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The Rights of Nature: legislation to protect Mother Earth

Updated on May 15, 2012

"Rather than treating nature as property under the law, the rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles."

The world needs a new perspective on nature. Instead of piecemeal laws that ‘protect’ nature from humanity, we need to create systems that acknowledge that nature and humanity are one. The Rights of Nature doctrine does just that.

But is adopting it actually feasible on a global scale?

Where did the Rights of Nature idea originate?

The Rights of Nature doctrine originated in a small town in Pennsylvania. Like many great movements, it started with a gutsy leader working on a local level. Cathy Miorelli was on the city council in rural Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. Her concern was more for the overall integrity of her town's leadership, rather than environmental problems per se: "I was just concerned about everything overall, not really so much the environment. You know, I didn’t run on any kind of platform, saying that I was going to change the world here or anything." It was the year 2004, and Tamaqua was in controversy over the dumping of sewage sludge and coal fly ash on the edge of town.

It was with the goal of regulating the dumping that Miorelli spearheaded the first rights of nature legal infrastructure in the world. Under the town ordinance, the natural world was given rights to exist and flourish.


Section of the Universal Declaration of the Rights 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;

Where else has the Rights of Nature been implemented?

Since it's rural Pennsylvania beginnings, two countries in South America have adopted the concept into their constitutions. Ecuador adopted the Rights of Nature at a national level in 2008 when it rewrote its constitution. Bolivia followed in 2011, writing into its new constitution the Law of Mother Earth. For Bolivians and Ecuadorians, this modern law protecting nature was a return to their ancestral cultural values. In the old Andean worldview, Pachamama, an earth deity, was considered to be at the root of all things. Protecting nature is therefore equivalent with protecting the well-being of humanity as well as all life on earth.

Both Ecuadorian and Bolivian governments have recognized that climate change poses an immediate threat to their people. Rising temperatures is causing the disappearance of mountainous glaciers that provide an important source of fresh water to Central Americans. Thus, for the people suffering from water shortages, the linkage between ecosystem and human health is clear.


An image of Pachamama, the Andean deity representing mother nature.
An image of Pachamama, the Andean deity representing mother nature. | Source

A Reading of the Rights of Mother Earth with pictures and music

Is it feasible on a global scale?

Bolivia and Ecuador have proposed to the United Nations that the Rights of Nature be adopted on a global scale.

But one can only imagine how much of our society and economy would have to change for us to actually live under these principles.

Is it too far fetched, the idea that we give nature the right to exist without having to provide some service to humanity? Can we merely appreciate and respect nature as it is?

It may be a topic of discussion this June at the Rio+20 summit. 20 years after their first Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, the United Nations is gathering thousands of world leaders to discuss new goals for world sustainability.

You can sign a petition to show your support for the UN's adoption of the rights of nature.

The Theory

In our current societal worldview we treat nature as a commodity. Environmental laws such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Act and emissions trading programs actually legalize environmental destruction by setting limits and regulating it.

At the same time that the Rights of Nature protects ecosystems from human destruction, it also counters the image of industry and human activity as necessarily being in conflict with nature. Instead it holds that the well-being of the earth is synonymous with the well-being of humanity.

In the United States, corporations are given the same legal rights as individuals. Why can Mother Nature not be extended the same rights?

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A markerTamaqua, Pennsylvania -
Tamaqua, PA, USA
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Rural origins of the Rights of Nature.

B markerBolivia -
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C markerEcuador -
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D markerRio -
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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Rio, the site of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.

Is it unrealistic to expect world leaders to pursue the Rights of Nature?

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    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      I guess I'd have to read more about this before I vote (although I voted the hub up and interesting). I believe that conservatives and very Bible-based thinking people believe the earth and all it's creatures/plants are here to serve man. As I understand it, that's the reason why many aren't (or at least weren't) behind the environmental movement.

      On the other hand, does this Rights of Mother Earth mean we can't farm her for food for ourselves? That we must go back to hunting and gathering? That we can't dig into her to for construction purposes? Admittedly I didn't look at the video so maybe it would answer some of my questions.

      It's an interesting idea, just not sure it's feasible. You might want to check out this website, the Ecological Learning Center ( It is a "sister" sight to La Vista, a CSA farm I'm a member of. An oblate priest started both groups and it's all about sustainability, honoring the land, etc.