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: key ingredients are 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. I’m not talking about utopias, but rather regenerative, functional, local communities.
The “Rights of Nature” approach promotes a structure of law that recognizes that our living planet has rights of its own. If a Rights of Nature legal framework were implemented, activities that harm the ability of ecosystems and natural communities to thrive and naturally restore themselves, would be in legal violation of nature’s rights.
The Rights of Mother Earth framework recognizes the inherent meaning, sacredness, and value of the natural world: that which is not tradable or subject to commerce.
These rights along with respecting human rights are what being civil means.
Countering the Market-Driven Economy:
All of these actions herald not simply a declaration of new rights in the traditional sense, but a new consciousness of the Earth as a living organism with which we as humans must coexist. 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, thereby 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. There is room for growth of understanding as well as the health and prosperity of each community over time, if we act without further delay.
A Framework to Support Human Well-Being:
Rights of Nature legislation will encourage the formulation and implementation of new economic structures and 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 well-being 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. In the language of the “new bottom line” put forward by the Network of Spiritual Progressives in its mission statement, we are called to evaluate our social and economic institutions “not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also by how much they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and our capacity to respond with awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.”
At the core of our global societal and environmental crises is a need to change our fundamental personal values and what we uphold as meaningful in our lives. When we honestly look at the level of systemic change now required to meet the urgency of our time, we can see that personal transformation and changing how we are living on the earth is critical to mitigating our global crises.
Working Toward an “Earth Community Economy”:
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 well-being 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.
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. 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.