The rights of Mother Earth


We’ve got the whole world in our hands. Photo: Jaclyne/Flickr CC.

Did you know there is a document called the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth?

If you’ve never read it, I invite you to treat yourself by doing so this Earth Day.

Those responsible for its writing did a beautiful job. Its language is eloquently simple. This may very well emanate from the subject matter itself. After all, how can human beings talk or write about our home, this paradise called Earth, and not be touched to our very cores?

Thoughts have wings

When we talk or write about the Earth, there’s a vibration in each of us that serves as an inexpressible connection which we all understand. But because it has no need of words, this powerful resonance has come to be taken for granted. We no longer heed that resonance. Increasingly, we no longer feel it.

That, I think, is why the Universal Declaration was written, lest this deep connection be forgotten altogether.

Written at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth last year,  the issuance of the Universal Declaration was actually the culmination of many months of very hard work.

One way to appreciate the changes the Declaration underwent during those months is to take a look at the draft that was published online in February 2010.

According to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the proposed Declaration will be presented to the United Nations by Bolivia – site of the Conference – on or around Earth Day 2011.  Its adoption will be a crowning achievement for the United Nations.

This cord wasn’t meant to be cut

A first reading of the Declaration cannot fail to impress, if only because of the dizzying array of subject matter covered. Writing the Declaration was a daunting undertaking, intended to represent the perspectives of all world peoples.  It is at once profound and poetic:

Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.

It’s pragmatic, yet hard to practice:

The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.

It’s based, partly, in science:

… the right to not have its genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens it integrity or vital and healthy functioning;

It’s active, not passive:

… promote and participate in learning, analysis, interpretation and communication about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth in accordance with this Declaration;

It’s idealistic:

… guarantee that the damages caused by human violations of the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration are rectified and that those responsible are held accountable for restoring the integrity and health of Mother Earth;

Finally, it speaks of the elimination of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Obvious, Real and True

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is patterned on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on December 10, 1948.

Both declarations state what is obvious, real and true.  Because people have become accustomed to living in a world where might makes right, these self-evident truths take on the appearance of something new and radical.  After all, where else can you find such ideas?

One place would be the US Constitution. Another would be the Bible!

Too often, we relegate self-evident truths, along with our highest aspirations, to that portion of our brains reserved for all manner of useless, seemingly utopian notions. Consequently, it’s taken many years for the idea of universal human rights to catch on. Today, though, it is an idea with which most people are familiar, and with which most people agree.

Say It Like You Mean It

Not only do both declarations state what is obvious, real and true, but they both require that the promises inherent in the words be fulfilled by living the words.

It is not sufficient just to utter them. We must make them part of our everyday lives.  That is why we must “learn, analyze, interpret and communicate” them.  What a way to celebrate Earth Day – by beginning to “learn and analyze” the words of the Declaration!

Now we have a ritual to enact each year on Earth Day: reading, in a public forum, the words of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Then, to familiarize ourselves with the rights of Mother Earth so we can make them a part of our daily lives, we need to see them in many places, in many different circumstances.  Emblazoned on the entrance signs to state and national parks.

Observed as part of First Peoples’ ceremonies that make the idea of communication with Mother Earth familiar to us all.  Enacted whenever and wherever American culture is celebrated. Taught in public and parochial schools.

Looks like this Earth Day could mark a new beginning for all of us.  Happy Earth Day!

–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice

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  1. Auntiegrav says

    The simplified version is to say that individuals and species of the future have equal rights as individuals now.
    The key activity problem is that humans are taking more from the future than they give back to it: individually, locally, regionally, and species-wide.
    With all of the brains, this seems to be the root problem for the future of the planet. Saying we are going to be ‘friendly to Mother Earth’ is simple pablum. The hard part is we need to be harsh to human beings or nature will be.
    Nobody wants to stand up and say “Stop that!” or “Give that back!”, but someone has to be the adult sooner or later. Chances are, it won’t happen, so the best we can do is hope the System of systems collapses sooner rather than later. Debt is Theft from the future, and the future we have stolen from is merging with our present very quickly. We can no longer ‘hope’ or ‘pray’ or ‘meditate’ or ‘plan’ or ‘conserve’ our way to survival. When we are fully engaged in the future we have set on fire through debts and climate destabilization, then we will also be burning and dying.
    Good luck with that ‘solution’ thing.

