Wednesday, June 15, 2011

#166 / Does Nature Have Rights?

The development of an approach to Nature that values Nature for the "ecosystem services" it provides is one way that human beings are trying to confront the basic dilemma we have created for ourselves: human life depends on Nature, and yet our efforts to create our human world, in a design that we find attractive, leads us to destroy the fabric of the world of Nature, upon which we are ultimately dependent.

So, maybe if we understood how valuable Nature is, in terms of money (money being the standard of value in our human world), we'd do a better job of not sawing off the limb on which we are sitting.

Or maybe not. I remain skeptical that an approach that implicitly values Nature in human terms (in terms of money and the markets) will lead us to appropriate policy decisions. Those decisions, I think, will come only when we deeply acknowledge the primacy of Nature over all our own designs and projects.

The "Rights of Nature" approach is a different way to try to find a solution for our dilemma. Last April, there was a landmark gathering of social movements in Bolivia, and out of that meeting emerged the Cochabamba People's Agreement, honoring the Rights of Nature. (Click this link to get a brief description and summary of the meeting; I am pleased to note that one of my literary and political heroes, the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, was a participant at Cochabamba). The People's Agreement developed at Cochabamba was later merged into a negotiating text considered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the UN Climate Change Conference, in Cancun (called COP-16, and held in November and December of 2010). However, at the Climate Change Conference, all reference to Cochabamba had been removed. Shannon Biggs, Community Rights Director with Global Exchange, is quoted in the summary I mention above, to this effect: "The Rights of Nature offers a platform for action to challenge the market-based approach that dominates the UN COP process." In other words, the Rights of Nature approach suggests an alternative to an approach that values Nature in terms of money.

I am not certain that a "rights" based approach will resolve the basic dilemma, since "rights" are established by human declarations. There appears to be an implicit assumption in the "rights" based approach that such human declarations will be sufficient to establish the "rights" which Nature is to enjoy, which puts Nature, again, in a dependent position vis a vis human actions. If I am correct in my "Two World Hypothesis," the opposite is the case. We depend on Nature. Nature doesn't depend on us.
Santa Cruz area residents who want to explore these topics in person, and in more depth, might want to mark their calendars for a meeting of the Santa Cruz County branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 21st at 7:00 p.m. at the Quaker Meetinghouse in Santa Cruz, 225 Rooney Street, right at the Morrissey Boulevard exit off Highway One. Shannon Biggs, from Global Exchange, will be there to talk about the book.

1 comment:

  1. How about a combined approach of rights and valuation? The valuation would help people recognize the importance of establishing rights. A ballot constitutional amendment in states could be the way for implementation of the rights approach. Once nature has standing in court and can be provided with representation, there would be ready forums for exploring the priorities among human rights and nature rights, which would also inform the legislative process.

    Would the better rights approach to the constitution be to include it in the preamble, the 14th Amendment model or other model?


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