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The Century of The Rights of Mother Earth

by Leonardo Boff

Perhaps the most impressive statement in the speech of the President of Bolivia Evo Morales Ayma to the General Assembly of the U.N. on April 22nd, when that date was proclaimed the International Day of Mother Earth, was: "If the 20th Century is recognized as the century of human rights; individual, social, economic, political and cultural, the 21st Century will be known as the Century of the Rights of Mother Earth, of the animals, plants, all living creatures and all beings, whose rights must also be respected and protected."

We now stand before a new paradigm, centered in the Earth and in life. We are no longer mired in anthropocentrism, which failed to recognize the intrinsic value of each being, independent of the use we made of it.  A clear awareness is growing, that everything that exists deserves to exist, and that everything that lives deserves to live.

We must therefore broaden our concept of democracy, as a biocracy, or sociocosmic democracy, because every element of nature, each at its own level, forms a part of human sociability. Would our cities still be human without the plants, the animals, the birds, the rivers, and pure air?

We now know through the new cosmology that all beings possess more than mass and energy. They are also carriers of information, with a history.  They become complex and create orders that comport a certain level of subjectivity. It is this scientific basis that justifies the widening of the juridical personhood of all beings, especially of the living.

Michel Serres, the French philosopher of science, fittingly affirmed: "The Declaration of the Rights of Man had the merit of saying ‘all men have rights' but its defect was in thinking that ‘only men have rights'."  Only through much struggle are the rights of the indigenous, of the Afro-descendants, and of women gaining full recognition.  Similarly, it will require a great deal of effort for the rights of nature, of the eco-systems and of Mother Earth, to gain recognition.

Just as we developed the concept of citizenship, the government of Jorge Viana in the State of Acre, Brazil, coined a word, florestania, for the way of life in which the rights of the forest are affirmed and guaranteed.

President Morales requested that the U.N. issue a Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, whose principal topics would be: the right to life of all living beings; the right of the Planet to the regeneration of its biocapacity; the right to a pure life, because Mother Earth has the right to live free of contamination and pollution; and the right to harmony and equilibrium with and among all things. And we would add, the right to connect with the Whole of which we are part.

This vision shows us how far we have come from the capitalist conception, of which we have been hostages for centuries, and according to which the Earth is seen as a mere instrument of production, without purpose, a reservoir of resources to be exploited at our pleasure. We lacked the perception that the Earth is truly our Mother. And the Mother must be respected, venerated and loved.

This is what the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, stated at the closing of the session: "It is very right that we, brothers and sisters, take good care of Mother Earth because, when all is said and done, she nourishes and sustains us."  For that reason, he appealed to everyone to pay close attention to the original peoples. In contrast to the violent robbery of the agro-industries operating all over the Earth, and in spite of all the pressures on them, they keep alive the connection with nature and with Mother Earth, and produce in consonance with her rhythms and with the possible capacity of endurance of each ecosystem.

The decision to welcome the celebration of the International Day of Mother Earth is more than a symbol. It is a total change in our relationship with the Earth, fleeing from the dominant pattern that can lead us, if we do not make profound transformations, towards self-destruction.

Free translation from the Spanish by sent by Melina Alfaro, done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas

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