By Contributor on April 21, 2011

By Maude Barlow and Shannon Biggs

This Earth Day, we need to start envisioning a future based not on exploiting nature but on recognizing that nature has inherent rights.

Ironically, this week also marks the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, the worst one in U.S. history.

Beyond headline-grabbing catastrophes, every day we dump 2 million tons of toxic waste into the world's water, the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population.

Every day we literally blow the tops off of mountains to release hidden coal.

And it's all legal, because under current law, nature is nothing more that human property, like a slave.

But thanks to some innovative thinking by governments, municipalities and indigenous peoples, a wiser mindset is taking hold. And the United Nations has also begun to consider the rights of nature.

This may be the first step toward the adoption of a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. A companion piece to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, this emerging declaration -- which would be backed by enforceable laws around the world -- seeks to redefine our human relationship with all other species from one of dominance to one of harmony.

Many places have already begun to change their laws in accordance with this new way of thinking.

On November 16, 2010, Pittsburgh became the first major U.S. city to recognize the legally enforceable rights of nature. Faced with dangerous "gas-fracking," Pittsburgh's city council unanimously passed a cutting-edge law that stops gas-shale drilling by elevating the rights of communities and nature above the interests of energy corporations.

Nearly two-dozen other U.S. municipalities have passed similar ordinances, finding that existing laws cannot protect their local ecosystems and, by extension, their human health, safety and welfare.

Canadian communities are also wondering if legally recognizing rights for nature can stop the privatization of their public water systems and halt dangerous tar-sands drilling in the fragile Alberta region.

And these bold municipalities are not alone.

In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation in the world to rewrite its constitution to include rights for nature to exist, flourish and evolve.

This year, Bolivia is set to pass 11 separate laws recognizing the rights of Mother Earth.

These laws do not give rights to individual bugs or trees. Rather, they stop the kind of development that interferes with the existence and vitality of local ecosystems.

A worldwide movement, led by indigenous peoples, has emerged to support this cultural and legal shift.

Einstein said that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.

Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. The earth, and all its inhabitants, urgently needs this to be one of those times.

Maude Barlow is chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Shannon Biggs is director of the community rights program at Global Exchange. Both are contributors to the forthcoming book, The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. They can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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