Rights of Nature and Rio+20 – Seeds for the Future We Really Want

A Report from Robin Milam, Global Alliance for Rights of Nature http://www.theRightsOfNature.org

My intention for Rio+20 was very specific: to make a bold statement for our planet and offer the recognition of Rights of Nature as a viable, positive solution for our Earth Community.  Rights of Nature is the recognition that the natural ecosystems that sustain us have the right to exist, to persist, maintain and regenerate their vital cycles. Today we treat nature as property to be bought, sold and consumed, much like we once treated slaves.  As advocates for Rights of Nature, we propose it is time to recognize nature and its ecosystems as a subject of the law such that the ecosystems themselves can be named as a defendant of the law.

Rights of Nature offers the foundation for true sustainability that is so missing in the formal UN negotiations.  Moreover, it is a viable solution that is gaining traction globally and in over two dozen communities in the United States and was enthusiastically embraced by many participants at the Rio+20 conference.

In the face of what we knew would be a dismal outcome for the formal negotiations, my Global Alliance colleagues and I achieved far more on behalf of Rights of Nature than we had expected.  We are encouraged by the breadth of the response we received and by the creatively that has been stirred by the global focus on Rio+20.

Front and center, the Future We Want ─ the formal Rio+20 document ─ actually includes a statement acknowledging that Rights of Nature.  We have lobbied for the last year to have Rights of Nature language in the final document and succeeded in that endeavor.   Linda Sheehan of Earth Law Center was a galvanizing force for us within the UN.

Article 39. We recognize that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.

Furthermore, the UN published a beautiful coffee table book for Rio+20 entitled Future Perfect. www.uncsd2012.org/content/documents/Tudor Rose.pdf  The first two chapters in Future Perfect are about Rights of Nature.

The Rights of Mother Earth Signature Campaign  http://rightsofmotherearth.com has a vision of gathering 1 million signatures in support of Rights of Nature.  At this point, over 120,000 individuals from 113 countries and leaders of 186 organizations representing over 600,000 people have signed petitions. Among the distinguished signatories are Vandana Shiva, Desmond Tutu, Joanna Macy, Paul Hawken, Jack Canfield, Nnimmo Bassey, and many others.  On June 21, the Rights of Mother Earth campaign delivered a package of signatures to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.  Later that day former Brazilian Senator Hercules Goes publicly presented the signature campaign document to President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.   Goes also arranged at least half a dozen interviews with UN Radio for the Global Alliance team and for Cormac Cullinan and Natalia Green to present a 30 minute Rights of Nature presentation on UN Television.

Rights of Nature was a major theme in at least a dozen side events.  The Global Alliance hosted events inside Rio+20 and at the People’s Summit entitled Rights of Nature as a Foundation for Sustainability & Rights of Mother Earth Signing Ceremony.  Hosts of other related events represent diverse entities including the Blue Pavilion (water and oceans ), Peoples Sustainability Treaties: Rights of Mother Earth, the government of Ecuador, the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, Future Governance beyond Rio,  Vandana Shiva et. al.’s Visions of the Living Earth book signing event, Indigenous gatherings at Kari Oca2 and others.  During Ecuador’s Rights of Nature and Bien Vivir event Cormac Cullinan publicly acknowledged President Correa and presented the results of our signature campaign, http://therightsofnature.org/rio20/president-correa-ecuador/,

A series of books and reports advocating Rights of Nature were also released at the Conference:

  • Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change, a collection of essays published by Global Exchange;  http://www.globalexchange.org/communityrights/resources/rioreport
  • Visions of the Living Earth: Future of Governance Post Rio, a collection of essays by Vandana Shiva, Leonardo Buff, and others;
  • Bolivia distributed their Proposal for a Law of Mother Earth ;·      Foundation Earth published their The Economic Rethink – Who Does It Well? http://www.fdnearth.org/ A report card for assessing what countries are taking “right actions” using Rights of Nature as a key criteria for assessing Rethinking our Economy  Future Perfect  by the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

While we were a small force, we showed once again that a dedicated team can make a difference.  We were very present both at the UN Rio+20 and the People’s Summit Conferences. We put a bold stake in the ground with respect to the Future We REALLY Want.

Our message: Viable solutions do exist! Rights of Nature is the foundation for a sustainable future.  With what we accomplished, the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature sees Rio as a successful launch for the next unfolding of Rights of Nature.


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Roads from Rio: Business as Usual or Rights of Nature?

A Review of Rio+20

Rio de Janeiro

The recent UN and People’s Climate Conferences held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil attracted an estimated 50,000 people. Several hours’ drive and galactic differences in perceptions and goals about what is needed to avert an impending ecological, social and economic disaster separated these two distinctly divergent conferences. The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and Green Economy predictably emphasized “Development and Economy” and gave lip service to “Green and Sustainable”.  The UN ended with a watered down, non-binding agreement to look at making

commitments at some future date. The UN focus was primarily on privatization and using market solutions to solve the problems that were primarily created by the market. In other words, more talk and environmental inaction! The so called solutions offered by primary participants in the UN conference all revolve around putting a price on the use of natural resources previously considered ‘free’. This will only lead to greater destruction and increasing the gap between rich and poor on this planet.

Flamingo Park

The People’s Conference, at the Flamingo Park, in downtown Rio was a 5km strip of tents and makeshift buildings where citizens from around the world gathered to discuss how to protect, defend and address the rights of nature, as a fundamental solution to the climate crisis. The basic outcome at the people’s conference was a galvanizing of civil society towards taking matters to the people.

