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Rio +20 Panel on Rights of Nature as Foundation for Sustainability

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I suggest to you that what we are seeing now are the early stages of a momentous change in society.  The pipe of the formal UN negotiations is blocked.  We can not get the dramatic change we need to save humanity and our society through these official channels.

But if you block the river, the river cuts a new path.  What you are seeing here are the early stages of a people’s movement cutting a new path to a better future for us all.” Cormac Cullinan

The Global Alliance for Rights of Nature and Global Exchange hosted  Rights of Nature as the Foundation for Sustainability at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Listen to our distinguished panel of Rights of Nature experts moderated by Shannon Biggs of Global ExchangeRights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change was released at the event and is available as a free PDF download.

Scroll down to see all videos or click on a speaker’s name to access their video directly.

Pablo Solón Linda Sheehan Tom Goldtooth
Natalia Greene Cormac Cullinan Vandana Shiva
Shannon Biggs, moderator Rights of Nature and “green” economy

Pablo Solón, – For more information visit: Focus on the Global South, former UN Ambassador from Bolivia

“What we want to say when we speak about Rights of Nature is we have to go into a new society where money is not the heart of the society.  Where ethics, where the respect for the other is the heart of the new society of humans and of earth.

This year on the coast of Peru around 5000 pelicans died and were lying on the beach and 1,000 dolphins were also lying dead on the beach.  Why?  In one case of climate change. In the other case because of oil drilling in the sea.  What we are doing, is we are destroying our environment.  But we are not just destroying the environment.  We are killing…

The real shift that we need in order to develop a new society is to recognize that all these living beings have rights. But not just animals and plants.  Glaciers. The glaciers in the Andean region have decreased by one third  in less than 20 years.  Glaciers have the right to exist, they are the memory of our planet.  If we want to look at what happened 2,3, or 4 million years ago, go to the glaciers. We are destroying the memory of our planet.  And nobody is doing [anything] about it. Climate change is one of the worst attacks against rights of nature.

For Rights of Nature … the main thing we have to recognize is that any economical model has limits and those limits are the limits of nature.  What is going to happen here in Rio+20 is exactly the opposite.  ‘Green economy’ is about how to continue development forever without taking into account seriously those limits.  We cannot grow forever.” Pablo Solón

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Linda Sheehan, – For more information visit: Earth Law Center

“Our economic system presumes that we need to maximize individual wealth; we need to maximize private wealth and that’s what our society is geared around. Environmental laws simply cannot compete with that.

So rather than tweaking our environmental laws, what we are proposing is that we need a new paradigm,  a new shift, a new view point in terms of how we live in the world.  Our environmental laws accept the paradigm that humans are separate from the natural world, that we can control it, that we should be the masters of our natural world and that we should use it to maximize our private wealth.

But these are all assumptions and we can change these assumptions.  We don’t need to think this way.  We can start to think as Pablo was saying about maximizing well being, about maximizing societal and biological health.  Those are assumptions we can assign metrics to and create a truly sustainable society…” Linda Sheehan

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Tom Goldtooth, – For more information visit: Indigenous Environmental Network

“The past couple days I have been out in the country living off the lands, visiting with 400 indigenous peoples from the Amazon – many different tribes. It is the most tribes in one circle coming from the Amazon Basin. Plus other indigenous peoples from around the world. We all have this unique understanding that is profound spiritually. We share our connections with the sacredness of Mother Earth.

What has evolved is a society that has lost its face as far as its relationship again with Mother Earth.  We define our relationship around our responsibilities through the natural laws that are woven into our original  instructions, our indigenous teachings and we have been studying many documents around this.  I am here to convey Indigenous peoples will be coming from Kari-Oca 2  to the United Nations to state that we have to have a new paradigm.

