Environmental Personhood

Laguna de Cuicocha, Imbabura, Ecuador
Laguna de Cuicocha, Imbabura, Ecuador
By sara y tzunky on Flickr under noncommercial use Creative Commons

Author’s note: I inadvertently left this chapter and a few others out of Namaste: If Not Now, When? and have decided to include them. The previous chapters in the book can be accessed here in my diaries or at my blog.

Ecuador is a democratic republic situated on the west coast of South America. Small and wedge-shaped, it straddles the equator bordering Colombia to the north and Peru to the south. Ecuador also owns the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean 620 miles west of Guayaquil, the nation’s largest coastal city and port. The Andes mountain range traverses the middle of the country from north to south separating it into three distinct regions: coastal plain, highlands, and Amazonian jungle.

Quito, the capitol, is in the highlands at an altitude of 10,000 feet and even though it is less than ten kilometers south of the equator, the weather year round is mild with daytime temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s and nighttime temperatures in the 40s and low 50s.

I lived in Quito when I was in 6th and 7th grade; my father was a Foreign Service Officer employed by the United States Department of State. I remember Quito very well. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I hope to return there someday.

In September 2008, the citizens of Ecuador went to the polls and rocked the world approving a new constitution, the first in world history to recognize that Pachamama, or Nature is not a thing to own and exploit at will. The Constitution recognizes that she has the inalienable right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate her vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. The Constitution provides,

Rights for Nature

Article 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Article 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation of non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Article 3. The State will motivate natural and judicial persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Article 4. The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Article 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

Ecuador’s new constitution also created an independent federal human-rights ombudsperson who can only be removed by the legislature for cause — not for political reasons. The position is called the Public Defender, a person who serves a five-year term that may be renewed once and, although the office has no prosecutorial powers, the constitution grants it the power to investigate and expose all human-rights crimes, whether committed by the government or by others.

Native and maternal traditions have long recognized that the Earth is our mother. The ancient Greeks did too and they named her spirit Gaia, goddess of the primordial Earth. In the 1960s while he was employed by NASA and working on methods to detect life on Mars, James Lovelock developed the Gaia hypothesis, which proposes that living and non-living parts of the earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.

Gaia is the fabled Garden of Eden and in the spirit of Ubuntu, we are diminished whenever one of us diminishes her.

Not long after Ecuador officially granted Gaia environmental personhood, the RATS on the United States Supreme Court (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, plus Kennedy the swing man) legitimized raping Gaia for profit and killed our democracy in the Citizens United case when they held that corporations are persons with First Amendment rights to buy elections.

Two decisions, one in Ecuador and one in the United States illustrate two societies headed in opposite directions. We must find a way to reverse course. Our survival and Gaia’s survival depend on it.

The banksters and their neoliberal criminal class will reduce our Garden of Eden to a lifeless cinder circling the Sun, if we fail.

Photograph of the Tree That Owns Itself taken by Bloodofox of the Wikipedia Research Project in 2005 and posted in the Wikipedia Commons, released without restriction. Special thanks to thatvisionthing (see comment below) for providing a link to the story about the tree in Wikipedia.

Cross Posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

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