Bolivia and Ecuador Grant Equal Rights to Nature: Is “Wild Law” a Climate Solution?

by Cole Mellino

The concept of “a wild law,” which grants equal rights to nature, is based on the idea that humans do not have an explicit right to destroy our natural environment. Under wild law, natural ecosystems’ rights supersede the interests of any one species (including humans). Obviously, this idea can be incredibly controversial. Even in Bolivia, where they’ve amended their constitution to give nature equal rights to people, they are still working out the details.

Bolivia amended its constitution after pressure from its large indigenous population who places the environment and the earth deity, Pachamama, at the center of all life. But what this means in practical terms, such as how to address the serious environmental problems caused by mining for raw materials in the Andean nation, is yet to be determined. Bolivians hope that this will give their country the power to hold mining companies accountable and force them to adhere to stricter environmental standards.

Research by glaciologist Edson Ramirez of San Andres University in the capital city, La Paz, suggests temperatures have been rising steadily for 60 years and started to accelerate in 1979. They are now on course to rise a further 3.5-4C over the next 100 years. This would turn much of Bolivia into a desert.

Most glaciers below 5,000m are expected to disappear completely within 20 years, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap. Scientists say this will lead to a crisis in farming and water shortages in cities such as La Paz and El Alto.

Ecuador, which has a large indigenous population, has also amended its constitution to grant rights to nature. But like in Bolivia, the law has not stopped oil companies from destroying their natural landscape.

Even though these laws are mostly abstract, their existence helps elevate a debate about the relationship between people and nature. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, puts it well:

“Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.”

It’s hard to imagine such laws adopted en masse today — particularly in the U.S. But the concept has gained traction. In recent years, numerous conferences have been held on how to apply wild law to climate change mitigation efforts.

To hear more about the concept, watch the video below featuring Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer and leading wild law intellectual, who recently addressed the World People’s Summit on Climate Change in Bolivia.

12 Responses to Bolivia and Ecuador Grant Equal Rights to Nature: Is “Wild Law” a Climate Solution?

  1. Aubrey Meyer says:

    Equal rights to Nature can only be granted by ‘humans’ with ‘equal rights’ – so I guess it’ll have to be C&C then: –

    Its a bit like the embarrassing Bill Nordhaus paradox. His global cost/benefit of climate-change [c. 1994] had unequal valuation of human-lives but measured in spotted-owl equivalents [if we preferred].

    We said, how could an owl be worth an owl if a human wasn’t worth a human: –

  2. Joan Savage says:

    The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) is compatible with the new Bolivian law.

    Article 25
    Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters, and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

    Article 29 , first sentence.
    Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories or resources.

  3. BA says:

    It is hard to imagine survival without such a revolutionary new legal structure.

  4. Chris Winter says:

    Indeed, and — in my opinion — such a legal structure would lead to a considerably smaller human population than we now have.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Equal Rights for Nature means equal Rights for humans who are part of Nature. This is unacceptable to the Right, who, you may have noticed, rule the planet. They believe in hierarchies, with the God-blessed White, Western, Judeo-Christian, Free Market worshipping, financially blessed (a sign of God’s approval) male at the apex. Trees and rocks and stuff are just potential money awaiting their magical transformation into rows of data in a Cayman Islands’ bank account.

  6. Joan Savage says:

    Among the traditional Haudenosaunee who are my neighbors, each important gathering begins and ends with a Thanksgiving Address. This is a comprehensive list, beginning with the people, and including earth, water, plants, animals, celestial beings, spiritual beings, creator, and anyone else or anything else we might have forgotten. The speaker has an extemporaneous flexibility for placing emphasis on what we are particularly grateful for at this time. At each step the gathering agrees, We give thanks, now our minds are one.

    A brief English-language version is available at

    Having heard it given in Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga and Onondaga, as well as English, there is something about it that is always moving, a genuine communication to other beings.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    To tie back in, the Thanksgiving Address begins and ends -every- important gathering, including government negotiations.

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    This is a vitally important initiative which will be recognized by indigenous peoples everywhere as Joan Savage notes. If the UN adopted it and teamed it up with the new ecocide law which is under consideration, we might be getting somewhere, ME

  9. Tom Lenz says:

    November,2011 is National Native American Heritage Month. Love your mother.

  10. Steve Funk says:

    It sounds like a full employment act for lawyers. It’s raining, so I’m going to drive to the grocery store, contributing about 1 lb co2 to the destruction of polar bear habitat while I still can. Just about everything we do affects polar bear habitat.

  11. John McCormick says:

    Yes, Steve. Your hitting the Post Comment button affects polar bear habitat also.

  12. Tara says:

    Populations do not need to shrink. If we would use our energy and technology to sustain us instead of destroy us through war, famine, environmental disasters etc. We could easily feed the world if we were not hoarding food to keep prices high.