We support this effort to launch this petition [Rights of Mother Earth]… The future of humanity and all life depends on it…” - Tom Goldtooth

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Natalia Greene, – For more information visit: Fundación Pachamama and

“In Ecuador the  discussion is very different because we have Rights of Nature.  We have the discussion where we are saying Open Pit mining, where is open pit mining going to? It is a very different discussion when you have Rights of Nature in Constitution.”

“Ecuadorians did not grant nature rights, they recognized something that nature always had, but we were too blind to see.” Natalia Greene

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Cormac Cullinan, – For more information visit: EnAct International

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I suggest to you that what we are seeing now are the early stages of a momentous change in society.  The pipe of the formal UN negotiations is blocked.  We can not get the dramatic change we need to safe humanity and our society through these official channels.

But if you block the river, the river cuts a new path.  What you are seeing here are the early stages of a people’s movement cutting a new path to a better future for us all.” Cormac Cullinan

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Dr. Vandana Shiva, – For more information visit: Navdanya

“I want to take the concept of eco-apartheid one step further. Separation on the basis of race, of gender was wrong ─ of slavery and owning some people as property ─ was wrong and humanity has accepted that.  We are at a moment where there is of course the separation from nature being understood  scientifically and ethically as a huge error created to make the industrial revolution and the rise of life organized around capital accumulation possible. But that error is showing its unbearable costs, creating a total closure to the future. All the issues we have talked about in terms of ecological un-sustainability,  climate change, species extinction, the water crisis, build up of toxics is there for us to see.

But I think there is another ‘eco’.  Let’s not forget that both ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ rose from the same word ‘oikos’ [Greek for home or household].  Economy lost its way.  It can’t come home.  We need to show it how to come home. That is why the Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth is really a sign post for the economy that is lost to come home.

As it has gone astray, of course it has accumulated money that is unimaginable in a few hands. Can you imagine the three trillion dollars moving around the world every day – 70 times more than all the goods and services nature produces and humans produce.  It is an impossible equation.  That kind of money can only grab the resources of the world to make more money. That is what the green economy is all about.  Hungry money that has lost its way and is now trying to destroy the rest of our home. It has had its cost not just to the earth.  It has had a human cost. “

“Every artificial distinction must go so that we recognize ourselves as earth citizens and rights as earth citizens to create an earth democracy based living economies, living democracies … and living cultures that can only be achieved by recognizing the rights of the earth.” Dr. Vandana Shiva

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Shannon Biggs – Moderator – Global Exchange

Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds Of Real Change

“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.

The report, “Rights of Nature: Planting the Seeds of Change,” was released for this event and directly challenges Rio +20’s Green Economy capitalism and examines the power and possibility and logic of a rights-based framework.

Question from the audience: How does Rights of Nature relate to the Green Economy?

Cormac Cullinan

One of the most important differences between the kind of approach we are proposing and the kind of approach inherent in the green economy approach is that we are talking about relationships. We believe that relationships are fundamental to everything great that humans have done. Relationships are what hold the universe together, what binds ecosystems which build communities.

If you define everything on earth as a thing, an objective, to be bought and sold, you are fundamentally constraining the nature of the discussion about the relationship that you have. That is why when we talk about Mother Earth it is very significant because you don’t buy and sell your mother. Why don’t you buy and sell your mother? Because you have a relationship with her; you are grateful for what she has done for you. You have a deep relationship of respect. The use of the term Mother Earth is intended to know the quality of the relationship and relatedness which is fundamental to this approach.

Pablo Solón

At the UN we have had extended discussion for the International Mother Earth Day… we had a very long discussion. We were able to show when we use the term Mother Earth we are speaking about the relationship that we have with our earth system. We are all interdependent. We are all interrelated and the earth system is a living system. And that when we speak about Mother Earth, it is not a concept of the Andean region. It is a concept of relation to your home. To recognize we are not speaking about a planet. It is your home and you treat your home with respect. Now at the UN we managed to pass that by consensus.

Rights of Nature … we must have the two words because, we have to have a system where nature has standing where we can legally defend it.

