Bolivia is bringing a draft treaty to the U.N. for consideration, granting Mother Earth “the same rights as humans.” It’s modeled on Bolivia’s own recently-enacted domestic law, which
speaks of the country’s natural resources as “blessings,” and grants the Earth a series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clean air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and the right to be free from pollution.
It also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with an ombudsman whose job is to hear nature’s complaints as voiced by activist and other groups, including the state.
“If you want to have balance, and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or companies, then how can you reach balance?” Pablo Salon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, told Postmedia News. “But if you recognize that nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance.”
Bolivia’s law reportedly grants “bugs, trees, and all other natural things” rights equal to those that we humans enjoy. Sure, it’s silly, but it’s also instructive concerning the language and culture of rights.
The framers of America’s Bill of Rights were, by and large, the same people who had stood resolutely by a statement that we were “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.” They never conceived of themselves as granting rights, but rather as protecting rights already in our possession, granted us by God, not to be infringed upon by government.
But God has been Photoshopped out of the picture since then, so who remains in the world to grant rights? Just us humans. We have granted ourselves the right to grant rights. I do not know who granted us the right to grant ourselves the right to grant rights. That question gets a mite confusing, I’ll have to (ahem) grant. Anyway, I assume that in granting Mother Earth the “same rights as humans,” Bolivia also granted her the right to grant rights to others—and I suppose also the right to rescind others’ rights. Watch out for that one.
I’ll admit I could be making too much of journalists’ language of “same rights” here. I haven’t been able to find a complete translation of the rights Bolivia has given Mother Earth, but the partial versions I’ve seen do not baldly say “earth gets the same rights humans have.” I doubt that the right to bear arms even came up for discussion. And yet, and yet… according to the Sydney Morning Herald,
The law has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view, which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.
Equal in what way, I wonder? If really equal, then why not really the same rights?
Not incidentally, there remains a deity in the picture. Wikipedia explains further,
Pachamama is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes…. Pachamama and Inti are the most benevolent deities; they are worshiped in parts of the Andean mountain ranges, also known as Tawantinsuyu (the former Inca Empire)…. In Inca mythology, Mama Pacha or Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting. She causes earthquakes. Her husband was either Pacha Camac or Inti, depending on the source. Llamas are sacrificed to her.
So we are turning full circle, and humans are granting rights to gods. There’s a pathetic sort of irony there that reminds me of Isaiah 44:12-17. Note that whether she has the right to bear arms or not, Pachamama can still cause earthquakes.
And she’s making progress in the world. She has legal standing now, in at least one country, to bring human polluters to court. Well, not quite. Bolivia is not a small country (it’s about 60% bigger than Texas), but it still doesn’t have courtrooms big enough for Mother Earth to stand in. She’ll have to send representatives instead. Bolivia’s new law, with its “Ministry of Mother Earth,” permits “activist and other groups, including the state” to bring complaints before an ombudsman. But with Pachamama being present only by proxy, the effect is to deprive humans of the right to face their accuser in court. The rights-giver giveth, and the rights-giver taketh away.
Therein the real truth is revealed. Bolivia hasn’t granted any new rights to the earth, and neither would this U.N. treaty. The new legal rights are for “activist and other groups, including the state.” The power of the state expands, inevitably shrinking humans’ ability to exercise our own rights.
Ambassador Salon asks how we can reach balance without recognizing that everything has rights. What he really means is, how can you reach balance without giving everything its opportunity to bring a complaint against everything else; or, how can we make everything happy without making everything adversarial? The balance he ought to be seeking is the one between inherent rights and mutual responsibilities. I say, let Bolivia pass a law enumerating Pachamama’s responsibilities to the rest of us. If they can make that work, I might reconsider my opinion of the rights they’ve granted her.