Indigenous man surrounded by police at Rio+20

Below is an overview and assessment of the Rio+20 conference (now being called by many Rio-20). Robin Milan, Administrator of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and I went to Rio with a particular focus around the issue of the rights of nature. Before I get into the many aspects and elements of the conferences I want to share with you two issues that inspired me and gave me hope: The youth movement and the growing awareness of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.

What gives me Hope?

Bill McKibben joins Youth at Rio+20. Photo: Lindsey Gillies

The Youth Movement

As in previous conferences there was a large representation of the youth at this conference. Currently 52% of our global population is under the age of 30. These are the people who are inheriting the mess that we are leaving behind for them and future generations. They are the ones who will in a very short time need to figure out how to govern 9 billion people in deteriorating environmental, economic and social systems. The young people who attend these conferences often have a better grasp on the issues than the politicians, lobbyists and corporate promoters.

At a Youth Summit prior to Rio+20 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told the young people, “make some noise, I mean raise your voices. Demand real action [at Rio+20]”.  Frustrated by the Rio document, which all felt had been bought by corporate interests, swarms of youth and civil society groups walked out of the conference center, turning in their badges in protest as they departed. Within minutes twitter, face book and social media around the world was a buzz with this demonstration of discontent.

In talking with these young people I am deeply moved by their understanding of the issues, their ability to mobilize and communicate and their commitment to do what is right for the future of the children of all species. It is clear that today’s youth will not be distracted by hollow promises and fake solutions.

March for Rights of Nature

March for Rights of Nature

The second thing that gave me hope was the tremendous recognition of the need for a global structure and mind shift that recognizes the Rights of Nature as legal and enforceable rights. This will take a total paradigm shift in our thinking and that is exactly what we need right now. There is no way we can continue with business as usual in the way we extract, defile and destroy our very life support systems. Please read the report in this newsletter from Robin Milam,

Robin Milam in Rio

the executive administrator of the Alliance for the Rights of Nature. This represents a powerful new direction for environmental restoration and sanity. It is an idea whose time has come and it is catching on quickly.

What has been happening at the UN site?

Twenty years after the first Rio conference, when hopes were high, possibilities were rich and there was a consensus that something needed to be done to protect the ecosystems, we see that we have actually moved backwards. In fact every ecosystem has been significantly degraded and many have reached threatening tipping points. Climate change is devastating the planet with fires, increasingly violent storms, floods and record temperatures. Fewer people in the US now believe that climate change is a real threat or caused by human activity than they did 20 years ago, thanks to huge climate denial investments by the fossil fuel industry and other corporate interests.

The final UN document from Rio+20, entitled The Future We Want, was hailed by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon as “a solid platform to build on which has affirmed fundamental principles, renewed essential commitments, and given us new direction.” This document says it has affirmed “voluntary commitments to shape a more sustainable future for the benefit of the planet and its people.” We have seen how these “voluntary commitments” have worked in the past. To expect corporations, whose primary purpose is to produce profits, to suddenly get a moral, social and environmental conscience is like a zebra turning in his stripes for spots.

While the suits and ties of industry and corporate colonialism hailed this document as a breakthrough and success, most of the world sees it for what it is, a new spin on a massive failure that pushes us towards greater climate destruction, expanded privatization of the commons, and a widening gap between the rich and poor!

Economic Growth in a closed loop system

The word you hear the most in looking at how we should fix the economy is growth. Growth will produce jobs, get our economy back on track, stimulate the economy and bring prosperity. That may have been good when we had a billion or less people on the planet, but at this point in our evolution it constitutes a kind of hopeful insanity. As Rita Mae Brown says, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” We are trying to fix the problem of the destruction of our planet and ecosystems with market solutions. We are even creating sophisticated ways of packaging pollution for profit. WE CANNOT HAVE AN ECONOMIC SYSTEM BASED ON PERPETUAL GROWTH WITH FINITE RESOURCES AND A GROWING POPULATION!

I am sorry to be so bold, but come on… Technology, innovation and no amount of economic analysts’ hocus pocus are going to save us. We are not above nature and natural systems, nor are we smarter.  We are Nature! There are long-range consequences of our actions on all life. Traditional economists think short-term, react short-term, pursue short-term goals. New emerging eco-economists think long-term. Like the native tribes that thought in terms of seven generation, we need to look out at future life on our planet and protect the future generations of all species. Nature needs diversity to evolve, grow and continue. How do you protect future generations from something like the 52,000 tons of dangerously radioactive spent fuel stockpiled from commercial and defense nuclear reactors that have a toxic half-life of 25,000 years? Rather than market solutions we need to apply the precautionary principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle) to all corporate, commercial and industrial processes.


Nearly a billion and a half people on the planet have no electricity at all, while 40% of the population relies on solid fuels for heating and cooking. As billions of people struggle to meet their energy needs, over consumption of energy primarily in the North is driving dangerous climate change – 11% of the population produce over half of all greenhouse gasses. The International Energy Agency warns that failure to reduce fossil fuel consumption will put the world on the path to at least a 6c (fatal) temperature rise.

Oil Refinery on Sacred Lands

The current UN initiative as it stands, “is inadequate and non-inclusive and will not achieve the level of change required to tackle both energy poverty and dangerous climate change. To date, multinational corporations have been given the biggest role, while the very voices of those it exists to help have been excluded at the highest levels,” reports a statement signed by 107 global civil organizations and NGOs. We are all in this together and we must stand up to the corporate commitment to control and commodify all of nature.

