Bolivia is all set to become the world’s first country to provide comprehensive legal rights to the nature through the “Law of Mother Earth”. The goals of piloting a new socio-economic model based on the respect for nature include protection of the environment, halting the exploitation of the natural resources and climate change, and improving the quality of life of the Bolivians.
The law, developed by the working class social groups, has been agreed to by politicians. In addition to recognizing the fact that all living things have equal rights, the law gives nature the same status as human beings.
Following the approval of the law, the rights provided to the Earth by the legislation would include life and regeneration, biodiversity, deliverance from genetic modification, clean air, pure water, balanced natural systems, reversal of the bad effects caused by human activity and freedom from pollution.
The crux of the legislation, focused on the principles of harmonious living and collective good, is that it considers the Earth to be a sacred place. This viewpoint can be traced to Pachamama (Mother Earth), the goddess that the indigenous people in the Andes revered. In December 2010, Bolivia’s national congress passed the initial draft that provided an outline of the rights. On the basis of this, the Mother Earth will be defined as a community of interdependent, interrelated and complementary living systems as well as organisms. The indivisible community has a common destiny.
In essence, the legislation will force the Bolivian government to ensure the wellbeing of the natural world as well as its citizens by implementing policies for controlling industry and ensuring sustainability. While the economy functions within the bounds of the nature, the country should strive to ensure food and energy sovereignty through the use of renewable energy technologies and improving energy efficiency. One of the key objectives of the law is to prevent climate change so that the future generations can lead a better life. The Bolivian government’s request is that the rich nations should help the country to adapt to the effects caused by climate change as compensation for having created an environmental debt because of their high carbon emissions. According to the 2009 Oxfam report, Bolivia, in particular, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of melting glaciers, increasing drought and flooding.
On the international level, the Bolivian government must promote the rights of the Mother Earth, advocate peace and strive to eliminate chemical, nuclear and biological weapons. The amendment to the Bolivia’s constitution brought about in 2009 makes this law a part of their legal system overhaul, marking a shift from the developmental model of the western countries to the holistic concept of living well (Vivir Bien) of the indigenous people.
According to the proposed law, the meaning of Living Well is adoption of consumption patterns, conduct and behavior that help to avoid a degradation of nature. This calls for maintaining an ethical as well as spiritual relationship with life. Thus, Living Well fosters collective happiness and complete fulfillment.
The draft law was prepared by Unity Pact, the umbrella group formed by five social movements in Bolivia, as representatives of more than 3 million people and the 36 indigenous groups. Many of them are small scale farmers who continue live on their ancestral properties. The law does not only protect their livelihoods, but also their diverse cultures from the impact of industrialization.
One of the leaders of Confederaci Sindical danica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, a social movement, Undarico Pinto said that in addition to making the industrial operations more transparent, the law will enable people to regulate industry at all levels: local, regional and national. The draft law marks a fundamental shift as far as exploitation of nature is concerned and refers to mineral resources as a blessing. The law also states that the sacred and fertile Mother Earth not only feeds and takes care of all the living things in her womb, but also exists in harmony and balance and constantly communicates with the cosmos.
The government will establish a Mother Earth Ministry for promoting the new rights and ensuring compliance. One-third of Bolivian economy’s foreign currency earnings (approximately £300 million annually) come from the mining companies through export of natural resources. Therefore, Bolivia will have to strike a balance between the mining industry’s demands and new obligations enforced by the law.
The law in full, expected to be passed in a few months from now, is not likely to be opposed as the Movement Towards Socialism, ruling party, enjoys majority in parliament. At the World People’s Conference held in Bolivia in 2010 to discuss climate change, President Evo Morales expressed his commitment to the new initiative.
The Law of Mother Earth consists of the following rights:
- Maintenance of natural processes and integrity of life.
- Avoidance of genetic alterations.
- Maintenance of vital processes and cycles without human alteration.
- Use of pure water.
- Use of clean air.
- Maintenance of balance/equilibrium.
- Freedom from toxic/radioactive pollution.
- Not to be impacted by mega-infrastructure as well as development projects that upset the balance of the ecosystems and that of the local communities.
Promotion of peace and harmony and elimination of all chemical, nuclear, biological weapons.