What about the right to free water? To sanitation? Maude Barlowe argues that these are essential to sustainable human society. And they rest, perhaps, on something much deeper. The right of the Earth's biosphere to sustain itself.
Yes! Magazine reports that a group of concerned people have gathered at the Cancun climate talks to press the case for a broader and more sustainable vision of the rights that global society ought to guarantee and the responsibilities it must fulfill.
Activists in Cancún and Mexico City are rallying behind the idea of environmental rights. Many support a document called the “People’s Agreement on Climate Change,” which includes a “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.” It’s an idealistic name for a proposal that would sound either visionary or improbable, or both—if not for the fact that the declaration represents the work of representatives from 56 countries and of tens of thousands of people who attended a climate conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia, last April. The document declares that everybody has rights to basics like clean water and clean air, but it also says something even more extraordinary: that the planet’s ecosystems themselves have rights.
You can read the text of the document here. This is a renewed vision of humans on Earth. When the Rio conference happened in 1992, people envisioned something better and more sustainable for the world, including renewed interest in education for sustainable development under Article 21. In the years since, it has been sorely neglected and only paid with lip service by most national and global institutions.
Barlowe and others see new possibilities on this global action. And yet, maybe it is going to be most effective through the creation of local and regional stability and sustainability. I think it's fair to say that our so-called "leaders" continue to lead us into more monetary and ecological indebtedness, more consumption, and more growth. And yet, at least in this country and many others around the world from Bolivia to India to Australia, it is communities working together that make the difference. And in some of those places, change occurs when people see themselves in their places and their places in them and then love those places and recognize their limits and its limits.
So it might just be the wise thing to do (maybe) to press for a declaration of rights for Mother Earth. Without her, we would and will be nothing. But with her, we flourish.