Yes, there is room for economic entrepreneurship, but it needs to be more localized, and when it comes to energy less centralized. Nature does not waste! It uses everything. It’s time to learn to live within our ecological limits and begin to think like nature. Starting with conservation and how we personally live our lives. Corporate interests can’t survive if we stop supporting them. The fossil fuel industry has a revolving door with our government and our banks. We can no longer afford the luxury of sitting by and being spectators. We must become mindful of our part in the larger system and how our every day being in the world impacts that system.

Fossil Fuels and Subsidies

“By claiming progress when none has been made towards getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, world leaders are cooking the books and cooking the planet.  They are ignoring the global outcry to stop funding climate change by getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, instead choosing to do nothing and point to existing commitments which amount to nothing.  Leaders need to listen to the people and fund the future, not fossils.”

Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International

The final declarat

All of Nature is Watching…

ion of the Rio+20 summit takes no concrete action to eliminate the trillion dollars a year in fossil fuel subsidies.  Voluntary commitments have led to zero subsidies being eliminated since the G20 adopted them over three years ago. Global public support and outrage has been demonstrated by over 1 million signing a petition call for action now. Elimination of these subsidies would reveal real costs of products and level the playing field for the emergence for real green technologies. If we actually included the externalized costs of infrastructure, health and destruction of natural capital we would speed up conservation, innovation and creativity.  The IEA reports, that “phasing out global fossil fuel subsidies could provide half the global carbon target by 2020.”

In spite of the fact that we have reached peak oil and every future barrel of oil extracted will be more expensive and have a greater environmental impact, we continue to support and subsidize fossil fuel extraction and move towards even dirtier forms of refinement like tar sands and coal gasification. The recent hydraulic fracturing (fracking) craze that is sweeping the US is polluting ground water to the point in some cases where the water catches on fire. The polluted water then has to be contained somewhere to avoid further poisoning of the ground water. This latest frontier for natural gas will leave many towns and landscapes devastated when the gas runs out, like those of the gold rush era. If we only use half of the known oil reserves we have in the ground it is predicted that it would lead to a devastating rise in climate temperature of 4 degrees centigrade, making earth uninhabitable.

Natural resource extraction has never been a pretty business when it comes to the environment, but the era of easy oil, easy gas, easy minerals and other resources is basically over, and what’s left is in deep water, remote or inhospitable climates, or in geological formations that require extraordinary means to get at. This means that the social and environmental consequences will continue to escalate and further deteriorate our eco systems. We continue to do this in the name of jobs and the economy. But, as I have said before, there is no economy on a dead planet! What can we do today to lessen our ecological footprint and use our dollar power to remove our support from corporate destruction? Living inside of this question will go a long way towards a shift in our global mind-set.

Agriculture and Food Security

Industrial Chicken Farm

It may well be that the one area that will bring the greatest devastation to our economic and social systems as well as threaten peace and future life on our planet, is the collapse of industrial agriculture. This is not a question of, will the industrial food system fail, but when will it unravel. You cannot continue a system that is based on the use of petroleum fertilizers, antibiotics, genetic seed manipulation and production of mono-crops. Industrial Farming practices continue to destroy the fragile topsoil at a rate of an eighth of an inch, or 1% of our top soil per year.

On average, the planet is covered with little more than 3 feet of topsoil, the shallow skin of nutrient-rich matter that sustains most of our food and appears to play a critical role in supporting life on Earth. Topsoil thrives on biodiversity. It is estimated to take about a hundred years to naturally produce an inch of topsoil. Yet, we continue to tear down fragile forests, the lungs of our planet, killing all life, planting genetically modified seeds with terminator genes to planting mono cultures. We then ship the food an average of 1500 miles to the super markets. This is not sustainable. Yet, this is precisely the kind of market solutions that are being discussed and supported at Rio+20. What is needed are more local farms and  farmers, using organic soil restoration methods and planting diverse crops which are sold locally.

We also need to stop Biopiracy, creating patents of legal rights over biological materials by international companies to develop food or medicines, without recompensing the countries and communities from which they are taken. Monsanto and Rice Tec are two of the leader in this area. Seeds and plants are not the property of corporations. They were given to all from Mother Earth and need to remain part of the commons for the good of all. In addition to these issues there is a massive land grab going on around the planet with rich countries buying up agricultural land in other countries with the intention of growing and exporting food. This is reminiscent of the Irish potato famine when people were starving while food was being exported to England.

As Vandana Shiva says about the Rio+20 conference, “The biotechnology industry which has caused genetic pollution by releasing genetically engineered organisms into the environment is making the rules on how to manage biodiversity and how to govern Biosafety.” We need to take back the commons and our role as care takers of nature by recognizing we are nature. Water, seeds, minerals, the earth is not a product. It is a life support system.

March of the Women

Empowerment of Women

The final outcome document for the Rio+20 summit is 53 pages long, some 23,917 words. Women were mentioned in less than 0.01 percent of the text. Of the seven priority areas of discussion at the summit, none included a focus on women’s health and empowerment.

Women’s empowerment leads to poverty reduction, more democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, environmental care and sustainable agriculture. The proportion of working-age women who are employed lags behind men in all regions. Yet women are indispensable in agriculture, producing up to 80 percent of the world’s food, and their unpaid labor is estimated to contribute up to 50 percent of GDP in some countries.

