its territory? And how does water see the future? The Embassy researches such interests through art, science and experience.
In 2019 we will be listening to the North Sea. We will use hydrophones and underwater noise data, but will also inventorise the scents of the sea, the sounds of the sea and the many telling stories that the sea holds. The Embassy of the North Sea attempts to build a more inclusive political system with collectives of humans and non-humans.
Which things and beings share the same territory or interests, whether they like it or not, and how could they find ways of living together in the long-term? When engaging in such inquiries and conversations, self-reflection is inevitable. Suddenly you become aware of all these different perspectives and how they form us and the world we live in. We see self-reflection as the starting point for an improved relationship between people and the North Sea. When people engage through non-humans in conversation with themselves, humanity, citizenship and democracy can receive a substantial new impulse.
This gives the North Sea political perspective > in that the Nation States’ Declaration of Independence might one day became one of Interdependence. We hope to radically renew democracy through inclusivity. By multiplying the amount of voices, we might find a politics that can deal with our ecological situation of being. We believe the more diverse the higher the resilience. If you accept our political invitation, we will all benefit from it. We are very much looking forward to a long-term political cooperation with you. Of course our conversation will often be rough and tough. Outside the Parliament we will eat and be eaten. But within it, there are enough shared interests to talk about.
We feel positive. Your consciousness is growing. As a human you are a powerful and lively being. You can read DNA. Decipher the language of prairie dogs. You can write novels, love, choose, hesitate. Use those talents. Dream and think about your role in the world.
Finally, realise that the distinction between nature and culture is a human illusion. You have the deep history of the Earth at your side! You were, in your earliest youth, minerals, lava and rocks.
And deep down you came forth from the sea.You are the rocks dancing! You are the whirling sea,And you are much bigger, deeper, generous and worthy than you might think!
We see a bright future ahead of us and are looking forward to negotiate with you! Many thanks for your human ear. In hope of a humane response!
Anne van Leeuwen