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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Planetary Personhood

Natural rights theory relies on the idea that human beings, being born into the world, have a set of inherent natural rights stemming from labor and self-defense. These include the right to bear arms, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and association, and many other rights, which, today Americans hold sacred. The Supreme Court has held that corporations—legal structures designed to limit the liability of owners and aggregate wealth for a particular purpose—also have many of the same legal rights as human beings. This was first upheld as precedent by the Supreme Court in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania (125 U.S. 181 (1888), and continues to mire our concerns with anticipation of McCutcheon v FEC. If a corporation, a fictitious entity created by mere whimsy of law, is guaranteed legal protection by the United States, why doesn't our government apply the same rights to the largest corporation to which we are all shareholders - the Earth?

In Pembina, the Court decided that a corporation is entitled to the same equal protection under the law as the human being, as they interpreted the 14th Amendment:
"Under the designation of "person" there is no doubt that a private corporation is included. Such corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose and permitted to do business under a particular name and have a succession of members without dissolution."
Corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose, doing business under a particular name, having a succession of members without dissolution.

Isn't the Earth an aggregated corporation by the Court's definition (aside from the obvious fact that it doesn't have a charter and isn't a voluntary association)? The Earth is an association of individuals, united for the very special purpose of maintaining life en masse, conducting all business on the planet, including those of which we are unaware, which has not dissolved over millions of years. Its existence predicates human existence, and yet, we constitute a part of its existence.

The Earth is more like an accidental corporation of which we are all members, than an actual corporation, and for a number of legalistic reasons which I will not explore, needs to be dealt with in a very different way than the corporation. Legal precedent and natural rights theory will not extend the individuality of the human being to the Earth, for human beings can only transfer their rights to conscious entities which subscribe to human reason.

The Supreme Court has ruled on a number of occasions that individuals do not have a right to sue on behalf of nature; they have no legal standing to do so, unless their personal property or bodies are harmed by some other entity, and the law allows the suit to be brought forward. 

This is why Ecuador has incorporated the rights of the Earth into its constitution:
Rights of nature

Article 71. Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.
All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature. To enforce and interpret these rights, the principles set forth in the Constitution shall be observed, as appropriate.
The State shall give incentives to natural persons and legal entities and to communities to protect nature and to promote respect for all the elements comprising an ecosystem.
You might be thinking, oh this is a nice gesture, but it would never accomplish anything, but you would be incorrect.
"Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, the Ecuadorian Coordinator of Organizations for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA) and FundaciĆ³n Pachamama praise the first successful case of the rights of nature in Ecuador and congratulate Richard Frederick Wheeler and Eleanor Geer Huddle, the two people who demanded the observance of the rights of nature, protected in Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution. The case was presented before the Provincial Court of Justice of Loja on March 30, 2011 with granting a Constitutional injunction in favor of nature, specifically the Vilcabamba River, against the Provincial Government of Loja.
The case was based on the problem caused by the project to widen the Vilcabamba-Quinara road, which was depositing large quantities of rock and excavation material in the Vilcabamba River. This project, which had been underway for three years without studies on its environmental impact, directly violated the rights of nature by increasing the river flow and provoking a risk of disasters from the growth of the river with the winter rains, causing large floods that affected the riverside populations who utilize the river’s resources.
In the era of global climate change, which threatens every political system and every species dependent upon oxygen and remotely stable climates, nations must act in innovative ways to stop and reverse the damage caused by human industrialism.

Back in 2010, in Bolivia, the "World Peoples' Conference Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth" penned a draft of what it hopes the UN will adopt in the General Assembly, quoted in its entirety below: 


We, the peoples and nations of Earth: considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; gratefully acknowledging that Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well; recognizing that the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change; convinced that in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth; affirming that to guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her and that there are existing cultures, practices and laws that do so; conscious of the urgency of taking decisive, collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth; proclaim this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and call on the General Assembly of the United Nation to adopt it, as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations of the world, and to the end that every individual and institution takes responsibility for promoting through teaching, education, and consciousness raising, respect for the rights recognized in this Declaration and ensure through prompt and progressive measures and mechanisms, national and international, their universal and effective recognition and observance among all peoples and States in the world.
Article 1. Mother Earth
(1)  Mother Earth is a living being.
(2)  Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.
(3)  Each being is defined by its relationships as an integral part of Mother Earth.
(4)  The inherent rights of Mother Earth are inalienable in that they arise from the same source as existence.
(5)  Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.
(6)  Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.
(7)  The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.
Article 2. Inherent Rights of Mother Earth
(1)  Mother Earth and all beings of which she is composed have the following inherent rights:
(a)  the right to life and to exist;
(b)  the right to be respected;
(c)  the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions;
(d)  the right to maintain its identity and integrity as a distinct, self-regulating and interrelated being;
(e)  the right to water as a source of life;
(f)   the right to clean air;
(g)  the right to integral health;
(h)   the right to be free from contamination, pollution and toxic or radioactive waste;
(i)    the right to not have its genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens it integrity or vital and healthy functioning;
(j)    the right to full and prompt restoration for violation of the rights recognized in this Declaration caused by human activities;
(2)  Each being has the right to a place and to play its role in Mother Earth for her harmonious functioning.
(3)  Every being has the right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings.
Article 3. Obligations of human beings to Mother Earth
(1)  Every human being is responsible for respecting and living in harmony with Mother Earth.
(2)  Human beings, all States, and all public and private institutions must:
(a)  act in accordance with the rights and obligations recognized in this Declaration;
(b)  recognize and promote the full implementation and enforcement of the rights and obligations recognized in this Declaration;
(c)  promote and participate in learning, analysis, interpretation and communication about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth in accordance with this Declaration;
(d)  ensure that the pursuit of human wellbeing contributes to the wellbeing of Mother Earth, now and in the future;
(e)  establish and apply effective norms and laws for the defence, protection and conservation of the rights of Mother Earth;
(f)   respect, protect, conserve and where necessary, restore the integrity, of the vital ecological cycles, processes and balances of Mother Earth;
(g)  guarantee that the damages caused by human violations of the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration are rectified and that those responsible are held accountable for restoring the integrity and health of Mother Earth;
(h)  empower human beings and institutions to defend the rights of Mother Earth and of all beings;
(i)    establish precautionary and restrictive measures to prevent human activities from causing species extinction, the destruction of ecosystems or the disruption of ecological cycles;
(j)    guarantee peace and eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons;
(k)  promote and support practices of respect for Mother Earth and all beings, in accordance with their own cultures, traditions and customs;
(l)    promote economic systems that are in harmony with Mother Earth and in accordance with the rights recognized in this Declaration.

Article 4. Definitions
(1)  The term “being” includes ecosystems, natural communities, species and all other natural entities which exist as part of Mother Earth.
(2)  Nothing in this Declaration restricts the recognition of other inherent rights of all beings or specified beings.
The United States, in order to maintain the existence of the human race as a whole, ought to institute a similar Constitutional mechanism, whereby the right of contract is made subservient to the right of nature and the rights of Earth. In order for us to overcome, or even deal with the effect of climate change, we must be willing to undergo drastic measures to reform ourselves and our systems. Industrialism is bleeding the planet dry, harming its immune system and causing its temperature to fluctuate dramatically. Species are dying off, droughts are becoming more common, superbugs are developing and, for the most part, America is acting as though everything is fine. GDP is on the rise, so let's just kick back and enjoy some champagne.

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