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The rights of Mother Earth are a call to abandon the existing dominant anthropocentric paradigm and to imagine a new Earth society


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The rights of Mother Earth are a call to abandon the existing dominant anthropocentric paradigm and to imagine a new Earth society. For anthropocentrism, human beings are at the center of everything and are superior to all other beings and elements that are part of the Earth. Humans are the only ones who possess consciousness, values and morals. Humanity and nature are two separate categories. In this anthropocentric paradigm, nature exists mainly for the survival and development of human societies.

Capitalism, productivism and extractivism are deeply rooted in this dominant vision of our times. For these visions, everything can be extracted, transformed, commodified, controlled and “repaired” through the advancement of technology.

The rights of Mother Earth challenges this vision and argues that in order to build alternative societies, we need to overcome anthropocentrism and change our relationship with nature. The use of the term “rights” gives the impression that this would be essentially a normative or legal proposal. However, as we will see later, the rights of Mother Earth go far beyond the need for a new legal framework that takes nature into account.

The incorporation of the rights of Mother Earth or nature in the legal order of a municipality, country or international institution is a very important step, but only one of the first steps necessary to begin to overcome anthropocentrism. The final aim of the rights of Mother Earth proposal is to build an Earth community: a society that has humans and nature as a whole.

The recognition of the rights of nature and Mother Earth in Ecuador and Bolivia back in 2008 and 2010 gave the impression that this proposal comes only from the Andean region of South America. However, the reality is much more complex and in truth, the rights of Mother Earth are the result of the confluence of different currents that have developed in different regions of the world.

In a schematic way we can group the different contributions to the rights of Mother Earth in four streams: indigenous, scientific, ethical and legal. Each one represents a particular perspective that interacts with the others, forming an alternative vision that is still under development.

Within the rights of Mother Earth there are debates and discussions that fuel the construction of the proposal. For example, the rights of Mother Earth and the rights of nature are not exactly the same. Mother Earth is the whole, while nature is a part of the whole. The rights of nature seek the recognition of rights for the non-human components of the Earth system. Whereas the rights of Mother Earth aspires to create a new regime of rights for all and everything, where there are obviously differences according to the characteristics of each of the components of the Earth system, but where we begin to overcome the separation between humans and nature so we can leave anthropocentrism.

Throughout this chapter we will look at the different aspects that converge in the construction of the proposal of the rights of Mother Earth, we will analyze their evolution, how they have been institutionalized in Ecuador and Bolivia, and finally we will explore some of the problems and challenges ahead.


The streams

The Indigenous Stream

The rights of Mother Earth reflect the vision of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, and in particular, of the Andean region of South America. This indigenous vision entails a deep respect of nature. In this vision, everything on Earth and in the cosmos have life. Humans are not superior beings who are above plants, animals, or mountains. Humans “inter-be“with other non-human beings forming an Earth community. The division between living beings and non-living beings does not exist. In the Andean indigenous vision, everything has life including the hills, rivers, air, rocks, glaciers and oceans. All are part of a larger living organism that is Pachamama or Mother Earth. In the Andes of South America you cannot explain life if you do not take into account the “whole.” Humans are just one of the components of the Earth community. They do not own the Earth or other beings, nor are they their masters. Human existence depends on harmony with nature; a balance that is not static, but dynamic, that changes and moves in cycles, and brings misfortune when broken.

The rights of Mother Earth are based on the indigenous premise that questions: If we are all part of Mother Earth, why do some have to be more than others? Why do some beings enjoy protection and privileges, while others are relegated to the status of things?

In this vision, in order for the Earth community to flourish, we must give equal treatment and respect for all who are part of it: from glaciers to forests, animals to humans, plants to the wind and all beings.

Though the indigenous stream does not speak of “rights” directly, as the concept of “rights” in the Western philosophical sense, the essence of the indigenous vision underpins the whole approach of the rights of Mother Earth. The concept of “rights” is a construction that comes from outside the indigenous context and therefore the “rights” of Mother Earth or “rights” of nature are expressed through socio-cultural practices rather than legal terms.

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