By preventing unintended pregnancies, family planning can enhance women’s employment opportunities, and increase their financial contribution to communities and nations. With 7 billion people on our planet and a projected 9-12 billion by 2050, you would think that population control would be at the top of the agenda. But, once again the Vatican has used its privileged position at the United Nations to impose its extremist religious agenda on the negotiation process. Despite the best efforts of women leaders in government and civil society, strong statements on access to contraception and reproductive health services are still in doubt. All mention of population control, abortion, and family planning were stricken from the UN document. The Catholic Church and right wing anti- abortion interests were the primary groups that kept women’s reproductive rights out of the final document.

Consequences of environmental change, floods, droughts, crop failures affect everyone, but are especially hard on women and families. As the primary people responsible for gathering water, firewood, and other household resources, women are on the front lines of the climate crisis. When they are able plan the timing of their own childbearing, they can better adapt to the unpredictable impacts of climate change, and ensure the survival of their families. When they have an equal voice in governance more caring and sustainable laws and agreements emerge. Women tend to look with a more whole systems perspective than men, which leads to cooperation rather than competition,


Water is Life

No resource is more critical to life on earth than water. Water rights have been an issue through all time. Without it we cannot survive. Yet corporate efforts to privatize water around the world will probably result in water exceeding oil as the most valuable resource in the future. Securing the rights to water for the commons is essential for our future and the future of all life on this planet.  Over one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and more than one million children die each year of diseases caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation. As water scarcity grows, so too will these numbers.

At Rio+20 water was one of the seven key issues under discussion. Companies ranging from Coca Cola, Nestle, Glaxo SmithKline, Merck and Bayer signed a special communiqué highlighting the urgency of the global water crisis. The fact that these companies have all been involved in the privatization, pollution, waste and commodification of water might raise some concern about their profit motive. Their primary goal was to establish a “fair and appropriate price for water.” The UN estimates that two thirds of humanity will live in water-stressed regions by 2025 as a result of population growth, urbanization and industrialization trends and climate change.

Water is a public trust; it belongs to everyone. But water privatization is sneaking through the back door in the form of public-private partnerships. We must become involved in water issues on a local and global level by being informed and acting.

The Oceans & Island States

Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, but are also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon, known as ocean acidification, is one of the most serious, yet under – recognized challenges facing life on earth. Ocean acidification, a process in which seawater chemistry changes when the ocean absorbs rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is profoundly affecting global waters and marine life.

Seventy percent of our beautiful blue planet is covered in ocean. While there was more heated and protracted discussion at the UN conference than ever before concerning the protection of health and future of life in the oceans, little progress was made towards any real commitment. Members of the High Seas Alliance (HSA) attending the Conference said the final outcome “should be a catalyst for action”. Again this conference came short of any binding agreements or protection for our oceans.

The agreements that have been discussed for decades are basically being ignored, averted or stalled. Fulfillment of the commitment to eliminate deep-sea bottom fishing; end overfishing until stocks have recovered; create requirements that regional fisheries management bodies be accountable to the UN; eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies; Close ports to illegally obtained fish; Establish national and high seas marine protected areas, including reserves – none of these are being enforced. A very disappointing outcome defers a decision for two and a half years. In spite of excellent leadership and support by Brazil, the European Union the Pacific Small Island States, who are facing a 2-10 meter sea rise, and others, this weak decision was all that was possible, due to opposition from the US, Canada and a handful of other countries.

A study produced by Media Matters for America, a progressive research and information center concluded that 77% of Americans say they have read or heard nothing about ocean acidification. Of the 23% who say that they have heard of ocean acidification, only 32 percent understand that ocean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide. In other words, less than 8 percent of Americans understand the basics of one of the largest threats to our oceans — and a major culprit for that ignorance is the national media. This is good reason to follow and support independent media like KVMR.


The eight largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) announced that they will invest $175 billion to finance more sustainable transportation systems over the coming decade, boosting equitable economic development and protecting the environment and public health across the developing world. The pledge by the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and six other MDBs was made at the start of Rio+20. This is a good start and hopefully will help to reduce carbon emissions in urban areas around the world.

Congestion, air pollution, road accidents and transport related climate change can cost 5-10% of GDP per year, but this number does not represent the impact on health and the environment. The transportation sector is now the fastest

Rio Traffic

growing source of greenhouse gases as a result of decades of urban planning that focused on improving mobility for automobiles at the expense of public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians. This approach has made life much more difficult for people in cities, especially the urban poor.

What is needed here is a systems perspective and mind shift around issues work, localization, place and social mobility. The days of using fossil fuel to transport people is coming to an end.

There are many more issues that were addressed at Rio+20. But, in every case the outcome was the same. No real commitment to match the challenges we face!

A message from a 17 year-old youth representative

My name is Brittany Trilford. I am seventeen years old, a child. Today, in this moment, I am all children, your children, the world’s three billion children. Think of me for these short minutes as half the world.

I stand here with fire in my heart. I’m confused and angry at the state of the world and I want us to work together now to change this. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future.

You and your governments have promised to reduce poverty and sustain our environment. You have already promised to combat climate change, ensure clean water and food security. Multi-national corporations have already pledged to respect the environment, green their production, compensate for their pollution. These promises have been made and yet, still, our future is in danger.

We are all aware that time is ticking and is quickly running out. You have 72 hours to decide the fate of your children, my children, my children’s children.