    • says

      Hi Auntie –

      I think if you were to speak with the folks in NC or Texas, they’d tell you that climate change has already dealt them a hand that’s hard to play. Ditto Australia, Pakistan, Brazil – lots of places. That doesn’t give them – or us – the right to give up, however. Not now, not when the water is up to our necks, not ever. This planet is worth fighting for, beginning with how each of us lives our lives. And if we don’t take the time to speak up for the gorgeous place we call home, we’ll forget what we’re fighting for. Are the corporations bigger and greedier and meaner than we are? It goes without saying. Just don’t take refuge in saying that right living doesn’t matter. Nothing matters more.

      Best, Vicki

  2. vesey says

    Liberals are fond of the both the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and now are promoting The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. In fact as you mention one of the paragraphs says ” mother earth and all beings are entitled to the inherent rights in this declaration without distinction of any kind such as may be made by organic or inorganic beings, species, origins,use to human beings or any other status “… it sounds nice and as i have said liberals love both declarations. My question is : why do most liberals defend a promote the taking of the life of a child in the womb on demand ??? Why should a blade of grass or an ounce of dirt have more rights than that living, growing “organic being” in the womb ???

    • says

      Hi Vesey –

      Whoo, now that’s what I call a curve ball! I think I’ll insist we stay on subject. The reason, of course, for bothering to write these declarations is to make people aware of the lack of respect shown for many human beings – most often, those who don’t look like or act like us (whoever “us” is) – and lack of respect for the eco-systems put in place long before we ever came on the scene. We all need to be reminded about the things that matter most, because we all confuse our priorities from time to time. These declarations can serve many purposes, among them as reminders, starting points for conversation, and educational tools. Take a few minutes to learn about the instrumental role Eleanor Roosevelt assumed in convincing the UN to adopt the human rights declaration.

      Best, Vicki

  3. Maggie says

    To start with the item of lesser importance here–clearly vesey is unfamiliar with the fact that humans in every society over time have *always* been serious about their responsibility with fertility and family size. They did so from a deep and living spirituality which included respect for the life and health of the individual woman along with her existing children. Further, women considered the needs and resources of their community at large (upon which all depend, after all), and made family choices with respect for Life on the whole in their corner of the world. The priority is Life itself–not individual blades of grass, individual animals killed for any human reason, or individual humans. It is the insanity of individualism itself that has led us into the impending planetary collapse we now face.

    Now, more to your original point, Vicki: It’s about time (well past time, but now will do) for a declaration such as this one–it’s a pleasant surprise to know that it has been created, that people such as the ones who wrote it exist in this world.

    I’m with Auntiegrav on this issue, however–time has run very short, and not enough people care to check their forward trajectory enough to be grownups who will say NO and STOP to those plundering and murdering the Earth. Vicki, I agree and disagree with you on the matter of right living. It’s important that individuals make living choices that respect Life on the whole, yes. And by itself, this is not enough–and can be nothing more than the excuse people hide behind for their failure to take more potent political action. While ‘the personal is political’ indeed, it is not political enough at this point in time. The hour is very late for Mother Earth, and none of us can afford to consider *only* the personal actions of green living as our whole response to this crisis–there are actions that matter more, if we are not to witness the extinction of life on our planet. And if more and more people won’t take those kinds of political actions, then right living will matter not at all–it will simply be too late.

  4. says

    Hi Maggie –
    Life is the gift of a loving G-d. The absence of right living shows an absence of gratitude. You are completely correct that it is not enough.
    Voting is another gift we were given, in this case by our remarkable ancestors. A lot of folks I know who voted for the R’s last time are pretty bitter about it. President Obama is far from perfect, but he’s the best we’re going to do right now. Without a government prepared to take action, we are condemned to wrong living on a massive scale. Vote Democrat!!!
    Best, Vicki

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