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“Usufruct is the legal right to use and derive profit or benefit from property that belongs to another person, as long as the property is not damaged. In many legal systems of property, buyers of property may only purchase the usufruct of the property.” (Wikipedia)

The Real Deal: Usufruct & the Gorilla, by James Hanson, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies was published on August 16. The following is an excerpt.

Fox, Washington Times, and their like have gone bananas over a flaw discovered in the computer program that produces global temperatures at GISS each month. They have even managed to get Congress and NASA Headquarters involved. Now we know what mom meant when she said “don’t make a federal case out of it.” Hey, what is really going on here? ….

What we have here is a case of dogged contrarians who present results in ways intended to deceive the public into believing that the changes have greater significance than reality. They aim to make a mountain out of a mole hill. I believe that these people are not stupid, instead they seek to create a brouhaha and muddy the waters in the climate change story. They seem to know exactly what they are doing and believe they can get away with it, because the public does not have the time, inclination, and training to discern what is a significant change with regard to the global warming issue.

The proclamations of the contrarians are a deceit, but their story raises a more important matter, usufruct. It is the most important issue in the entire global warming story, in my opinion. ….

The deceit behind the attempts to discredit evidence of climate change reveals matters of importance. This deceit has a clear purpose: to confuse the public about the status of knowledge of global climate change, thus delaying effective action to mitigate climate change. The danger is that delay will cause tipping points to be passed, such that large climate impacts become inevitable, including the loss of all Arctic sea ice, destabilization of the West Antarctic ice sheet with disastrous sea level rise later this century, and extermination of a large fraction of animal and plant species (see “Dangerous”, “Trace Gases”, and “Gorilla” papers).

Make no doubt, however, if tipping points are passed, if we, in effect, destroy Creation, passing on to our children, grandchildren, and the unborn a situation out of their control, the contrarians who work to deny and confuse will not be the principal culprits. The contrarians will be remembered as court jesters. There is no point to joust with court jesters. They will always be present. They will continue to entertain even if the Titanic begins to take on water. Their role and consequence is only as a diversion from what is important.

The real deal is this: the ‘royalty’ controlling the court, the ones with the power, the ones with the ability to make a difference, with the ability to change our course, the ones who will live in infamy if we pass the tipping points, are the captains of industry, CEOs in fossil fuel companies such as EXXON/Mobil, automobile manufacturers, utilities, all of the leaders who have placed short-term profit above the fate of the planet and the well-being of our children. The court jesters are their jesters, occasionally paid for services, and more substantively supported by the captains’ disinformation campaigns.

Court jesters serve as a distraction, a distraction from usufruct. Usufruct is the matter that the captains wish to deny, the matter that they do not want their children to know about. They realize that if there is no ‘gorilla’, then usufruct is not an important issue for them. So, with the help of jesters, they deny the existence of the gorilla. There is no danger of melting the Arctic, of destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet, of increasing hydrologic extremes, more droughts and stronger forest fires on one hand and heavier downpours and floods on the other, threats to the fresh water supplies of huge numbers of people in different parts of the globe. “Whew! It is lucky that, as our jesters show, these are just imaginary concerns. We captains of industry can continue with business-as-usual, we do not need to face the tough problem of how to maintain profits without destroying our legacy in our children’s eyes.”

Usufruct is as American as the Declaration of Independence, implicit in the Preamble “…to ourselves and our Posterity…”. It is explicitly discussed in a famous letter of 6 September 1789 from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, discussing the proposed Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution:

“The question whether one generation of men has a right to bind another. . . is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government. … I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, ‘that the Earth belongs in usufruct to the living’ …”

Jefferson’s philosophy regarding generational relations was based on this “self-evident” principle. That we have an obligation to preserve Creation for today’s and future generations is a widely held belief. Native American Oren Lyons, a Faithkeeper in the Onondaga Nation, discusses the belief of Native Americans in their obligations to the “seventh generation”. It is also a biblical paradigm that the Earth, Creation, is an intergenerational commons, the fruits and benefits of which should be accessible to every member of every generation.