for treehugger.com on Jan. 31, 2009
A few months after Lloyd reported on the Swiss government's conclusion that plants have rights the Ecuadorian population went one step further and voted to change their constitution to proclaim that nature has “the right to the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.”
The New York Times felt that the Ecuadorian concept of plants' rights was significant enough to include it in their 8th Annual Year in Ideas list. Read on to find out what this could mean for conservation efforts in the South American nation.
Writing in the New York Times, Clay Risen explains this radical concept thusly:
"The precise scope of nature's rights is unclear. Referring to Pachamama, an indigenous deity whose name roughly translates as “Mother Universe,” the text puts less emphasis on defending specific species than on the rights of ecosystems writ large. And it is uncertain how, exactly, a country as poor as Ecuador can protect those rights — though observers expect to see a raft of new lawsuits against oil and gas companies."
As Risen notes, it remains to be seen if ecosystems will become protected because of the constitutional changes, but what is clear is that the local population thinks it's worth a try. Almost 70% of Ecuadorians voted in favor of protecting nature in this method.
Ecuador drafted the changes with the help of the U.S. based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Along with it's work in Ecuador the Fund "has assisted more than a dozen local municipalities with drafting and adopting local laws recognizing Rights of Nature." The basis of these rights "change the status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities."
With a world economy, partially-based on the sanctity of property rights, in a nosedive it's possible that radical ideas like this will take hold. We'll watch with cautious optimism that other nations will follow the Ecuadorian lead to respect and protect our interconnected planet.