The Earth

The Earth was described in the 2001 Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change, signed by 1500 scientists from over 100 countries, as a planet that “behaves as a single, self-regulating system” with the negative consequences of human actions that lead to environmental degradation of the biosphere and loss of biodiversity becoming more obvious. In recognition that what we call “nature” is in fact an interrelated series of living ecosytems, Ecuador asserted in Articles 10 and 71-74 of its 2008 Constitution of Ecuador the inalienable rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish. In addition, these Articles give people the right to petition on behalf of ecosystems and require the government to remedy violations of these rights.[1]

In 2010, Bolivia passed the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which includes the right of the Earth to not be polluted, to continue vital cycles unaltered, to be free of genetic alteration, and to be free of imbalance from mega-infrastructure and development projects. The law is administered by a Ministry of Mother Earth.[2] The United Nations is formally considering adopting a Universal Declaration of Rights for Mother Earth,[3] modeled on the Bolivian law.

British barrister, Polly Higgins, has led a group of researchers who have uncovered documents indicating that ecocide was to have been included in the Rome Statute as the fifth international Crime Against Peace but was withdrawn at the last minute. Ecocide is defined as any large-scale destruction of the natural environment or overconsumption of critical non-renewable resources. Ecocide is already a crime in ten countries—Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Vietnam—and Higgins is lobbying the United Nations for its adoption as an international crime against peace.[4]

In September 2012, New Zealand declared the Whangangui River an “integrated, living entity” (Te Awa Tupua) with legal personhood status. Two guardians were appointed to act on its behalf, one representing the Maori (from a Whanganui River iwi) and one representing the Crown.[5] Thus we can see the beginning of a shift away from protection of the biosphere in order to ensure abundance for ourselves and towards respect for the environment and its components as living entities in their own right.

Ode to the Cosmos

High above the lush plains of Hawaii’s Big Island the Mauna Kea observatories perch on moonscape peaks, peering out through the still, clear atmosphere at a hundred billion galaxies millions of light years from Earth. They bear witness to the rich tapestry of life, the unending cycle of creation and destruction: the stellar nurseries of the Eagle Nebula and the constellation Dorado, the beauty of configurations like the Whirlpool and Starburst Galaxies, the brilliant colors of supernova remnants. Even the apparently dark void seethes with quantum potential, poised for new birth.

Lower down, in the southeast corner of the Big Island, our own planet’s birth process lies exposed to view. Tons of noxious sulfur dioxide fumes rise from the enormous Halema’uma’u Crater of Mauna Loa Volcano, the world’s largest mountain. Cuddled against its cloud-forested flank, K?lauea Crater’s continuous eruptions launch radiant lava flows across the shield bed into the Pacific Ocean. Steam plumes from violent explosions as 2,000-degree lava hits the ocean waves, creating spectacular displays of light and color. As the lava cools, three new acres of land are being added below water to the island each month. Back above water, the older volcanic rock gradually crumbles into nutrient-rich soil, creating a fertile nest for the seeds dropped by birds flying overhead.

Thousands of miles away a similar drama is unfolding in much more hostile conditions. Mt. Erebus in Antarctica, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, reaches upward with steam escaping from its enormous glowing lake of red molten lava that roils with creative energy. The lava crater is topped by huge glacier fields, spiked by towering ice fumaroles. Far below, the sharp sound of a glacier calving punctures the silence of a peaceful fjord. A stately blue and turquoise iceberg floats slowly away from its birthing, narrowly missing an older massive relative gradually imploding with a quiet fizzing.

In formidable synchronization, our Earth orchestrates its vast creative cycle, spawning new species, adapting to ever-changing climatic conditions. We inhabit an extraordinary intelligence, circling one of the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy lying on the outskirts of the many thousands of galaxies known to us as the Local Supercluster.

-from Principles of Abundance for the Cosmic Citizen


[1] C.L. Madden, “Laws Gone Wild in Ecuador: Indigenous People and Ecosystems Gain Rights,” Policy Innovations, 2 (October 2008).

[2] C. Jamasmie, “New Bolivian Law Poses Serious Challenges for Mining Companies,” (29 October 2012).

[3] See the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth introduced at the United Nations in April 2010; T. Deen, “Global Campaign to Bestow Legal Rights on Mother Earth” (24 May 2011).

[4] J. Jowit, “British Campaigner Urges UN to Accept ‘Ecocide’ as International Crime,” The Guardian (9 April 2010); P. Higgins, “Ecocide Was to Be the 5th Crime Against Peace,” Common Ground (August 2011).

[5]New Zealand’s Whanganui River Gets Personhood Status,” Environmental News Service (13 September 2012); K. Shuttle worth, “Agreement Entitles Whanganui River to Legal Identity,” The New Zealand Herald (30 August 2012).