Bolivia leads way on protecting "Mother Earth"

The Vancouver B.C. Sun reports that Bolivia is planning on offering a draft United Nations treaty that would give “Mother Earth” the same rights as humans.

This reminds me of the discussion in the United States about giving “standing,” that is, the right to bring a lawsuit to non-humans. This issue is exemplified by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in his famous dissent in the case of Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 741-53 (1972) in which he stated that he would give standing to trees to be plaintiffs in law suits to protect the environment. He also cited a law review article Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?-Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, 45 S.Cal.L.Rev. 450 (1972).

Others have called for standing to bring law suit for different animals, such as bonobos. Steven M. Wise, Dismantling the Barriers to Legal Rights for Nonhuman Animals, 7 Animal Law 9, 15 (2001); Steven M. Wise, Rattling the Cage Defended, 43 B.C. L. Rev. 623, 655 (2002).

The treaty Bolivia will offer this month would give Mother Earth the same rights as humans. Bolivia just enacted a domestic law that does the same for bugs, trees, and all other natural things in the South American country.

The bid aims to have the UN recognize the Earth as a living entity that humans have sought to “dominate and exploit” — to the point that the “well-being and existence of many beings” is now threatened.

The treaty will also establish a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provide the planet with an ombudsman whose job is to hear nature’s complaints as voiced by activists and other groups, including states.

Bolivia has a large indigenous population, whose traditional belief systems took on greater resonance following the election of Evo Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president.

Reflecting indigenous traditional beliefs, the proposed global treaty says humans have caused “severe destruction . . . that is offensive to the many faiths, wisdom traditions and indigenous cultures for whom Mother Earth is sacred.”

It also says that “Mother Earth has the right to exist, to persist and to continue the vital cycles, structures, functions and processes that sustain all human beings.”

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