Last September Ecuador approved a constitutional amendment that protects the rights of Pachamama, Mother Earth. By affirming the rights of nature, “where life is reproduced and exists,” Ecuador is offering the world a way out of one of the blindest of the many blind alleys Western thinking has created.
As the first nation to officially recognize rights for anything other than humans, Ecuador is setting a monumental precedent in the struggle to protect the world’s ecosystems. The constitution compels the state to protect and restore Pachamama and endows every citizen with the right to demand that she be honored.
In passing this amendment, Ecuador is calling on the developed world to abandon its misguided assumption that it deserves a free pass from Pachamama (Gaia, Mother Nature or the biosphere if you prefer). Ecuador has also reminded us of this fundamental truth: the earth came before us and will very likely outlast us.
This tiny nation has achieved something that no Western nation has. It has shown us, in cogent terms fully compatible with Western legal platforms, how to reorganize our political institutions in a way that just may give civilization a fighting chance.
We’ve yet to see whether words are able to secure the Amazon from oil drills or the Galapagos from sightseers. The average lifespan of an Ecuadorian constitution is about a decade. But any setbacks will be temporary. If this particular legal maneuver doesn’t take root, another will be attempted. In the end, nature’s rights will be legally and permanently affirmed. The idea will take hold because it is true and it is necessary.
With time it will begin to sink in to our collective Western superego that our inherent superiority is a myth. This legal breath of fresh air has blown in from a place with few cities – a place that is home to both indigenous and mestizo peoples. A place that is bold enough to step outside the Western-made order and define its own priorities. Now that we’ve almost run out of world to wreck, it’s time to follow Ecuador’s lead.
In the 19th century, a Westerner visiting the Galapagos Islands unlocked the secrets of evolution and shattered humanity’s homocentric worldview (although many still cling to it). Charles Darwin revealed that the iron rule of natural selection is “adapt or die.” Now, nearly two centuries later, Ecuador has introduced a way for us to evolve: a viable, practical means by which to honor the rights of the earth. Let’s follow the people of Ecuador into this new evolution. Let’s learn from Pachamama.