OK, so you think $700 billion is a lot to stem (rescue or bailout) the financial crisis, an infusion of cash that may not even stop the stock slide. How about $2 to $5 trillion. No, that’s not a stock market number, but a nature number. It’s the price put on the loss to the global economy each year from the loss of the world’s forests. Forests, of course, provide a range of “services”, among them sequestering carbon dioxide (slowing global warming) and protecting soil fertility — not to mention providing homes for millions of species, including us. Ecuador seems to have gotten the message: nature matters. Its government, though, isn’t seeking to put a price on nature, but to extend rights to it.
This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls to vote on a new constitution that would give binding legal rights to forests, islands, rivers, and even air. Opinion surveys show the referendum is supported by more than half of Ecuador’s people and should be enacted into law. It will be the first such statute enacted in a constitution in the world. So what will it mean? The possibilities are fascinating and compelling, but largely unknown. American environmental lawyer Thomas Linzey, who worked with Ecuador’s government to craft the constitution, says even he isn’t quite sure: “No one knows what will happen [if the referendum goes in favor of new rights for nature] because there are no examples of how this works in the real world…A lot of people will be watching what happens.”