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Earth Democracy and the Rights of Mother Earth

Tikkun Magazine, by Vandana Shiva, December 12, 2011

Vandana ShivaEarth Rights: A New Paradigm of Economic Nonviolence

We need a new paradigm for living on the earth because the old one is clearly not working. An alternative is now a survival imperative for the human species. We need an alternative not only at the level of tools, but also at the level of our worldview. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? Are we merely a money-making and resource guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end?

I believe we do have a higher end. I believe that we are members of the earth family – of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam. And as members of the earth family, our first and highest duty is to take care of Mother Earth: Prithvi, Gaia, Pachamama. And the better we take care of her, the more food, water, health, and wealth we have. “Earth rights” are first and foremost the rights of Mother Earth, and our corresponding duties and responsibilities to defend those rights. Earth rights are also the rights of humans as they flow from the rights of Mother Earth: the right to food and water, the right to health and a safe environment, and the right to the commons (the rivers, the seeds, the biodiversity, and the atmosphere).

I have given the name Earth Democracy to this new paradigm of living as an Earth Community, respecting rights of Mother Earth.

Earth Democracy enables us to envision and create living democracies. Living democracy enables democratic participation in all matters of life and death — the food we eat or lack; the water we drink or are denied due to privatization or pollution; the air we breathe or are poisoned by. Living democracies are based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures; a just and equal sharing of this earth’s vital resources; and sharing the decisions about the use of the earth’s resources.

Earth Democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that are the basis of the right to life, including the right to water, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to jobs and livelihoods. Earth Democracy is based on the recognition of and respect for the life of all species and all people.

Ahimsa (nonviolence) is the basis of many faiths that have emerged on Indian soil. Translated into economics, nonviolence implies that our systems of production, trade, and consumption do not use up the ecological space of other species and other people. Violence is the result when our dominant economic structures and economic organization usurp and enclose the ecological space of other species or other people.

According to an ancient Indian text, the Isho Upanishad:

The universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefits of [all] creation. Each individual life form must, therefore, learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relation with other species. Let not any one species encroach upon other rights. Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence. Non-sustainable consumption and non-sustainable production constitute a violent economic order.

In the Isho Upanishad it is also said:

A selfish man over utilizing the resources of nature to satisfy his own ever increasing needs is nothing but a thief, because using resources beyond one’s needs would result in the utilization of resources over which others have a right.

The rights of corporations extinguish the rights of the Earth and all her children, including humans. The economy as currently structured is centered on corporations and corporate profits. Corporate profits are based on destruction of the earth and dispossession and uprooting of people. The technological and economic systems that impoverish the earth also impoverish local communities.

The rights of the earth are ultimately intertwined with the rights of the people. The rights of corporations to appropriate or contaminate the earth’s resources undermine both the rights of the Mother Earth and the human rights of people to livelihoods and basic needs of food and water. That is why the rights of Mother Earth are the very basis of the human rights of people to land and natural resource, food and water, to livelihoods and basic needs.

Blackberry dropsAhimsa (nonviolence) is the basis of many faiths that have emerged on Indian soil. Translated into economics, nonviolence implies that our systems of production, trade, and consumption do not use up the ecological space of other species and other people,” the author writes. Credit: CC Piffle.

Earth rights are the basis of equity, justice, and sustainability. On Earth Day 2010, Bolivian President Juan Evo Morales Ayma organized a conference on Rights of Mother Earth. The idea was to start a process for adopting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without Earth Rights, there can be no human rights. It is time to deepen human rights by deepening the recognition that humans depend on the earth. Earth rights are human rights.

Humanity stands at a precipice. We have to make a choice. Will we obey the market laws of corporate greed or Gaia’s laws for maintenance of the earth’s ecosystems and the diversity of her beings?

The laws for maximizing corporate profits are based on:

  1. Privatizing the earth
  2. Enclosing the commons
  3. Externalizing the costs of ecological destruction of hazards

The laws for protecting the rights of Mother Earth are based on:

  1. Respecting the integrity of the earth’s ecosystems and ecological process
  2. Recovering the commons
  3. Internalizing ecological costs

Corporate ideology has presented corporate profits as growth, and growth as beneficial to all, even though corporate greed is taking away resources necessary to meet people’s needs. People’s needs for food and water can only be met if nature’s capacity to provide food and water are protected. Dead soils and dead rivers cannot give food and water.

Defending the rights of Mother Earth is therefore the most important human rights and social justice struggle of our times.

For the complete article, visit Earth Democracy and the Rights of Mother Earth, Tukkin