April 30, 2010

Rights of Earth
(By Dr Vandana Shiva, April 22, 2010)

We need a new paradigm for living on the earth because the old one is clearly not working. An alternative is now a survival imperative for the human species. And the alternative that is needed is not only at the level of tools, it is at the level of our worldview. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a money-making, resource-guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end. The world order built on the economic fundamentalism of greed and limitless growth and the technological fundamentalism that there is a technological fix for every social and environmental ill, is clearly collapsing.

The collapse of the Wall Street in September 2008 and the continuing financial crisis signals the end of the paradigm that put fictitious finance above real wealth created by nature and humans, that put profits above people and corporations above citizens. This paradigm can only be kept afloat with limitless bailouts that direct public wealth to private rescue instead of using it to rejuvenate nature and economic livelihoods of people. It can only be kept afloat with increasing violence to the earth and its people. It can only be kept alive as an economic dictatorship. This is visible in India’s heartland as the limitless appetitive for steel and aluminum for the global consumer economy and the limitless appetitive for profits of steel and aluminum corporations is clashing head-on with the rights of the tribals to their land and homes, their forests and rivers, their cultures and ways of life.

The tribals are saying a loud and clear “no” to their forced uprooting. The only way to get to the minerals and coal that feed the “limitless growth” model in the face of democratic resistance is the use of militarised violence against the tribals. Operation Green Hunt has been launched in the tribal areas of India with precisely this purpose, even though the proclaimed objective is to clear out the “Maoists”. Under Operation Green Hunt, more than 40,000 armed paramilitary jawans have been placed in the tribal areas which are rich in minerals and where tribal unrest is growing. Operation Green Hunt shows clearly that the current economic paradigm can only unfold through increased militarisation and by undermining democratic and human rights.

The technological fundamentalism that has externalised costs, both ecological and social, and blinded us to ecological destruction, has also reached a dead end. Climate chaos, the externality of technologies based on the use of fossil fuels, is a wakeup call —that we cannot continue on the fossil fuel path. The high costs of industrial farming is running up against limits, both in terms of the ecological destruction of the natural capital of soil, water, biodiversity and air, as well as in terms of the creation of malnutrition with a billion people being denied food and another two billion being denied health because of obesity, diabetes and other food-related diseases.

I believe that we are all members of the earth family — of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam. And as members of the earth family, our first and highest duty is to take care of Mother Earth — Prithvi, Gaia, Pachamana. And the more we take care of her, the more food, water, health and wealth we will have. “Earth rights” are first and foremost the rights of Mother Earth and our corresponding duties and responsibilities to defend those rights. Earth rights are also the rights of humans as they flow from the rights of Mother Earth — the right to food and water, the right to health and a safe environment, the right to the commons — the rivers, seeds, the biodiversity, atmosphere.

I have given the name “Earth Democracy” to this new paradigm of living as an earth community, respecting the rights of Mother Earth.

Earth Democracy enables us to envision and create living democracies. Living democracy enables democratic participation in all matters of life and death — the food we eat or do not have access to; the water we drink or are denied due to privatisation or pollution; the air we breathe or are poisoned by. Living democracies are based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures; a just and equal sharing of this earth’s vital resources; sharing the decisions about the use of the earth’s resources.

Earth Democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that form the basis of right to life, including the right to water, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to jobs and livelihoods. Earth Democracy is based on the recognition of and respect for the life of all species and all people.
Ahimsa or non-violence is the basis of many faiths that have emerged on the Indian soil. Translated into economics, non-violence implies that our systems of production, trade and consumption do not use up the ecological space of other species and other people. Violence is the obvious outcome when our dominant economic structures and economic organisations usurp and enclose the ecological space of other species or other people.

According to an ancient Indian text, the Isho Upanishad, “The universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefits of (all) creation. Each individual life form must, therefore, learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relation with other species. Let not any one species encroach upon others’ rights. Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence. Non-sustainable consumption and non-sustainable production constitute a violent economic order. A selfish man over-utilising the resources of nature to satisfy his own ever-increasing needs is nothing but a thief, because using resources beyond one’s needs would result in the utilisation of resources over which others have a right”.

Earth rights are the basis of equity, justice and sustainability. To mark Earth Day 2010, the President of Bolivia, Juan Evo Morales Ayma, is organising a conference on Rights of Mother Earth. The idea is to start a process for adopting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without earth rights, there can be no human rights. Earth rights are human rights.

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