Friday, April 22, 2011

Nature has Rights

This Earth Day you can read the proposed Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth at:

This declaration was adopted by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, in Bolivia on April 22, 2010.

Essentially the draft United Nations treaty gives "Mother Earth" the same rights as humans. Bolivia proposed this at the UN having passed a "Law of the Rights of Mother Earth", which Bolivian President Evo Morales enacted in January.

That document speaks about Bolivia's natural resources in reverent terms ("blessings") while granting the concept of "Earth" or perhaps Nature a series of specific rights analogous to people such as include rights to life, water and clean air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and the right to be free from pollution. The law established a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with Representation. That is, there is a Nature ombudsman whose job is to hear "nature's complaints" as voiced by activist, activist groups, and state organizations.

Pablo Salon, Bolivia's ambassador to the UN, describe it this way to Postmedia News.

"If you want to have balance, and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or companies, then how can you reach balance? But if you recognize that nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance."

Closer to us Canadian activist Maude Barlow who is former Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly and chairperson of the Council of Canadians. She is a leading contributor to The Rights of Nature and among global environmentalists backing the UN drive with a book (The Rights of Nature) the group will launch in New York during the UN debate o whether Nature Has Rights. Here is how she makes the argument:

"The case for acknowledging the Rights of Nature cannot be understated." Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now as we begin to understand the urgent need to protect the Earth and its ecosystems from which all life comes. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is a crucial link in this process and will one day stand as the companion to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the guiding covenants of our time. "

Of the campaign Barlow said:

"It's going to have huge resonance around the world," . "It's going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tar sands in Alberta."

You can see an interview with Barlow and others talking about this topic on this at


Gary Berg-Cross said...

This is a cross-post response to a later Posting about nature not having rights.

One point we might discuss is whether corporations have rights. Well they seem to have some legal status that has given them by fiat. As they say, a law can construct something out of nothing.

So we have this legal construction that' called corporate "personhood."

Yes, a corporation is no more a person than is Nature. It's a business system with component gaggles of investors' & their money which it uses to conduct transactions etc. and hopefully make a profit. People are involved. Bit people are in involved with the system of Nature. We just don't have it sign legal documents. Bit wait a minute a business can't either. It's a concept that has representatives that does things for it.
So a legal system COULD create some concept for Nature as a system with representatives and a way of keeping score. Or perhaps we might start with the rights of animals. Do animals have rights. Can we aggregate from there?

But mostly I take the Nature Rights effort to be one to put society's values and ecological approach in perspective. I like having someone standing up for our rivers.

lucette said...

Corporations and other kinds of businesses have rights and obligations. They are "born" and they "die". They are governed by laws. The shareholders have distinct rights(I took one semester of Business Law and Business Organizations at Georgetown.)
The Corporations were given the status of "person" through a clerical error by a clerk of the Supreme Court. The Justices, instead of correcting this error, decided that the Constitution Amendments applied to the Corporations-persons. This is why the Corporations can now exercise their free speech and give as much money as they like to our Representatives and Senators. We, the flesh persons can do the same.

I find the expression "Mother Nature" totally meaninbless and utterly funny. Only Plato could love that name. "Planet Earth" makes so much more sense. And it leaves the door open to the rights of the Black Holes, Asteroids, Neutron Stars, Supernovae, etc. (Just kidding.)

Gary Berg-Cross said...


Attacking supernova after all they have done for us!
After all where did all the heavy elements come from?

So it's fair that we should give those star stuff a few rights, don't you think?

Just kidding too. :-)

Don Wharton said...

I have a positive feeling about people caring about the "rights" of rivers. After all a river without pollution and lots of fish is certainly more attractive than the opposite. The concept requires that people think about the values that we have in relation to nature. My guess is that Gary and I would have a great degree of agreement when it come to the details of what we would prefer in societal decisions in relation to nature. It is just that as an intellectual construct it does not hang together in a way that that can be compared to other "rights" that people will imagine that we have. It is not linked to a coherent definition of what a right is and how we derive them. I prefer that we have a more robust theoretical perspective about the concept of rights.