Rights of Nature and the International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative

The International Women’s Earth & Climate Summit brought together women leaders from around the world September 20 – 23, 2013 in New York. The 100 global women leaders include grassroots activists, economists, scientists, businesswomen, Indigenous leaders, policy-makers, faith leaders, culture shapers committed to furthering a women’s climate action agenda.  A reoccurring tenet of the Summit and the focus of Plenary 6 was the call for the recognition of the rights of all beings on our planet.

Plenary 6. How We Live: Rights of Nature, Community Rights, Earth Community Economy, Our Relationship to the Earth

Organizing visionary Osprey Orielle Lake, Founder and Co-Director of International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative, moderated an interactive, engaging panel discussion on Rights of Nature as it relates to how we live in community and in relationship to earth.  The panel included Global Alliance members Natalia Greene, Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange, and Patricia Gualinda of Sarayaku with translation by Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch.

The Rights of Nature Plenary begins at 1:27:00.
Advance to the starting point by moving the round button along the red timeline.

Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange, frames the justification for recognizing Rights of Nature by opening with:

“What we are talking about is aligning our human laws with natural law.  Not to be, as humans, owners of nature but really to recognize our rightful place in the ecosystem and in the biosphere and in relationship with every other living being.

I want to say, first of all, what is problem isn’t. … I am going to say that Climate Change is Not the problem. Even though we are gathered here to say that.  Fracking is Not the problem. Corporate power is NOT the problem. These are symptoms actually of the prevailing relationship that we as humans have with the rest of the species.  It is empowered by law, by human law. That effectively creates the space for things like mountain top removal.  Blowing the tops of mountains IS LEGAL.  Tar sands IS LEGAL…”

She continues by addressing “What is our power as women?  …” but noting, “It is women, primarily, who step forward to say, ‘What are we going to do to change this?  How am I going to change this …  Fracking is legal …’ So do we just throw our hands up and say the law is the law? No, There is a sense of a higher law. We cannot continue to create sacrifice zones of our communities whether it is indigenous communities, any human communities, or our ecosystem,  not for profit.

If we are to continue, we MUST bring that relationship between humans and the ecosystem NOT as one of a power dynamic, of ownership, but one that is in balance.”

We have forgotten Nature

Natalia Greene describes how Rights of Nature has changed the context of the discussion in Ecuador

“In Ecuador some communities do not even have “rights” in their dictionary…  What is very interesting about the Rights of Nature approach is that Western society uses the concepts of rights and it is very powerful.  We have been able to change culture because of that.

When you introduce Rights of Nature in a society that has forgotten nature, it is very, very powerful. Our goal and the goal to use a Rights of Nature approach,  is that at one point we will be talking about Rights of Nature in general, where human rights are included in that, where indigenous rights are a part of that, because we are ALL nature. But the thing is that we have forgotten nature.  That is why we have been using it and raping it  and extracting it and using it as an object. So  when we change that, that is very powerful.

We shouldn’t be expecting the government to give us those rights. Those rights are ours. We are not asking for them.  We are just having them and demanding them to respect those rights.” …

“Rights of Nature, for example, for us in Ecuador is a very interesting tool. We have been able to demand and portray what is  going on with open pit mining, showing that that is an activity that shouldn’t happen Ecuador with such a biodiversity, because it violates Rights of Nature, because it also complements Indigenous rights. So that is very powerful. 

We have been able right now to say, well if Ecuador recognizes Rights of Nature, then what are we doing with Yasuni? We should not exploit that.  

So the context of the discussion is much different in Ecuador because we have Rights of Nature. Because we can say it is not that we can only say what are the environmental assessments, or how can we impact  the least.  We can actually say we should not do that because we have rights of nature.

Having a Rights of Nature approach can really start shifting things…

All Life is Sacred – under that everything is included

Patricia Gualinga reaffirms the sacredness of all life.  “Rights are one thing but really for Indigenous peoples it is the sacred that matters.  Nature is sacred. Under this concept of sacred, everything else is subservient to this construct. The central message when you believe in the sacred, then the rights for humans, for animals, for everything else is included.

We applaud Ecuador efforts to recognize these rights but we don’t think it goes far enough. But ultimately to get at the core you have to put forward the concept of the sacred.”

Rights of Nature, New Economics, Relationship with Earth Dialogue

Also among the Summit Working Groups was Rights of Nature, Indigenous Peoples and Earth Community Economy co-chaired by Global Alliance Executive Team member Natalia Greene and Maila Nobrega-Olivera.  To participate in the ongoing interactive dialogue visit Rights of Nature, New Economics, Relationship with Earth.