Let us think back to twenty years ago – well before I was even an inkling in my parents’ eyes – back to here, to Rio, where people met at the first Earth Summit in 1992. People at this Summit knew there needed to be change. All of our systems were failing and collapsing around us. These people came together to acknowledge these challenges to work for something better, commit to something better.

They made great promises, promises that, when I read them, still leave me feeling hopeful. These promises are left – not broken, but empty. How can that be? When all around us is the knowledge that offers us solutions. Nature as a design tool offers insight into systems that are whole, complete, that give life, create value, allow progress, transformation, change.

We, the next generation, demand change. We demand action so that we have a future and have it guaranteed. We trust that you will, in the next 72 hours, put our interests ahead of all other interests and boldly do the right thing. Please, lead. I want leaders who lead.

 I am here to fight for my future. That is why I’m here. I would like to end by asking you to consider why you’re here and what you can do. Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?

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Property Rights vs. Rights of Nature

Rio de Janeiro

The most important issue here in Rio is contrasted in two distinctly different worldviews. One view sees nature as a corporate commodity with humans acting as retail clerks and consumers of the “resources”, while holding themselves above and separate from Nature. The other is the new emerging paradigm that holds the view that we are an integral and

All of Nature is Watching!

interdependent part of nature, with the responsibility of caring for, maintaining and restoring vitality to our eco systems. Of course this earth-centered perspective is not a new view – it is one that indigenous tribes have held for millennium. What is new is that seven billion humans have become such a dominant presence on this planet that we ensure our own destruction if we continue in the direction we are headed. The overwhelming consensus of scientists is that climate change and ecocide are the result of humanities’ actions. Of course that also means that we are the ones with the potential to turn things around to a more eco friendly way of living in harmony with the earth. The over whelming question is how can we do that – a market place approach or earth centered caring economy?

Unfortunately corporate interests have immense financial resources, political power, control of the legal system and domination of the media. But what has been clearly and visibly demonstrated here in Rio is that the emperors have no clothes. The rhetoric about a Green Economy and Sustainable Development (emphasis on economy and development) can be seen for what it truly is, an excuse for privatization and commodification of the natural world for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many. Market solutions to a problem caused by the market will only bring more destruction and externalized debt. As more and more people realize that our current governments and corporate interests are not going to save us, a new revolutionary possibility arises. That is the rise of civil society to take matters into their own hands. As the Hopi elders have prophesied, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

What is needed is a shift in consciousness from an eco- apartheid perspective of separateness, to experiencing our absolute and total interrelationship with the natural world and turning that realization into action. Just talking about it is not enough! We must begin to act from a place of being the earth. This challenging shift in perspective must direct our actions, words, thoughts and deeds if humanity is to survive. To assist in shifting this point of view I have listed some important and valuable resources below. At the heart of this shift is the idea of moving from a human jurisprudence based in our colonial legal system, to an Earth centered jurisprudence. The focus on the rights of nature is at the heart of this potential transformation.

Ecuador is the first country to put protection of the rights of nature into its constitution. Many local municipalities and community groups around the world are creating legal instruments to protect the environment from corporate greed and commercial commodification. Nature is not a thing. It is a home, a diverse system of interrelated communities of life that
work interdependently. To allow only one species to dominate this system ensures it’s destruction. I know to many of my readers it seems strange to think of giving rights to nature. It was also once unthinkable to give rights to women, to slaves, in fact the idea of human rights was also beyond comprehension.  It is now time to think about giving rights to trees, rivers, oceans, glaciers and the thousands of species that become extinct every year. Isn’t it time to respect and honor the rights of all life on this mother of all life, our living, breathing and beautiful planet Earth? This is an idea whose time has come! We have the opportunity to imagine and create a major paradigm shift. Let’s make this is the defining issue of our time.

For more information on Rights of Nature go to:







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Green Economy?

Do we really want a green economy?

All the buzz here at the Rio+20, also known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), is about creating a green economy and sustainable development. Sounds good, eh? Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The many-headed hydra is raising its ugly head again and it is hungry for profit über alles. As David Suzuki, Canada’s most prominent environmentalist, said, it is absurd to let corporations profit in name of saving planet. Nature doesn’t care about the economy!

As one who has for many years been a supporter of market based solutions for solving environmental problems I have shifted my position over the past few years, as I have seen massive corruption, reckless misrepresentation and growing greed destroy what originally looked like viable solutions to environmental sustainability. In short, the corporate structures have been driving us in the wrong direction and are offering the same failed strategies that were presented here 20 years ago. Yes, I know the common belief is that we have to work within the economic system. Corporate media propaganda says it will create jobs, innovation and new technological solutions; and provide funding for keeping the ecosystem running properly. But, it is the corporations that have been destroying the environment, shipping jobs overseas and externalized costs of doing business in exchange for profit, power and greed. Global warming, record extinction rates, depleted fisheries, vast economic inequality and eco system destruction continues to grow at an exponential rate. It is time for a new vision!

Rights of Nature: A New Paradigm for Global Sustainability

Instead of putting a price on Nature, we need to recognize that humans are part of Nature and that Nature is not a thing to possess or a mere supplier of resources. The Earth is a living system, it is our home and it is a community of interdependent beings and parts of one whole system.

