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Earth Day 2011: Should Nature have rights?

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Interview with Andrea Harden-Donahue of the Council of Canadians (8:45)


Just in time for Earth Day, I recently caught up with Andrea Harden-Donahue of the Council of Canadians at the Cochabamba+1 conference in Montreal. The original Cochabamba conference took place in Bolivia last year under the title of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. The meeting drew tens of thousands of people from all over the world and billed itself as a people’s alternative to the UN climate change negotiations, which culminated in Copenhagen in 2009 but has yet to result in any meaningful international agreement to address the climate crisis.

Out of this Cochabamba conference came a call to protect nature by recognizing its inherent rights (also expressed as the Rights of Mother Earth). The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth was proclaimed and presented at the United Nations several weeks later. And now a new book has been published based on this declaration entitled ‘The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.’

As stated in the preface, “This book brings together the voices of acclaimed authors, progressive thinkers, political leaders and environmental and community activists from around the world who share their passion and insights about the Declaration, the Rights of Nature and the urgent need to recognize the unbreakable link between respecting ourselves and respecting the planet – Mother Earth – on which we all live and depend. The authors all reflect on the important question: What would our world look like if nature had rights?

“With distinguished contributors such as Maude Barlow, David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Eduardo Galeano, Nnimmo Bassey, Pat Mooney, Shekhar Kapur, Susan George, Dr. Vandana Shiva and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and more, The Rights of Nature is meant to inform and inspire others about the need to create and ratify a binding instrument to protect the rights of the Earth and all living things upon it.”

A compelling concept indeed. First we had the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since that time, humanity has demonstrated an appalling disrespect for the environment and for other species. Has the time finally come for Nature itself to be imbued with its own inalienable rights? If so, would this actually change how we treat and interact with the world around us? How would this even work as a legal concept?

For more info, check out this recent article in the Toronto Star, which describes how Bolivia is about to pass the world’s first law that grants nature equal rights to humans and protects it from a long list of human exploitation. The country is now urging the United Nations to adopt a similar convention.

Click the audio player above to hear my interview with Andrea Harden-Donahue in which she discusses how this idea developed and what it represents.

Download the interview here by right clicking and selecting ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.


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