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Climate Change & Environment

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Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change
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A report prepared for Rio+20 takes a look at the flaws behind the Green Economy agenda, and explores in depth the ways in which Rights of Nature can be applied as a legal framework to help solve many of the problems currently plaguing the environment. By Global Exchange.

Link to full report: Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change [pdf]

Blog: Global Exchange Brings Rights of Nature to the 2012 Earth Summit (Rio+20)

Executive summary

15th June 2012


Global Exchange Brings Rights of Nature to the 2012 Earth Summit (Rio+20)

7th June, 2012 - Posted by Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange (People to People Blog)

“There is no word for NATURE in my language. ‘Nature’ in English, seems to refer to that which is separate from human beings. It is a distinction we don’t recognize.”–Audrey Shenandoah, Clan Mother of the Onodaga Nation.

If you’re old enough to recall, think back to 1992: the year of the original Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Way back then—in the days before space-age smart-phones, when newspapers were delivered daily by a kid on a bike, and college tuition was within reach for the working class—the human race was concerned about what we were doing to the planet. The attention of a hopeful world was focused on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for a historic gathering of nations, tasked with developing solutions for the emerging crisis of climate change, environmental degradation and increasing poverty.

There, under the watchful gaze of Corcovado’s Cristo, the United Nations Earth Summit took place.  Leaders gathered in the spirit of international cooperation: promises were made, treaties and accords were signed, protocols were developed. The term “sustainable development” rang out as the mantra ushering in a new era for  “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Countries fell like dominos to the theory that a growing economy led by big business benefits the poor, and that once developed, countries could afford to protect the environment.

Students (like me) read about it in school, heaving a collegiate sigh of relief at a rather-unfathomable crisis averted, and took national pride in the leadership role we had played in such a monumental global undertaking.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  Commitments made at the Rio Earth Summit have long since been broken.  Turns out a “rising tide” absolutely does NOT lift all boats, and true environmental protection cannot be achieved alongside a corporate-led model of unlimited economic growth. As proof of that fact, we are rapidly approaching the tipping point—a 4º C rise in temperature, which will threaten everything we know about life on the only planet we call home.

Faith in the UN as a global “justice league” has all but been shattered.  Critiques range from calling out the UN as a flaccid institution to the more cynical view that it has been co-opted, branded and sponsored by corporations.

So why should we care about the Rio+20 (years) Earth Summit this June? 

For many activists currently packing their bags for Rio, the goal is to protest the “Green Economy”, the name given to the primary agenda for the Rio + 20 negotiators. What could be wrong with a Green Economy, you may ask? Haven’t environmental activists been promoting such a thing for years?

The Green Economy put forward by the United Nations Environment Program (nicknamed the “Greed Economy” by many) is about promoting the idea that we can only “save” nature by putting a price tag on what nature “does” for us. Proponents call it “ecosystem services” and from forests generating the air you breathe to the decomposition process resulting in the ground you walk upon, everything has its price, and corporations are wringing their hands with anticipation of what the Greed Economy could do for profit margins.

But the human connection to the rest of our living system is not contained in the calculation of the “flow of value to human societies.” Our Earth’s value is not merely that which serves people.  You cannot put a dollar value on what is truly lost when island nations like the Maldives succumb to the rising tides of climate change, or when the seas themselves are void of fish—both of which are projected to occur in the next 50-100 years.  So how is it possible to put a price on the system that governs all life, or break down an ecosystem into units of “service” and to what end?

Confronting the Greed Economy: The Rights of Nature goes to Rio

Those of us working on the rights-of-nature framework are seeking to reconnect humanity with the rest of species. We seek to change human law that can only “see” nature as a thing — separate and apart from us, property to be owned and destroyed at will. We seek to change the law because our own salvation can only come from a cultural mindset enforced by an earth jurisprudence that we are a part of nature.

