Ecuador's proposed constitution includes an article that grants nature the right to "exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution" and will grant legal standing to any person to defend those rights in court.
Voters will get to decide on Sept. 28 whether to adopt the new constitution, which would allow the president to run for reelection, to dissolve Congress, and to exert great control over the country's central bank. According to Reuters, 56 percent of Ecuadorans approve of the proposed document.
The blog Green Change quotes the five articles that acknowledge rights said to be possessed by nature, or "Pachamama," a goddess revered by indigenous Andean peoples whose name roughly translates into "Mother Earth."
Chapter: Rights for Nature
Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.
Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.
Art. 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.
In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.
Art. 3. The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.
Art. 4. The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.
The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.
Art. 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.
The environmental services are cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.
The concept that nature itself can possess rights runs counter to the classical liberal theories of government that hold sway throughout much of the West, which view rights as possessed only by individual human beings. But Ecuador is not the first country to propose granting rights to nonhuman entities: Many countries, including the United States, have long held that corporations possess many of the same rights – such as the rights to free expression and to due process – that human beings have. And in June, Spain’s parliament approved a measure to extend some human rights to nonhuman apes.
No other country has gone as far as Ecuador in proposing to give trees their day in court, but it certainly is not alone in its recalibration of natural rights. Religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop of Constantinople, have declared that caring for the environment is a spiritual duty. And earlier this year, the Catholic Church updated its list of deadly sins to include polluting the environment.
Ecuador is codifying this shift in sensibility. In some ways, this makes sense for a country whose cultural identity is almost indistinguishable from its regional geography – the Galapagos, the Amazon, the Sierra. How this new area of constitutional law will work, however, is another question. We aren't ready to endorse such a step at home, or even abroad. But it's intriguing. We'll be watching Ecuador's example.