The #AmINext protests of the past two weeks were a game-changer for South Africa, writes Adriaan Basson.
High level clouds. Mild.
Should nature and its constituent parts - animals, plants, rivers and valleys - have legally recognised rights comparable to those of humans?Not too long ago nobody who mattered in the world (ie mostly rich white males) would have dreamed of considering women as being equal to men or black people as being people at all. Today, these concepts are well entrenched human rights, recognised and defended by all but the most barbaric throwbacks.These days, very few of the people who matter in the world (ie mostly rich white males) would seriously consider extending legal rights to nature. But so-called Earth rights are gradually forcing themselves onto the global enviro-political agenda.South Africans should be at the forefront of the debate. It was a Cape Town lawyer, Cormac Cullinan, who in 2002 published Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, which remains the seminal book on the topic. Cullinan has been instrumental in helping to disseminate the concept of Earth rights and turning it into a lived reality internationally, but you’re much more likely to have heard of him if you’re Bolivian than if you’re a Saffer.The ideas behind Earth rights aren’t complicated, but for most of us they will require a major shift in mindset. Our planet as a whole is conceived of as a self-regulating, self-sustaining community of interrelated and interdependent natural entities that includes human beings, rather than simply as a collection of individual components which humans are entitled to exploit for their exclusive benefit.The basis for this way of looking at the world is not some New Age tree-hugging esoterica, but sound scientific, ecological reasoning. The long-term survival of a complex, integrated, living system is crucially dependent on an equilibrated balance between all of its constituent parts. If humans continue to insist on dominating, polluting and unsustainably exploiting the larger natural system of which we are a part, we will ultimately be responsible for its destruction and for our own demise. Earth rights are an attempt to formally and legally balance the rights and responsibilities of humans against those of the other members of the natural community that makes up our planet.In recent times these ideas have started to gain international prominence. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to adopt a constitution that recognises the rights of nature and April of this year saw the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia at which Earth rights took centre stage.Faced with the threat of climate change, but frustrated by the lack of political will and action from developed countries and the dismal performance of international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord, more than 30 000 participants from 140 countries produced a draft for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and a People’s Agreement which were subsequently submitted to the UN by the Bolivian government.The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, in the drafting of which Cullinan played a leading role, asserts that humans are members of an indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings”, each of which has an inherent right to water, clean air, health, freedom from contamination, pollution, toxic or radioactive waste and detrimental genetic modification. It asserts that humans have an obligation to act in accordance with these rights.The proposals from the World People’s Conference go far beyond the weak rhetoric of Copenhagen, demanding a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emission in developed countries by 2017, a one degree limit on global temperature increase during this century, payment of climate debts and compensation to developing countries, the establishment of a Tribunal of Climate and Environmental Justice and a rejection of carbon markets as a mechanism for dealing with climate change. Capitalism, as a system premised on endless growth on a finite planet, was identified as incompatible with life itself and an underlying structural cause of climate change and environmental degradation.Call me an idiot (again), but I for one hope that Earth rights grow from the militant groundswell they represent today into a universal principle to stand alongside human rights before it’s too late.- Andreas has a PhD in geochemistry and manages Lobby Books, the independent book shop at Idasa’s Cape Town Democracy Centre. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_SpathSend
your comments to Andreas
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the
expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on
News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the
views of News24.
24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.
What makes a great Formula 1 driver? Is it their natural 'raw talent'?
According to an international fashion authority.
How does mom's anxiety affect baby?
Audi’s crossover and SUV offering has received a notable consolidation.
Here's how you can slash that price in half.
Highclere Castle is now open to the public.
Here's what to watch in local cinemas.
A quick dinner when you simply can't bother making pasta from scratch.
Cape TownTumaini ConsultingR600 000.00 - R700 000.00 Per Year
ClaremontVelocity Trade Financial Services (PTY) Ltd
Cape Town CBDElite SourcingR15 000.00 Per Month Per Month
R 3 395 000
R 1 650 000
Apartments / Flats
R 1 550 000
We subscribe to the Press Code.
You choose what you want
News24 on Android
Get the latest from News24 on your Android device.
Terms and Conditions
24.com Terms and Conditions - Updated April 2012
Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.
This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.