Imagine if there was a United Natures of all species! Bolivia was the first country to pass a resolution which put the issue of Mother Earth rights as an item on the UN agenda. The Framework Law on Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well, in effect since Oct. 15, 2012, outlines principles for making a shift from classic development models to an integral model “in harmony and balance with nature, recovering and strengthening local and ancestral knowledge and wisdom.” (1)
Bolivia’s proposal for Rights for Mother Earth is therefore about tackling these fundamental underlying issues. For centuries indigenous communities have warned that if human communities are to remain part of the Earth community they must behave as respectful members. We call our planet Pachamama, Mother Earth, because we know we cannot live without her. This understanding is supported not only by ancient spiritual traditions but also by contemporary science which continues to reveals the complex interdependence of life on earth. These perspectives are coming together in what is known as “Earth jurisprudence.”
Bolivia, Ecuador and other Latin American countries already have begun the process of defining such a development path. We use terms like “living well” to describe a way of life that seeks not to live “better” and at the cost of others and nature, but in harmony with all. The struggles of indigenous people and social movements in Latin America have enabled this perspective to be enshrined in the Bolivian and Ecuadorian constitutions.
So what would rights for nature look like?
One of the most important implications is that it would enable legal systems to maintain vital ecological balances by balancing human rights against the rights of other members of the Earth community. Presently many environmentally harmful human activities are completely lawful. Most legal systems define everything, that is not a human being or a corporation, as property. Just as slave laws, which turned humans into property, entrenched an exploitative relationship between the two, our legal systems have entrenched an exploitative and inherently damaging relationship between ourselves and Earth. Even most environmental laws do little more than regulate the rate at which environmental destruction may take place.
If legal systems recognized the rights of other-than-human beings (e.g. mountains, rivers, forests and animals), courts and tribunals could deal with the fundamental issues of environmental contamination rather than being bogged down in the technical details of permitted pollutants and emissions. For example, a rights-based approach could evaluate whether the rights of humans to clear tropical forests for beef ranching should trump the right of species in those forests to continue to exist. Instead of devising ever more complex schemes to authorize environmental damage and to trade in the right to pollute, we would focus on how best to maintain the quality of the relationship between ourselves and Earth.
In 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed, it was a declaration of hope into a post-war world. It had no legal basis as a document. Sixty years on the declaration has been incorporated into the laws of many countries and been the basis for the International Criminal Court. Facing a crisis far worse than any world war, might it not be time for humanity to launch a new declaration, one that defends our planet and its biodiversity from ever-continuing extinction? (2)
The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth
Presented by Bolivia for UN recognition outlines some of the fundamental rights earth.
(1) Mother Earth is a living being.
(2) Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.
(3) Each being is defined by its relationships as an integral part of Mother Earth.
(4) The inherent rights of Mother Earth are inalienable in that they arise from the same source as existence.
(5) Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.
(6) Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.
(7) The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.
The United Natures Movie
Film director Peter Charles Downey has explored beautifully in his documentary United Natures some of these themes, ideas and philosophies. United Natures delves deeper into the philosophy of permaculture and the Gaia theory and the human role within nature. Seeding the vision of a new indigenous world culture and exploring “permaculture of the inner landscape” and how our personal inner environments reflect on the outer environment. United Natures delivers an understanding that a consciousness shift is what is needed as much as a change of law, industrial practices and societal excesses. The other vital topic explored in the film is the renewed consciousness of earth rights. United Natures is also very much a self-reflective “green film” with explorations into the hypocrite and Eco-dictatorship accusations that are often levelled at environmentalists.
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