Earth Rights

Vandana Shiva writes about the inevitability of recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth, if we are to really pay heed to issues of human rights.

We need a new paradigm for living on the Earth. An alternative to the present paradigm is now a survival imperative for the human species. And the alternative that is needed is not only at the level of tools or technologies: it is at the level of our worldview. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? Are we merely a money-making and resource-guzzling machine? or do we have a higher purpose?

The world order built on the economic fundamentalism of limitless growth and on the technological fundamentalism that maintained that there is a technological fix for every social and environmental ill is clearly disintegrating.

The collapse of the economic system in 2008 and the continuing financial crisis signal the end of the paradigm that put fictitious finance above real wealth created by Nature and humans, profits above people, and corporations above citizens. This paradigm can only be kept afloat with limitless bailouts directing public wealth to private rescues instead of using it to rejuvenate Nature and economic livelihoods. It can only be kept afloat with increasing violence to the Earth and people. It can only be kept alive as an economic dictatorship.

This is clear in India’s heartland, where the limitless appetite for steel and aluminium for the global consumer economy (and the limitless appetite for the profits generated by the steel and aluminium corporations) is now clashing head-on with the rights of tribal people to their land and homes, their forests and rivers, their cultures and ways of life.

Tribal people are saying a loud and clear ‘no’ to their forced uprooting. The only way to get the minerals and coal that feed the ‘limitless growth’ model in the face of democratic resistance is the use of militarized violence, and operation Green Hunt has been launched in the tribal areas of India with precisely this purpose – even though the proclaimed public objective is to clear out the ‘Maoists’.

More than 40,000 armed paramilitary forces have been placed in tribal areas that are rich in minerals and where tribal unrest is growing, demonstrating that the current economic paradigm can only unfold through increased militarization and the undermining of democratic and human rights.

The technological fundamentalism that has externalized costs, both ecological and social, and blinded us to ecological destruction has also reached a dead end. Climate chaos – the externality of technologies based on the use of fossil fuels – is a wake-up call: a warning that we cannot continue on the fossil-fuel path. The high cost of industrial farming is running up against limits, in terms of both the ecological destruction of the natural capital of soil, water, biodiversity and air, and the creation of malnutrition, with a billion people denied food and another two billion denied health because of rampant obesity, diabetes and other food-related diseases.

We are all members of the Earth family, and our first and highest duty is to take care of Mother Earth: Prithvi, Gaia, Pachamama – however you name her. And the better we take care of her, the more food and water, health and wealth we have. ‘Earth Rights’ are first and foremost the rights of Mother Earth. Earth rights are also the rights of humans: the right to food and water, health and a safe environment and the right to rivers, seeds, biodiversity and unpolluted atmosphere.

I have given the name Earth Democracy to this new paradigm of living as an Earth Community, respecting the rights of Mother Earth.

Earth democracy enables us to create living democracies, which enable democratic participation in all matters of life and death: the food we eat or do not have access to; the water we drink or are denied through privatization or pollution; the air we breathe or are poisoned by. Living democracies are based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures.

Earth democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that are the basis of the right to life, including the right to water, the rights to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to jobs and livelihoods.

Ahmisa or nonviolence is already the basis of many faiths that have emerged on Indian soil. Translated into economics, nonviolence implies that our systems of production, trade and consumption do not use up the ecological space of other species and other people. Violence is the result when our dominant economic structures and economic organization usurp and ring-fence that space.

According to an ancient Indian text, the Isha Upanishad “The universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefit of all creation. Each individual life form must, therefore, learn to enjoy its benefits in close relation with other species. Let not any one species encroach upon others’ rights.” Whenever we engage in consumption or production patters that take more than we need, we are engaging in violence. Non-sustainable consumption and non-sustainable production constitute a violent economic order.

Earth Rights are the basis of equity, justice and sustainability. On Earth Day 2010, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, organised a conference on Rights of Mother Earth. The idea is to start a process for adopting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without Earth Rights there can be no Human Rights.

Vandana Shiva


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