Pablo Solon

After the complete failure to produce any viable results, strategies or binding agreement in Copenhagen at the UN’s COP15 Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, called for a People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba. I attended both events and reported back to our listeners, with my colleague, Robin Milam from Cochabamba, as well as covering events in my blog and newsletter. What a difference between the two events. Copenhagen was about carbon credits and market solutions, much like the ones being proposed here in Rio. They all focus on the commodification of “natural capital” into resources for the benefit of  corporate profit and the enrichment of a few. Whereas the Cochabamba summit focused on the idea that climate change is inextricably linked to the natural rights of nature. The Cochabamba conference produced a people’s declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, which has been presented to the UN. Since this conference many people around the world have been working to create a paradigm shift in the way we relate to the natural world and a to develop a blue print for action. Today the Global Exchange has released an important document called Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change. You can download the pdf here Download the full report.  I highly recommend reading this document and sending it on the others…

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller

Things that are unimportant have distracted most of us humans; we watch TV, engage in Facebook, shop and amuse ourselves with trivialities. With the melt down of our economy we have been faced with the fear of loosing our jobs, our homes and our future. But there is an even greater threat facing all of us and it is coming at us “like a speeding bullet.” Economic development, population growth, expanding consumption and environmental destruction are upsetting the balance between humans and the earth’s natural systems. This is not a spectator sport. You are engaged in the process whether you choose to participate or not. I have great hope as we approach the precipice of global catastrophe that humanity can make a shift to a new life affirming relationship to the earth community. But, it will take a complete transformation in the way we view our place in the world and our relationship to Mother Earth. We are not above nature, we are an integral part of a system that will survive with or without us.

In the next blog I will talk Property Rights vs. Rights of Nature. Stay tuned. It is amazingly chaotic here in Rio and everything takes 5 times longer than you expect.



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Rio Day 1-2: Arriving

Arriving in Rio

Twenty-four hours, three airplanes, stopping in Houston and Panama City before arriving in Rio, a city of 6.3 million people, at 4am. From the airplane the city looked like a series of interconnected islands of sparkling jewels inviting me to the party. On the ground it was a whole different story. The young man seated next to me said, “Wait till you see it in the daytime.” Humm…

Caught a cab, easy to get at that time in the morning, and headed into the city center to find the apartment I will be staying in for the next two weeks. After some searching in the growing traffic we found where I was staying and I met my enthusiastic host Jeff and two students from Germany who were also staying there. After spending several hours searching for a place to change money from dollars to Reals (interesting name for a currency) I went across town to meet my colleague, Robin Milam and begin our journey to the Rio Centro, where the UN conference is being held. We were told that it would take about an hour to get there, but were not warned about traffic.

Ipenema Beach

First we took a subway to Ipanema (no I didn’t see that girl), then we caught a bus and entered into the absolute worst rush hour traffic I have ever encountered in my life. According to the locals, this is normal. It turned out that the bus didn’t actually go all the way to the conference center so we were dropped off at a shopping center where we waited for over a half hour for a cab. After over 4 hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic we arrived at the accreditation location, which had closed a half hour earlier. Luckily I had Eduardo, the cab driver waits for us, as there were packs of frustrated UN delegates waiting for cabs, they had surrounded us like hungry Piranha looking for dinner.

With our ebullient driver Eduardo chatting in Portuguese continuously we headed back to City Center. By this time it was 8pm and we had not eaten since early that morning. Another chaotic 2-hour ride sitting in diesel fumes and stop and go traffic. I kept thinking of all the 5rhythm classes I had taught on being with chaos. The practice on the floor meets the real world! Surrender… Let Go. Release. Breathe! I am tired, hungry and not able to communicate with our driver. This is what is happening right now. The lesson of chaos: being with what is, even when you would like it to be some other way. Time to pull out the big guns – Om Mani Padme Hum – chanting the mantra to one’s self comes with a spiritual guarantee of freedom (generally not instantaneous, but a good tool to have in times like this). Deep breath and traffic snakes slowly forward through the beautiful hills and valleys around Rio.

We arrived exhausted at my apartment in the city center and went looking for dinner with my gracious host. Dining on a dinner of chopped up, deep fried chicken parts, including bones, with over cooked white rice with ham bits and peas, I am happy and find myself digging for meaning in a seemingly chaotic, unfair and meaningless world.

The Irony of Duality

Although we have a choice in how we react to our circumstances, it is oh, so easy to get hooked. Especially when you are tired. But as Viktor Frankl said, the last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. Where we seem to get into trouble is that we often make choices based on what we consider right or wrong, good or bad, or that we can’t have this and that at the same time. In the world of science and quantum mechanics we have seen that the natural world is not an either/or world, but can be a both/and world. Like matter and energy, which can display characteristics of both waves and particles. Similarly, the belief that we cannot have a robust economy and clean up the environment at the same time is an excuse that our Corporatocracy seems to be using to justify our consumer based growth economy. Excuse me folks; there is no economy on a dead planet! There are more environmental jobs, opportunities and needs for cleaning up and restoring our ecosystems than even our seven billion people could handle… It’s about allocation and distribution, not scarcity and hording.

Locating the Rio+20 Summit in a place that is gridlocked with traffic and access, making the people whose voices need to be heard, unable get there easily seems to be another of those ironies. Perhaps that is part of the plan. The contrast of the affluent and privileged side by side with some of the poorest of the poor cannot be missed here in Rio. Again if we look to the natural world we see the principle of interdependency in action. Pollution, climate change, ecosystem destruction ultimately impacts us all equally. Actually the poorest of the poor may be the most adaptable to surviving an environmental, economic, social and habitat collapse. Perhaps Jesus was right when he said, blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. That is what’s left of it; if we continue in the direction we are headed!

