Monthly Archives: June 2012

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:

http://therightsofnature.org/

http://www.globalexchange.org/communityrights/campaigns/rightsofnature

http://www.globalexchange.org/communityrights/resources/rioreport

http://earthlawcenter.org/

http://www.celdf.org/

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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?

Question?

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…

Blessings,

michael

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