Vision: Nature Needs Rights -- Why Our Human-Centric Model Will Doom Us and the Rest of the Planet
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Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the recently released book, The Rights of Nature: The case for a Universal Declaration on the rights of Mother Earth , produced by the Council of Canadians, Global Exchange and Fundacion Pachamama. This book reveals the path of a movement driving transformation of our human relationship with nature away from domination and towards balance. This book gathers the wisdom of indigenous cultures, scientists, activists small farmers, spiritual leaders and US communities who seek a different path for protecting nature by establishing Nature's Rights in law and culture. In addition to this excerpt, the book includes essays from Vandana Shiva, Desmond Tutu, Thomas Goldtooth, Eduardo Galeano, and many others. Copies of the book may be obtained through Global Exchange.
The world needs the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and all humans need to internalize its key principles if the planet, and we, are to survive.
While it is true that many people still live on the land in harmony with the natural cycles of Nature, it is also true that with every passing year, more and more people around the world are moving into the "modern" consumer economy, seeking out a living based on capital exchange and no longer living in sustainable communities and traditional societies. In 2008, the number of city dwellers equalled the number of rural dwellers for the first time in history. By 2030, says the United Nations (UN), more than half the population of the large urban centres in the Global South will be slum dwellers with no access to sanitation. There is a huge scramble by the private companies of the Global North to convert the lands they leave behind into free trade zones to serve a global economy based on the doctrine of economic globalization, unregulated markets, more and cheaper consumer goods and unlimited growth.
Unlimited growth assumes unlimited resources and this is the genesis of the crisis. From fish in the sea, and old growth forests and wetlands, to oil, clean air and water, we are plundering our planet's natural resources. Quite simply, to feed the increasing demands of our consumer-based capitalist system, humans have seen nature as a great resource for our personal convenience and profit, not as a living ecosystem from which all life springs. So we have built our economic and development policies based on a human-centric model and assumed either that nature would never fail to provide or that, where it does fail, technology will save the day.
Even when we recognize the effect of our behavior on the natural world, we pass inadequate laws based on curbing the worst practices, but leave intact the system of economic globalization at the heart of the problem, which gives transnational corporations almost unfettered and unregulated access to the genetic, mineral, timber and water resources of even the most remote parts of the Earth. Thomas Linzey, a U.S. lawyer working to develop the new legal framework to protect Nature, explains that the dominant form of environmental protection in industrialized countries is based on the regulatory system, legalizing the discharge of large amounts of toxic substances into the environment, and is not working. Under a new regime recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth, compensation would not be measured in terms of an injury to people, but according to damage to the ecosystem.
In the absence of such fundamental protections for Nature, political leaders and their big business advisors continue, for instance, to promote international trade and investment agreements that not only limit the ability of domestic governments to protect the natural world for fear such protection may be seen as a "trade barrier," but also award the trade in "green" technology that will be needed to clean up the ecosystems we refuse to protect. If the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth were firmly entrenched in international jurisprudence, nation-state constitutions, and the hearts and minds of decision-makers, trade agreements would be very different than they are today and would be built around the need for more local sustainable systems of food and industrial production, and the protection of natural ecosystems.