The Rights of Nature

The Rights of Nature

By Nature's rights

It’s hard to be immune to the natural beauty in Antigua, Guatemala, where I spent several days at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference, “Women Redefining Democracy.” Morning and evening, the hills are shrouded in a light mist. By midday the sun is bright and the colors in the flowers and the vines shimmer. A number of rainbow-colored parrots sit and squawk on umbrella-covered perches on one of the terraces. Presumably, their wings have been clipped to keep them from flying away. Perhaps that’s why they were vocal this afternoon, during a lunch discussion led by Natalia Greene from the Pachamama Alliance on the new Ecuadorian constitution. It’s the first in the world to recognize that “la naturaleza tambien tiene derechos”‘that nature has rights. In replacing one rooted in exploitation and colonialism, the new constitution is a governance document more suited to the 21st century.

Natalia brandished a copy, a compact book about the thickness of a mobile phone manual. The constitution also includes several progressive provisions on gender equality and indigenous peoples. As a direct result, a new initiative, called Yasuni ITT, is seeking funds to keep 20% of Ecuador’s oil in the ground (and avoid the greenhouse gas emissions as oil is extracted and used).

Indigenous peoples participated in drafting the constitution, bringing their cosmo-vision to a national document. We’ve heard from several of the Guatemalan women at the conference, including Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, that humanity, in defining nature as “the other” providing a legal and judicial basis for its exploitation. The climate crisis, water crisis, forest crisis, land crisis and food crisis and equity crisis (to name just a few) all are the result of this worldview. What’s needed, the women have said, is to acknowledge interdependence, and grant other species and natural systems rights, too. The new constitution in Ecuador, agreed in 2008, is already being discussed as a model for the Andean region, as well as further afield.

Natalia admitted that its implementation isn’t fully clear. But the impacts could be immense. So are the possibilities, for preventing ecological destruction instead of mitigating it once it’s been done. It’s radical in the original meaning of the word’striking at the root. For instance, Ecuadoreans can now can bring legal cases on behalf of the natural world. The parrots with their clipped wings may want to move, although how they’d get across the border without flying isn’t clear. Women, however, are flying out of Guatemala. Departures from the conference have already begun.