Perhaps we need to learn to better care for and meet the basic needs of each other?

As Riane Eisler says, we need to begin cultivating a caring economy, one that is heart driven rather than mentally possessed with the distractions of our separate, self-focused ideas based in an unexamined belief in separation and scarcity. We could start with some more fundamental questions like: How much is enough? What is the gift I am here to give to the world? What is the impact of my actions today on all life on this plane and on future generations? What are we grateful for today?

Creating an attitude of gratitude

Perhaps one of the most important things to do is to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, regardless of our circumstances… Expressing gratitude for the basics like food, water, and a roof over my head is a good place to start. We who have been given so much have been truly blessed. What can I share today that could break down the walls of separation that keep me in this prison of isolation and separation?

This morning I woke up early to make my way back out to the UN conference. It was still dark at 5:30. The light in the bathroom where I was staying was burned out and there was no hot water. A cold shower was just what I needed to wake me up after a short night of sleep and I am grateful to have water…  And shaving in the dark is a wonderful way to let go of my vanity over how I look. I mean what’s a little face fuzz among friends? Just in case I meet the Queen or someone really important I will throw my shaver in my backpack. And off I go on the bus for another two and a half hour drive to the conference site.

What are you grateful for today? Gratitude is a basic practice of sustainability. As Lynn Twist says, what we appreciate, appreciates… What do you want to grow in yourself and the world? Let’s plant our seeds of gratitude today.

What gives me hope?

This morning I sat next to a young woman named Anna Odell. She is 18 years old and a freshman in college. She is here in Rio with a group of young people form MGCY Major Group for Children and Youth. The MGCY is the official voice for young people in the UN sustainability negotiations at Rio+20. Anna told me that she had been meeting with over 700 other youth activists that had been held over several days to clarify the question, what is the future you want? Here they have been learning how to present their finding to the UN, how to negotiate and how to deal with the bureaucratic structures that can stop even the best and brightest in their tracks. These young people understand the problems, they have solutions and they have the technology to mobilize the more than 50% of the global population that is under 30 years old. Now that gives me hope! Thank you Anna and all of the youth here in Rio and around the world that are working hard to move towards a truly Great Turning…

What is happening here at the UN part of Rio+20?

According to UN publicity over 130 Heads of State and Government and many more Ministers will sit down to finalize negotiations and adopt a focused, action-oriented political document.

Roughly 20,000 members of civil society will be engaged in various activities of the Conference.

Over five thousand of them are Brazilians – proof of the high value Brazilian civil society places on this Conference.

In all, some 50,000 people are expected in Rio to attend the Conference or take part in various side events.

As I was riding on the bus home tonight I sat next to a high level delegate and science advisor from Germany. As you can imagine we had a somewhat heated, but cordial conversation about what would actually come out of the UN conference. In truth most of what will happen in the final document has already been drafted and even these small and inadequate measures will be watered down as they debate the precise and proper language to use in the final document.

In the UN’s own words they admit, that they must drastically accelerate the pace of negotiations. The whole world is watching us.  And we cannot afford to let them down.

But we must be aware that the future is in our hands. Yes, you and me. It’s up to us to rise up and let our voices be heard. Our institutions and politicians are lost in the complexity of the issues and vested interests. They will let us down if we don’t demand that they deliver a document that is in the interests of all life on this planet!

What can you do right now to have give your voice to the future that you want?


How many Brazilians does it take to make a cup of coffee at a UN conference? Answer: 6 as long as no one is waiting. A translator, bored cashier, 2 coffee makers, one person to serve the croissants and look confused! (All this inside of a space that is 2’ by 4’, except for the supervisor who stands outside telling them what to do.)

UN coffee shop


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Earth Community Economy by Osprey Orielle Lake

Earth Community Economy

Osprey Orielle Lake

Wealth is a deep understanding of the natural world.

-Inuit wisdom

Many of us realize that we are at a crossroads both as a species and as a planet. On the current trajectory, our very survival and that of all future generations is at risk. Pivotal to navigating this particular human-made strait of dangers successfully is our ability to transform our relationships with each other and the ecosystems upon which our lives depend. Within this context, it is paramount that we swiftly transform our economic structures and institutions to better align with the natural laws of our Earth and the deeper core values shared by humanity.

In order to live in harmony with the Earth and to halt the most destructive aspects of our modern life, we need to advance a new economy based on the carrying capacity of our Earth and finite planetary boundaries. Recognizing that nature has rights can inform and help to legally re-enforce principles that counter a solely market-driven economy, instead fostering a new sort of sustainable economy–an “Earth Community Economy,” if you will–based on respect for natural laws and governance systems that uphold the rights and needs of nature in balance with the rights and needs of humans.

This way of “thinking globally” takes into account and includes the entirety of the Earth Community: human communities together with ecosystem communities of river, forest, desert, ocean, mountain–and all that those imply.

What can a system of earth jurisprudence (Rights of Nature) that views the natural world, Mother Earth, not as property, but as a rights-bearing entity with legal standing, offer a new Earth Community Economy?

Rights of Nature laws would require a fundamental redirection of the world economy, necessitating that we adhere to precepts that uphold the ecological design and boundaries of nature. Recognizing that Nature has rights means that human activities and development must not interfere with the ability of ecosystems to absorb their affects; to regenerate their natural capacities; to thrive and evolve.