Natalia Greene

When we are talking about nature and we use the example of the slave. It is a big discussion when before we were saying how many times we can hit the slave. That is like environmental legislation where we and say ok don’t hit is so many times because you are damaging that object, because is how we were treating slaves as objects. That is the same we have right now when we say nature is not a subject of rights. It is an object. We just have environmental legislation that tells us how much harm we can do to the environment. Of course in that world responsible mining is something that exists but in reality that is not something real. I think that the green economy is allowing us to say, ok we should do this with the best technology; we should do this with the least environmental impact.

What Rights of Nature brings us to the discussion is that we need to change the relationship itself. We need to say maybe we should not be hitting that thing because it is not a slave, it is a person. We need to change that relationship. It is a whole paradigm shift.

And when you start thinking about it, and I know that Tom will agree with me, it is all in the issue that the green economy we are discussing here is about the quantification of nature, about carbon offsets, about environmental services, and we keep thinking that nature can be traded. And that is the point that we need to be changing. I think that if the UN is not willing or able to bring the discussion at this level right now then there is a lot of work for social movements. We can definitely unite in this.

I think that the most important part of our movement is that we don’t the Rights of Nature to be like a new thing. We want Rights of Nature to be completely transversal to every movements – for children, for women, for Indigenous Peoples. These are the things that bring us back together. And the strength needs to come from Civil Society.

Tom Goldtooth

Mother Earth gives me life. Very important concept that we learn. It is included in the expression of our prayers. When the child is born, the role of the mother, the passing of the water and also retaining the after birth and having ceremony putting that back into Mother Earth and burying it, rather than a system that has no concept of the importance of that and that incinerates that as medical waste.

We are removed as society. Humanity has been removed from nature. That is why there is such a resistance. People do not understand the importance of that relationship. It is about relationship. When we say and include our expressions in front of people, we say we are all related. That extends to our relations of animate and inanimate. Even a rock. I don’t just aimlessly kick a rock. My relationship as I walk on Mother Earth is a step of appreciation, respect, responsibility and reverence. So that is what this movement of breaking the indoctrination of an industrialized mindset that has removed people from nature. That is why we as indigenous people, we need the non-indigenous population to reframe and relook, because it is their laws, the colonial laws that are killing our people. This Rio+20 must not be a WTO of Nature.

Linda Sheehan

In California, water rights in law are assigned only to human uses of water ways. As a result, the waters of the Delta in California which is a major source of drinking water for most of California and an enormously important estuary, those water rights have been allocated for human uses at a level 8 times more than the amount of water that actually exists. Hopefully everyone doesn’t run to the bank and cashes in at once, but we are seeing that happen in river after river in California where it is literally being drained dry. This is what happens under a system that prioritizes the economy. …

As a practical matter in California one thing we are working on is to prioritize water rights for rivers. Rivers have a right to flow. To put that into law and to prioritize that because if we don’t take care of the river, we don’t take care of ourselves. The economy cannot drive everything because it will drive us dry.

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva - two greensIn terms of the connection with the “green economy” we are discussing here and the “green economy” they are discussing there [at UN Rio+20], the difference is the color green on this [a US $1 bill] and the color green on this [the cover of Rights of Nature: Planting the Seeds for Real Change.] This green [the US$] wants to control this [nature].

They are patenting the metabolic pathways of living organisms in the name of more superior technology.

When Pablo was saying the reason that the Rights of Mother Earth was struck down again and again by some governments. I say it is a belief. This piece of paper is a belief. ‘I promise to pay the bearer.’ In Greece they have lost faith in this, they are selling it away because tomorrow the Euro might collapse. So this [$] is a belief, that fake innovation is a belief, the idea that there are atoms is a belief. The idea that there are genes in plants is a belief. These are scientific constructs. We create good scientific theories out of constructs. But those are beliefs and there are other beliefs. It just so happens the belief of a living earth is a more robust belief for making the transition for a to livable future and not the other beliefs we are being offered for this [$] Vandana Shiva

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