The rights of nature, from Cochabamba to Cancún

Credit: Robert Garcia, The City Project

They didn’t get much press—the 15,000 or so people who gathered last April in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for a different kind of climate gathering. Discouraged by what the world “leaders” failed to accomplish last December at the UN meeting in Copenhagen, these citizens and ordinary folks, many of them indigenous people from smaller countries, led the way in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Credit: Robert Garcia, The City Project

Copenhagen produced a watered-down, two-page document that allows all the worst polluters (us!) to keep doing what we’re doing for as long as we like. By contrast, the spirited document from Cochabamba goes to the heart of the problem, both in its analysis and its vision for solutions. This vision is being brought to COP16, the next UN meeting on climate change, which begins today, November 29, in Cancún, Mexico.

What is the problem, according to the World People’s Conference? The rights of nature are not being respected.

Why not? Because of our economic system.

Is this news? No.

Most people I trust have been saying it for a long time already. But listen to how the World People’s Conference expressed it:

Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.

Credit: Robert Garcia, The City Project

People valued for who we are, not what we own: isn’t this what people of conscience have been calling for, for a long time already? It is what I am used to hearing in Christian churches that take seriously the Sermon on the Mount, and what people in all religions are longing for. More and more economists are calling for it too—an economy that focuses on well-being, not wealth, or in other words what an economy is supposed to deliver in the first place.

What is the fix? There will need to be thousands of them. But the strongly indigenous crowd at Cochabamba agreed that they all start in one place:

Respecting the rights of Mother Earth. The Earth is a living being and so cannot be bought and sold.

Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains, and reproduces all beings.

The climate and ecological crises, said the 15,000 at Cochabamba, cannot be solved unless humans take steps to live in harmony with one another and with the Earth. Every being, and every ecosystem, has the right to its own well-being, in balance with the rights of others to their well-being.

Credit: Robert Garcia, The City Project

Respecting the rights of Earth involves working for these things:

  • harmony and balance among all
  • complementarity, solidarity, and equality
  • collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all
  • people in harmony with nature
  • recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own
  • elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism, and interventionism
  • peace among the peoples and with Mother Earth

The proposals from Cochabamba that are being included in the negotiating text in Cancún include these specifics:

  • Reduce emissions by more than 50% for 2017
  • Rights of Mother Earth
  • Full respect for human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and climate migrants
  • Formation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal
  • No new carbon markets
  • 6% of GDP in developed countries to finance climate change actions in developing countries
  • Lifting of barriers to intellectual property that facilitates technology transfer
  • No commodification of forests

Credit: Robert Garcia, The City Project

Industrialized countries will find much to oppose in these proposals. For starters, this country has refused to commit to reducing its carbon emissions, let alone talk about climate change reparations. Though most people agree that “you broke it, you fix it” is good policy in everyday life, when it comes to harming the rest of the world through fossil fuel use, we in the United States seem to think we’re exempt.

For more on how the proposals fare at Cancún, you can follow Climate Connections (the blog of the Global Justice Ecology Project) or Climate Justice Now!

In the meantime, here is graffiti from Cochabamba that could, if we allowed it, show us the way home:

Credit: Robert Garcia, The City Project

“You can never find happiness in money. Happiness is close to you, except you do not hear it.”




18 Responses to The rights of nature, from Cochabamba to Cancún

  1. Andi O'Conor says:December 1, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Thanks for an insightful essay Pricilla – this brings a unique perspective to the climate issue.

  2. Andi O'Conor says:December 1, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Priscilla! With an “s!” (sigh. proofreading – fail!)

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 1, 2010 at 10:46 am

      No worries, Andi. I’ve been answering to “Pricilla” and even “Phyllis” for most of my life!

  3. Linda Weber says:December 1, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for this contribution to essential consciousness. I will keep it as a resource.

  4. Page Lambert says:December 2, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Priscilla, fabulous (and time-consumingly professional) blog post. Thank you for the resources, the newsworthy update, the critical relevance, the heart – all of it. Thanks!

    Page Lambert
    Connecting People with Nature
    Connecting Writers with Words

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 3, 2010 at 9:13 am

      You’re right, Page, it took some time. But it’s a story that I hope more people in the global North start to follow, so I was willing to put the time in.

  5. Gail Storey says:December 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

    So heartening to know others are awakening so luminously to the rights and gifts of Earth and Nature.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      I take a great deal of courage from the fact that indigenous peoples have been practicing this kind of interrelationship with Earth for centuries, even millennia. They have a great deal to teach if we Western people are willing to listen.

  6. Char Campbell says:December 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Wow Priscilla! This caught my eye from the BMW list. FINALLY the concept of Earth as a living being is beginning to come to consciousness. Thank you for your part in spreading the news. I’m proud to consider myself part of a community that honors nature!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 2, 2010 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks for dropping by, Char! Yes, Earth as a living being has been gone far too long from Western thinking–our science, our philosophy, our ethics. What is news to us, because we’ve been steeped for four hundred years in a mechanistic view of nature, is ancient teaching to most indigenous peoples. We’ve got some remembering and catching up to do!

  7. Beth Partin says:December 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    That really was wonderful. I wonder why they don’t want carbon markets.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 2, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      Here is a concise answer from SourceWatch: “Opposition to carbon trading has grown due to the belief that such approaches do little to help climate change and instead provide substantial profits for corporate greenhouse gas polluters. Critics point out failures in accounting, dubious science, and the negative impact of the carbon market on local communities. In addition, critics contend that carbon trading does not solve the overall pollution problem since net reduction would require fewer allowances rather than permitting groups that pollute less to sell their allowances to the highest bidder.”

      The economists I know who double-checked the math say it doesn’t add up and the cap (of “cap and trade”) doesn’t hold. But indigenous people see the negative effects on their local communities of allowing the polluters to keep doing what they’re doing.

  8. Beth Partin says:December 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Yeah, there is a lot about the carbon-trading process that seems a bit fishy. But still I think it could work in the same way that cap-and-trade worked for acid rain.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      It would seem plausible. But have you seen this post from the Breakthrough Institute?

  9. Kathy Kaiser says:December 2, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    It heartens me to know that 15,000 people gathered together to talk about ways to combat climate change. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  10. Page Lambert says:December 3, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Although some people think of ranching as an ‘extractive’ way of life, small family ranches who live in harmony with the land, maintaining wildlife corridors, habitat, and winter range, must understand and practice the principle of sustainability. To learn about “The Carbon Ranch: Using Food and Stewardship to Build Soil and Fight Climate Change,” go to

    To learn what many tribes in North America are doing to return the bison to their communities as an economic base and as a spiritual foundation, go to the Intertribal Bison Cooperative: Alas, as many beef ranchers have begun to go to “grassfed” as a way to live more harmoniously with the Earth, the bison industry is going just the opposite direction–starting to corn finish their animals.

    But those interested in bison might also find this post interesting:

  11. Laurel Kallenbach says:December 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    These words really tugged at my heart:

    “Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.”

    This isn’t just an environmental struggle, it’s a spiritual and human-rights manifesto! The Earth has the right not to be enslaved; we humans have the right not to be cogs in a consumer/industrial construct!

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, and boo-hiss for such brilliant thought to be dismissed in Cancun.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:December 3, 2010 at 5:22 pm

      I totally agree, Laurel. It IS a spiritual struggle–one that involves the values we choose in our economic lives. I find these days I can’t write about spirituality without writing about economics, and I know at least one economics-type person who says he can’t think about econ without thinking about spirituality. It’s about the kind of society we want–what rules do we want everyone to play by?