From the U.K.’s excellent paper The Guardian, April 11, 2011:
Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.
The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.
“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”
My friend Jon Berger pointed out that this is not a completely revolutionary idea. “Way back in the early 70’s,” he said, “a law prof named Christopher Stone published a completely serious and non-ironic article called “Should Trees Have Standing?,” which proposed that natural features like trees should have legal rights just like people do.” (Read it here on Harvard University’s pdf.)
I used to teach from this very article, including it amongst other provocative readings in environmental philosophy for my ecopsychology courses. But it’s a long haul from theory to actual practice (and not only by a small pocket area but by a whole country), particularly when the basic idea behind it is generally seen as so outlandish as to be laughable. Seeing such theoretical musings now put into actual practice is a big, wonderful shift. (And seeing it put into practice here in the heart of capitalist greed would be revolutionary.)
It remains how effective this law will actually be in halting the polluting and otherwise damaging actions of industries. After all, Ecuador changed its constitution to recognize rights of the more-than-human world, but this has not stopped the oil companies’ destructive activities in the Amazon rainforests.
But Bolivia is fortunate to have a VP like Linera, an intellectual, mathematician and ex-armed rebel who, according to Indymedia Ireland, defines himself as “the bridge between [supporters of] indigenous and the middle classes.”
In his eclectic combination, I hear echoes of another great Latin American scientist-cum-change agent, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Following one’s eclectic interests needn’t mean mere dilettantism; followed with passion and persistence, they can lead to some amazing new perspectives. As issues get viewed across disciplines, a giddy freedom of thought can emerge. As Robert Heinlein said, “specialization is for insects.”
But I digress.
Both Guevara and Linera seem to be guided by deep caring. As Che once observed, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”
This act, attempting – and succeeding! – at passing the Law of Mother Earth, certainly qualifies. The Bolivian government is reportedly committed to a strong conservation movement against pollution and other exploitative, extractive activities, conferring the power to monitor and control the activities of industry, including at local community levels. How moving and fitting that these changes are based on their indigenous idea of Pachamama, recognizing that this ancient wisdom, if acted upon, provides a clear path toward future survival.
Such a governmental commitment to nature’s basic rights means much greater leverage for achieving the kind of structural changes necessary for the future health of the land and all of the peoples that dwell there.
As if that weren’t enough, the new law also restores power and dignity to the area’s indigenous population. Foreign minister David Choquehuanca commented, “We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.”