The Law of Mother Earth

Perhaps the title sounds more like a metaphor, but Evo Morales and the social movements in Bolivia are trying to make it a reality. According to an article from Yes! Magazine,

The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Bolivia’s law mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of Bolivia’s economy and society, requiring all existing and future laws to adapt to the Mother Earth law and accept the ecological limits set by nature. It calls for public policy to be guided by Sumaj Kawsay (an indigenous concept meaning “living well,” or living in harmony with nature and people), rather than the current focus on producing more goods and stimulating consumption.

In practical terms, the law requires the government to transition from non-renewable to renewable energy; to develop new economic indicators that will assess the ecological impact of all economic activity; to carry out ecological audits of all private and state companies; to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to develop policies of food and renewable energy sovereignty; to research and invest resources in energy efficiency, ecological practices, and organic agriculture; and to require all companies and individuals to be accountable for environmental contamination with a duty to restore damaged environments.

We’ve given rights to individuals and corporations, rights concerning private property, and organized our societies and economies based on these rights. Why should these be the only rights that guide is in how we decide our economic life should be? Yes, this is an imaginative leap on the part of Bolivia, but one that people here recognize is more and more a necessity and an emergency. How this works out practically will have to be seen. Again from the article,

A major obstacle is the fact that Bolivia is structurally dependent on extractive industries. Since the discovery of silver by the Spanish in the 16th Century, Bolivia’s history has been tied to ruthless exploitation of its people and its environment in order to transfer wealth to the richest countries; poet and historian Eduardo Galeano’s famous book Open Veins draws largely on the brutal story of how Bolivia’s exploitation fuelled the industrial expansion of Europe. In 2010, 70 percent of Bolivia’s exports were still in the form of minerals, gas, and oil. This structural dependence will be very difficult to unravel.

This is the world we have created. Having the imagination and lack of fear to dream of another world is the first step, but making it a reality and working out the practical steps necessary is quite another. A comment on the article by Marcelo Arze caught my attention, since it was from a Bolivian conservationist. He points out (without any editing and I dare you to do better in Spanish),

Based on day to day news you can see that the bolivian vicepresident is anouncing the oppening of the agricultural frontier in areas with forestry vocation in the amazon basin, known to have poor soil for agriculture, destroying in the process rich biodiversity areas.

Or hearing the environmental vice-ministry aproving the oppening of roads disecting protected areas such as Isiboro Sécure Nat. Park or aproving oil exploration in Madidi National Park, the most biodiverse Park in the world, or allowing to become the country to have more deforestation per capita or the most polluting country per capita due to the common practice of slash and burn, destroying forest to increasse the agricultural frontier.

The law is only addresedd to the international oppinion, but bolivian environmental problems, are lot worst than they seem and sometimes i feel that the environmentalists are lossing the battle.

This is the conundrum of attempting to create another world, particularly from within the halls of power. This is also the conundrum of a country like Bolivia. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America partly because of continued exploitation by other countries whether Spain in the 16th century or Bechtel in the 21st century. Bolivia is also experiencing the effects of climate change more than some other countries. This puts it in a position at the very bottom where it is strangled by the problems of both development and climate change. This presents both an enormous hurdle and a huge opportunity. Bolivia’s survival seems to depend on coming up with new ways of organizing economic life that don’t depend on the exploitive global system of extraction of non-renewables.

So, Bolivia must solve two problems at once. This is very difficult to do from government palaces, even for the MAS and Evo Morales who have some nice sounding ideals. The reality of running the country involves money. There have been strikes all over the country by many sectors over the last month demanding higher wages. Morales’ response at one point was simply, “No hay plata” (There is no money). While my more cynical and conservative friends remark that he’s probably just lining his pockets (a distinct possibility given the history of recent administrations), I tend to think he’s telling the truth, or some respectable version of it. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Bolivia needs development of some sort to improve the lives of its people, but the opportunities for development in agriculture and industry run counter to the stated goals of the administration to protect Pachamama (Mother Earth) and move in a more sustainable direction.

I don’t think I could put it better than Raul Prada of Pacto de Unidad did in a quote from the article,

It is going to be difficult to transit from an extractive economy. We clearly can’t close mines straight away, but we can develop a model where this economy has less and less weight. It will need policies developed in participation with movements, particularly in areas such as food sovereignty. It will need redirection of investment and policies towards different ecological models of development. It will need the cooperation of the international community to develop regional economies that complement each other…Our ecological and social crisis is not just a problem for Bolivia or Ecuador; it is a problem for all of us. We need to pull together peoples, researchers, and communities to develop real concrete alternatives so that the dominant systems of exploitation don’t just continue by default. This is not an easy task, but I believe with international solidarity, we can and must succeed.

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