“Western development has created a deathly wound to our Pachamama [Mother Earth] ” – David Choquehuanca, Bolivian minister of foreign affairs, 2009
Bolivia is at the forefront of a rare form of climate action. Under the non-conformist leadership of iconic leftist president Evo Morales, the nation has established 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.
The law, which is part of a comprehensive reforming of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been strongly influenced by a reviving indigenous Andean spiritual worldview which places the environment and the holy earth known as the Pachamama (Mother Earth) at the center of all life. In this worldview, humans are considered equal to all other entities in an all-encompassing natural totality. And Bolivia is not alone in this fight. Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, has changed its constitution to give nature “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”.
Yet skeptics have pointed out the futility of these laws considering both countries remain heavily dependent on nature-exploiting industries. Bolivia earns $500m a year from mining, an industry that provides nearly one third of the country’s foreign currency. Similarly, the laws in Ecuador have been criticized as abstract and powerless in stopping oil companies from annihilating some of the most biologically rich areas of the Amazon.
But is it fair to completely dismiss these efforts towards preserving and protecting nature? Even if these legal changes prove to be powerless in curbing exploitation and all that is left of them is their poetic appeal, are they not valuable in themselves? After all, these legal actions are indicative of a trend that involves entire societies rethinking their relationship to nature. Granted, as is so often the case with industrializing developing countries, Bolivia and Ecuador have withstood the demands of a cutthroat global economic system by mainly relying on natural exploits and exports. But choice is an important factor in this debate. In a global economy that has forced so many nations to betray their core beliefs, the people and governments of Bolivia and Ecuador have indicated that enough is enough. Rather than criticize these initiatives for their lack of realism, many developed nations would be better off advocating a similar worldview that dethrones man in favor of the Earth. If not for the sake of their own respective peoples, then at least for the sake of the Bolivians and Ecuatorians who so desperately seek consolidation between growth and development on the one hand and their core beliefs on the other.
Rights of Mother Earth
1. Mother Earth is a living being.
2. Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.
3. Each being is defined by its relationships as an integral part of Mother Earth.
4. The inherent rights of Mother Earth are inalienable in that they arise from the same source as existence.
5. Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.
6. Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.
7. The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.