Vision: Nature Needs Rights -- Why Our Human-Centric Model Will Doom Us and the Rest of the Planet
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An Earth-centred approach
The alternate, Earth-centred model promoted in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, would protect biological diversity as a global Commons and a strictly managed and more equitably shared public trust. The Commons approach is very old and based on the notion that common heritages, such as the atmosphere and oceans, freshwater and genetic diversity, cannot "belong" to anyone. In most traditional societies, it was assumed that what belonged to one belonged to all. Many indigenous societies to this day cannot conceive of denying a person or a family basic access to food, air, land, water and livelihood. Many modern societies extended the same concept of universal access to the notion of a social Commons, creating education, health care and social security for all members of the community.
At the same time, it is not a return to the notion that Nature's capacity to sustain our ways is unlimited and anyone can use whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. It is rooted rather in a sober and realistic assessment of the true damage that has already been unleashed on the world's biological heritage as well as in the knowledge that our ecosystems must be managed and shared in a way that protects them now and for all time. A central characteristic of a true Commons is its careful collaborative management by those who use it and allocation of access based on a set of priorities set by the community.
The Earth-centred model also goes beyond Commons law, which is usually interpreted to mean protecting the right of access by the public to certain natural Commons, such as parks and waterfronts, not the Commons itself. The quest is a body of law that recognizes the inherent rights of the environment, other species and water itself outside of their usefulness to humans. Already, some jurisdictions are beginning to enact laws to protect Earth democracy.
The Rights of Nature was the inspiration behind a 2006 ordinance in Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania that recognized natural ecosystems and natural communities within the borough as "legal persons" for the purposes of stopping the dumping of sewage sludge on wild land. Earth rights have been used throughout New England in a series of local ordinances to prevent bottled water companies from setting up shop in the area. Residents of Mount Shasta, California successfully campaigned to have an ordinance on a November 2010 election ballot to prevent cloud seeding and bulk water extraction within city limits. Undemocratically, the ballot question was pulled, though it has not deterred the community and their efforts continue for the 2011 election.
In 2006, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that protection of natural lakes and ponds is akin to honouring the right to life - the most fundamental right of all according to the Court. In 2008, Ecuador's citizens voted two-thirds in support of a new constitution that says, "Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights."
Bolivia has recently amended its constitution to enshrine the philosophy of "living well" as a means of expressing concern with the current model of development and signifying affinity with nature and the need for humans to recognize inherent rights of the Earth and other living beings. The government of Argentina recently moved to protect its glaciers by banning mining and oil drilling in ice zones. The law sets standards for protecting glaciers and surrounding ecosystems and creates penalties for harming the country's fresh water heritage.