Global Exchange and our partners at the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN), a growing network we co-founded, don’t believe putting a price on nature is the path to protecting nature, and in fact is a faster-track to privatizing and commodifying nature.  But we’re not showing up just to stand up for what we’re against, but to articulate what we’re for, and to build the movement for Rights for Nature. We’ll be blogging from Rio, convening strategy meetings with new allies, talking with media and unveiling our new report at a special panel and signing ceremony for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

Rights of Nature Speakers:

·Nnimmo Bassey – Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth, Nigeria

· Shannon Biggs – Global Exchange, USA

· Cormac Cullinan – EnAct International, South Africa

· Tom Goldtooth – Indigenous Environmental Network, USA

· Natalia Greene – Fundación Pachamama, Ecuador

· Osprey Orielle Lake – Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus

· Linda Sheehan – Earth Law Center, USA

· Dr. Vandana Shiva – Navdanya, India

· Pablo Solon – Focus on the Global South, Former Ambassador to the UN, Bolivia

The report directly confronts the notion of the Gree(d)n Economy of course, and is full of examples from around the world.  But it is also a call out about what a true rights of nature framework would offer the world—and includes examples and updates of the growth of this movement, and new laws taking hold. And lastly, the report asks: if nature had rights, how different would our organizing look around water, Tar Sands extraction and Indigenous rights? And what would the economy look like?  Contributors to the report include Dr. Vandana Shiva, Pablo Solon, Tom B.K. Goldtooth, Mari Margil and many others.

Link to original source


Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change - Executive Summary by Shannon Biggs

15th June 2012 - Published by Global Exchange

From the extraction of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the deforestation of the Amazon, to the impacts of climate change, the results of the market-based economic system are visible from space — transforming our communities and ecosystems into sacrifice zones for corporate profit. The reckless drive for unlimited growth on a finite planet is itself a legalized Ponzi scheme perpetrated on communities around the globe, future generations and Earth’s biosphere.

Rather than shifting course, the so-called Green Economy strategy unveiled at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development drives nature further into the global marketplace by defining an economic value on what the Earth “does” for humans, detachedly called “ecosystem services.” Proponents of this scheme of “commoditizing” soil, forests, and fresh water profess that by putting a price on the natural world, it can be ‘saved’.

Entire human societies have come to value “endless more” to the detriment of all, and that value has been codified into law. The destructive impulse of the free market is codified and empowered by le- gal structures that treat nature as human property. Yet the human connection to the rest of our living system is not contained in the calculation of the “flow of value to human societies,” and intensifying the same failed strategies that have driven us to the tipping point will never protect nature.

It is time for new thinking, new direction, and new actions

Living within the carrying capacity of the planet requires that we adhere to the natural laws governing all life and human wellbeing. The process of deprogramming societies and dispelling the arrogant belief that the earth “belongs” to humans will require fundamentally aligning economic and legal structures to exist within natural systems.

Rights of nature define legal rights for ecosystems “to exist, flourish and regenerate their natural capacities.” These laws challenge the status of nature as solely property and while not stopping development, recognizing legal rights of nature stops the kind of development that interferes with the existence and vitality of ecosystems. As David Korten notes, “A true ecological economics must begin not with the tools and system frame of economics, but rather with the tools and system frame of ecology. This suggests it must develop as a sub-discipline of ecology, not of economics.” In short, a rights-based economy begins with the biosphere.

This report, “Rights of Nature: Planting the Seeds of Change,” directly challenges Rio +20’s Green Economy capitalism and examines the power and possibility and logic of a rights-based framework. Visionary thinkers such as Maude Barlow, Vandana Shiva, Thomas B.K. Goldtooth, Pablo Solon, Cormac Cullinan, Mari Margil and others ask the question: What would it look like to truly take on the root causes of climate change and put forward a system that places humankind in living balance with the carrying capacity of the Earth’s systems? If we are to truly reconnect within the system of creation, we must also reawaken our own humanity and love for Mother Earth and act as if what we do next matters. It does.