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.