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Not for Sale: Why We Can't Save the Planet By Putting a Price on Nature

The people of the world must take concerted action to initiate a new framework that begins with the recognition that nature is sacred and not for sale.
 
 
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This article is excerpted from the report "Rights of Nature: Planting the Seeds of Real Change" published by Global Exchange (June, 2012). Reproduced by permission only.


The topic of the green economy and sustainability demonstrates the differences between the money-centered Western views and indigenous life-centered worldview of our relationship to the sacredness of the female creative principles of Mother Earth. Many of our Indigenous peoples around the world are deeply concerned that the economic globalization model treats Mother Earth, nature, as a resource for the marketplace to own, privatize and exploit for maximized financial return. This development model displaces Indigenous peoples from their lands, cultures and spiritual relationship to Mother Earth, as well as destroys the life-sustaining capacity of nature and the ecosystem.

The green economy is nothing more than capitalism of nature. The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which is promoting a green economy, is the next step in the evolution of capitalism. The goal is to implement an alternative to global regimes cashing in on creation by privatizing, commodifying and selling off all forms of life - including air, water and genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and even indigenous traditional knowledge.

The green economy is the mechanism for new ways to sell nature, including UN and World Bank initiatives such as REDD-plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), the Clean Development Mechanism, carbon trading, PES (Payments for Environmental Services), the International Regime on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing, patents on life, TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), natural capital, green bonds and species banking. This economic system greenwashes environmentally and socially devastating, extractive industries like logging, mining and oil drilling, and promotes them as "sustainable development."

REDD-plus is a false solution to climate change promoted by the UN, the World Bank and climate corporate criminals, such as Shell, that allow polluters to expand fossil fuel development and not reduce their emissions at source. REDD-plus is a pillar of the global agenda for the privatization and financialization of nature, and constitutes a worldwide land grab and carbon offset scam.

Indigenous peoples from every region of the world inhabit and care for the last remaining sustainable ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots in the world. One example of unsustainable development is the destructive mineral extraction industries continuing to encroach onto Indigenous peoples' traditional territories. Unconventional oil and natural gas development into these areas is increasing despite the urgency for the world to move away from a fossil fuel economy. This extreme energy development based on the combustion of fossil fuels is causing climate chaos that directly affects the well being of Indigenous peoples from the North to the Global South.

As Indigenous peoples of the North, our reality is we live in the belly of the beast. The United States consumes one-third of the natural wealth of our sacred Mother Earth, including the oceans. This level of overconsumption feeds the addictive appetite of the United States, and its industrialized society causes continued intrusions and invasions into other peoples' territories, including indigenous homelands. The current national and global economic system with its global corporations, financial institutions and governmental bureaucracies, cannot survive without an ever-increasing supply of "natural resources": forests, industrial agriculture, minerals, coal, uranium, oil and natural gas, fish, wildlife, water and more land. A human society based upon endless conquest and expropriation of the sacredness of Mother Earth is not only unsustainable, but it is impossible.

The dominant societies' economic paradigm, at all levels, places rapid economic growth, the quest for individual and corporate accumulation of wealth, and a race to exploit natural resources, as its foundation. This economic system disregards the finite limits of Mother Earth, in terms of natural resource availability, consumption, waste generation and absorption.

With some indigenous communities it is difficult and sometimes impossible to reconcile traditional spiritual beliefs with the participation in climate mitigation that commodifies the sacredness of air (carbon), trees, biodiversity, soils and life. Climate change mitigation and adaptation must be based on different mindsets with full respect for nature - on the rights of Mother Earth - and not solely on market-based mechanisms.

Indigenous peoples can contribute substantially to sustainable development within a holistic framework. With the knowledge that development that violates human rights is by definition unsustainable, Rio+20 must affirm a human rights-based approach to sustainable development. In particular, by affirming that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must serve as a key framework underpinning all international, national and sub-national policies and programs on sustainable development with regard to Indigenous peoples.

Full recognition of land tenure of our place-based Indigenous communities is the most effective measure for protecting the rich biological and cultural diversity of the world. Strengthening international, national and sub-national frameworks for collectively demarcating and titling Indigenous peoples' territories and land has proven to be one of the most effective measures for reducing deforestation, protecting the environment from unsustainable mineral extraction, conserving and restoring biodiversity, and preserving a better world for future generations.

A body of law must be developed that recognizes the inherent rights of the ecosystems of Mother Earth and enables indigenous and non-indigenous communities to act as protectors of those ecosystems. Colonial Western law limits nature as mere property or "resources" to be exploited. For the sake of the future generation of humanity and for the world as we know her to survive, there must be a new paradigm enforced by law that redefines humanity's governance relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth and the natural world. This includes the integration of the human-rights based approach, ecosystem approach and culturally-sensitive and knowledge-based approaches. The world must forge a new economic system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. We can only achieve balance with nature if there is equity among us.

At Rio+20, governments of the world and civil society must reject any green economy agenda that promotes the commodification and financialization of nature. The people of the world must take concerted action to initiate a new framework that begins with recognition that nature is sacred and not for sale, and that the ecosystems of our Mother Earth have jurisprudence for conservation and protection.

There is a need for this new paradigm in this world. This paradigm requires a change in the human relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one that recognizes its relationship to the sacredness of our true mother - Mother Earth.


Tom B.K. Goldtooth is the Executive Director of The Indigenous Environmental Network, a network of indigenous communities worldwide. He is a leader of environmental and climate justice issues and the rights of Indigenous peoples. He is co-producer of an award-winning documentary Drumbeat For Mother Earth, which addresses the effects of bio-accumulative chemicals on indigenous communities.
 
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