Bolivia is set to be the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of Mother Nature in law. This new law could possibly prompt new environmental protection to control pollution and curtail exploitation or it could be a symbolic gesture that mining companies and social groups can ignore or laugh at. Perhaps it will also be a first that creates a precedent and paves the way for better legal protection for the environment in other countries.
(You can read more in this Guardian article “Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth”
This new piece of law grants all of nature equal rights to humans, redefines the rich mineral deposits of Bolivia as ‘blessings’ and grants 11 new rights to nature. Some of these involve the right to life and to exist, the right to be free from human alteration that would disrupt nature’s vital cycles, the right to pure water and clean air, the right to balance, not to be polluted, and even the right to not have cellular structures modified or genetically altered.
All these aim to bring humans and the environment into a new equilibrium and harmony. This is a lovely sentiment and goal but one wonders how much will actually be achieved through these laws.
These new rights represent both a spiritual heritage and a fraught relationship on the frontiers. Bolivia’s spiritual tradition is centered on an earth deity called Pachamama, a Gaia figure who stands for Nature. This new law could be seen as a way of enshrining her rights so that they can take effect in a modern setting. These laws can also be seen as a manifestation of a long standing contention between mining companies who have been exploiting the rich mineral heritage of the country and environmental activists who have been fighting the various environmental disasters caused by the mining industry.
Amazingly Bolivia will also soon have a ministry of mother earth and will also have a related environmental ombudsman in an effort to regulate industry and protect the rights of people and nature. However, prime minister Evo Morales and his socialist government will have to be careful, a third of foreign currency flows into Bolivia through mining companies. By radically cutting back on mining could cause economic hardship, unless Bolivia is able to draw on other forms of income.
Yet Bolivia, perhaps like the rest of the world, cannot wait… it isn’t just suffering from mining related disasters, it is also already suffering from climate change: glaciers in the Andes are melting, there are more extreme weather events and giant mudslides have buried whole neighbourhoods (probably partially caused by deforestation and mining also). If temperatures rise by 3-4C Bolivia could be the victim of seriousl desertification.
I find it wonderful that Gaia in a Bolivian guise has now been enshrined in a law that could possibly help create a better balance between industrial growth and the environment, perhaps even towards sustainability. Yet I cannot avoid seeing the vast rift between economic interests (difficult to re-structure) and the interests of the environment (already severely damaged). But all respect goes to Bolivia for daring to declare so publicly that striking a balance betwee the two is not only important but urgent and vital for the future of humanity.