Bolivia’s Historic ‘Law of Mother Earth’ Will Grant Nature Equal Rights to Humans

December 6, 2011

Political Theory

With the cooperation of politicians and grassroots social groups, Bolivia is set to pass the Law of Mother Earth which will grant nature equal rights to humans for the first time in history. The law, known as la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, redefines Bolivia’s rich natural resources as “blessings” and is intended to give rise to radical conservation movements which will implement new regulations on industry, greatly reducing carbon emissions and promoting environmental sustainability. The objectives for this law are crystal clear: to live harmoniously with nature, work towards the collective good, choose life over commercialization, and preserve a respect for diversity.

In the 2005 presidential elections, Bolivia elected Evo Morales, an outspoken advocate of environmental protection and sustainability. Morales, who has been criticized by the United States and Britain in the UN Climate Talks for demanding massive cutbacks on carbon emissions, will create 11 new rights for the environment, including:

Evo Morales addressing the United Nations

“the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered; and to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”. 

Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest nations, has long suffered from serious environmental problems stemming from harmful industrial practices and climate change. “Existing laws are not strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the biggest social movement, which helped draft the law. This law will “make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.” By granting rights to Mother Nature, the law establishes an interconnectedness between the Earth and humanity. If humans possess essential rights, then the Earth should as well. Lastly the Bolivian government agrees to adopt public policies following the rights of nature such as “sustainability of power generation,” and the destruction of all nuclear and chemical weapons.

As the extent of human impacts on the environment becomes more apparent, there is an increased realization between the interconnectedness between nature and social and economic demands. Do these urgent environmental problems call for man to change our social contract with nature? John Locke, a social contract theorist, argued that a social contract exists proclaiming that citizens must surrender some liberties to create a government that benefits them. However, these citizens hold the right to abolish the government if it does not promote their well-being. In this scenario, Locke might say that man needs a social contract with nature which allows him to use the environment to his advantage, but also requires him to take efforts to preserve natural resources and promote environmental sustainability. If man does not hold up his end of the contract by promoting the well-being of nature, he cannot use it to benefit himself.

Earth does not have the ability to act on its self-interests, nor can it violate its end of a contract. Thus, the contract pertains more to humans with regards to preserving common resources and maintaining a respect for ecological diversity. So perhaps the real question to be asked is whether or not we even need to have a contract with Earth? Would having a contract discourage people from abusing Earth’s resources? Without one wouldn’t humans naturally resort  to behaving in a lawless manner? Locke would argue that humans naturally act out of self-interests and would deplete the Earth of its natural resources in order to prosper, thereby creating the need for a social contract. Finally, are the current environmental protection laws enough, or should nations begin to follow Bolivia and reform their contracts with nature before it’s too late?



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One Comment on “Bolivia’s Historic ‘Law of Mother Earth’ Will Grant Nature Equal Rights to Humans”

  1. Suzanne York Says:

    Thanks for the very informative post.

    In response to your question “are the current environmental protection laws enough, or should nations begin to follow Bolivia and reform their contracts with nature before it’s too late?” the answer is a resounding no. Just look at the state of the global environment, which has suffered from weak/watered down environmental regulations. It’s time for a shift in thinking.

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