As an example, current extractive practices like mountaintop removal to obtain coal, which destroys entire mountain and watershed ecosystems, would be categorically illegal. So too would industrial agriculture practices that poison soil and water, genetically alter natural species, or cause loss of biodiversity. To this we can add any industrial activities that pollute the ecosystem of the atmosphere.

Consequently, employing a Rights of Nature framework will encourage an economic transition to renewable energy, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the investment of resources in energy efficiency, and organic/diverse agriculture–all of which can support healthier ecosystems and promote vibrant local economies. Rights of Nature laws require that those responsible—including corporate actors—be held accountable for negative environmental impacts, thereby encouraging economic models and practices that respect the natural limits and laws inherent to the natural world we inhabit.

Additionally, within a Rights of Nature framework, laws will be conducive to revealing the true costs of industry because it means corporations and individuals would be required to take responsibility for costs associated with any effort needed to ensure and protect the integrity and wellbeing of ecosystems for the entire cycle of activities of production and transportation–costs which have previously been externalized and passed on to others. A “true cost” economic model will drive industry toward sustainable activities and practices because it becomes cost-prohibitive, as well as just plain prohibited, to pollute and harm Nature.

It is important to note that acknowledging and enforcing Mother Earth Rights does not stop necessary development for the wellbeing of human communities, but rather reorients these inevitable developments to simultaneously protect ecosystem balance and respect the regenerative capacity of Nature’s vital cycles. Indigenous communities worldwide have been demonstrating “sustainable development” for thousands of years; this is not a new understanding. Because of this, we need to do everything we can to protect these Indigenous communities for their own sake but also because we have so much to learn from their longstanding example.

What we have learned in the past decades is that an economic system based on infinite physical growth and development on a finite planet is irrational and simply not sustainable. As Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan stated in his 2012 address at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness, “The GDP lead development model that compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources no longer makes economic sense.”

Rights of Nature legislation will encourage the formulation and implementation of new economic indicators such as Gross National Happiness, Genuine Progress Indicator, Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare and others that do not rely upon GDP as the only true or acceptable metric. We must question defining worth, wealth, value, and wellbeing based on only the measuring of money and quantities of material goods. The vital force of life itself and human happiness cannot be forced into a monetary system; they do not equate.

What might this new economics look like and what do we need to be thinking about as we seek a transition?

Around the world, we are seeing the emergence of creative alternatives to destructive economic paradigms. The good news is what is healthy for an ecosystem is also good for people: a key ingredient is localization and regionalism. The best economic and environmentally sound solutions are place-based, diverse according to region, and are responsive to local communities and social needs. Instead of fearing a transition to an Earth Community Economy, we can support and enjoy local organic food, vibrant local businesses, a healthy local economy, jobs with justice and the development of clean decentralized energy.

No, not Utopias, but regenerative, functional, local communities. Already we are seeing a plethora of creative, self-organizing groups and their ideas on the move with this concept: Transition Towns, Eco-builders, Cool Cities, Eco-villages, Eco-Cities, permaculture communities, food sovereignty groups —the list grows daily with working concepts and models in every part of the world.

History and logic dictate that transitioning away from a globalized economy will not always be smooth or easy—not was the transition from the slave system following the US Civil War. Yet our survival depends on our ability to do so, and quickly.

We must change the way we think about what an economy is for, and how we measure it. Today, we measure economic well-being using flawed instruments such as the GDP. Yet even the generation and dumping of toxic waste is part of the GDP—a wildly inaccurate measure of progress. We must begin to develop new metrics like the Gross National Happiness Index, which assesses economic performance based on the health and wellbeing of people living in balance with each other and nature.

Cultures living close to the Earth have shown a balanced way of life quite unlike newer, consumer-driven notions of simply having more. “Living well” in the Kichwa language of the Indigenous people of Ecuador, is called “sumak kawsay;” in Spanish, it is “buen vivir.” The Buryat people of the Lake Baikal region express it this way: “To live a life of honor is to live with tegsh,” meaning to live in appreciation and balance with all of life. An Earth Community Economy envisions a future that has not come from enslaving Nature and treating all other life as mere resources for human exploitation and unchecked material growth.

A Rights of Nature legal framework would foster human wellbeing in harmony with the integrity and functioning of the entire Earth community, thus prompting economic incentives and disincentives aligned with this purpose. An Earth Community Economy recognizes the inherent meaning, sacredness and value of the natural world: that which is not tradable or subject to commerce. To this end, in order to truly protect our Earth, we must stop the commodification and financialization of nature.

While a Rights of Nature framework does not solve all of our daunting problems, it does offer a foundation upon which healthy economic principles and sustainability can be built. Advocating for a systemic economic alternative that balances the rights of human communities with the rights of ecosystems should be at the heart of all international sustainable development and climate negotiations—an alternative to the so called “green economy.” As we look to completely transform our responsibilities and relationship with the natural world, this Earth Community Economy based on Rights of Nature is an idea and a necessity whose time is now.


Osprey Orielle Lake is the Founder/President of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus (WECC) and an International Advocate for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Her book, Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature (White Cloud Press) is a 2011 Nautilus Book Award winner.


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Rio+20 Coverage

Dear Friends,
On Saturday I will be leaving for Rio to cover the UN and People conference on Climate Change. This is the 20th Anniversary of the original Rio Earth Summit and I will be covering it for KVMR and you. Please stay tuned. We are reactivating the blog to keep you informed. I am looking forward to sharing this historical event as it unfolds…




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