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Towards the Rights of Nature

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Enrique Viale and Gastón Chillier

The transition from “Nature as an object” to “Nature as a subject” has begun. Establishing Nature as a subject with rights postulates a new way for human beings to relate to Nature and its elements. Therefore, it requires a shift from an anthropocentric paradigm to a socio-biocentric paradigm. The guidelines of this new civilizing paradigm emphasize the abandonment of the characterisation of nature merely as a basket of resources.

On the contrary, it is not considered as an object of domination and purely as an economic resource. However, the universal recognition of the “Rights of Nature” does not presuppose an untouched nature, but rather an integral respect for its existence and the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes, the defense of life systems.

Granting Rights to Nature does not only mean abandoning an idea of conquest, colonization and exploitation of Mother Earth, but also proposes a profound civilisational change that questions all the dominant anthropocentric logics and becomes a vanguard response to the current civilisational crisis. It requires us to think about other life options that involve, to begin with, slowing down the current pattern of consumption, while democratically building more humane and sustainable societies.

The aim is to build a society based on harmonious relationships between human beings and nature, between human beings and living beings, between human beings and themselves, and between human beings and other human beings. This notion, which has been alive in the perceptions of indigenous peoples for a long time, does not imply a millenarian vision of a harmonious paradise, nor a naïve idealization that poses a regression to pre-modernity.

It should not seem unusual for humans to seek to secure our existence in the universe through legislation and jurisprudence that begins by favoring our Mother Earth or Pachamama, the one who provides our sustenance.

The rights of nature present a challenge to legal science. It is about expanding and completing the paradigm of human rights (anthropocentric view) by including the “rights of nature” (biocentric view). Human Rights are complemented by the Rights of Nature, and vice versa.

Recognising the Rights of Nature implies a transformation of legal thinking; it requires an epistemological shift that revisits and updates the ancestral knowledges and ancestral sciences of the indigenous, rural, afro-latin american and intercultural nations and peoples, complementing them with ecological, technological and multidisiciplinary knowledge of the theories of complexity and theories that are critical of predatory development and modernity. It reorients human beings, communities, societies, peoples and governments to defend, protect, mitigate and restore Mother Earth in a complementary manner, defending life and the beings sheltered and contained in the great home of Mother Earth, re-encountering and reintegrating with her in a complementary manner and establishing reciprocity with nature and the beings that compose her.

The legal branch of the Rights of Mother Earth states that laws and forms of governance are social constructs that evolve over time and change according to new realities. This legal line proposes the development of an Earth-centred and not only human-centred jurisprudence, and a new legal and institutional framework that includes the premises of scientific, ethical and indigenous currents of thought in order to accelerate the changes we need. The question now, is how can we rethink the legal and institutional order to enable the Earth’s wellbeing and the wellbeing of all its elements. How can our legal and policy frameworks reflect that nature has intrinsic values? How can we build a governance that helps avoid catastrophic imbalances on the planet?

Human beings are part of the innumerable collectivity of living beings, they are part of nature, and in this context they are not the centre of Mother Earth or of the cosmos; being part of nature, they must share with other beings, coexisting in a complementary and reciprocal way, contributing to harmony and coexistence. Recognising the Rights of Nature is the outcry of the beings themselves against pollution, degradation, environmental depredation, ecological crisis, social inequality, exploitation, and dispossession of Mother Earth.

Twenty centuries to declare all human beings to be “people”, following multiple racisms and genocides, helps us to understand the current resistance to declaring that, in addition to us, there are others who also have rights. The history of this issue in the West is a source of skepticism, even if many principles of ecology stem from it. Nevertheless, we can start from the Gaia hypothesis to arrive at the current debates in Latin America, heirs of Aymara, Quechua, Mayan, etc. beliefs, in which, regardless of the name and image that Mother Earth assumes, there is a profound sense of unity of human beings with her, without the pretended distance and superiority that has since been imposed.

There is nothing preventing us from taking that step.