The Challenge is Upon Us: Climate Chaos or Communities of Cooperation?

By Editors Shannon Biggs, Osprey Orielle Lake and Tom B.K. Goldtooth

It is time to stop thinking we must protect nature and recognize that as much as every other life form on Earth, we are nature. We cannot separate ourselves from the water we drink, the food we eat or the air we breathe any more than we can care for just a single leaf on a tree. And yet, human law almost everywhere defines “nature” as property to be owned, commodified and destroyed at will for human profit. Most of the destruction of the Earth is sanctioned by law—from blowing the tops of mountains for coal; to fracturing the earth for oil and natural gas; to clear cutting the Amazon and displacing Indigenous communities. In so doing we are defying Natural Law that governs the planet’s life systems. Climate disruption is the direct result of human activities pushing beyond the limits of Natural Law.

Like no other time in human history, we are in a unique position to determine our fate. Recognizing the Earth as a living system of which humans are a part, rather than as human property to be owned and destroyed is a fundamental shift from the climate capitalism embedded in the DNA of trade deals, environmental policies and treaties around the world—including the Paris Agreement. If we are to find a solution to climate change, we must stop treating the Earth as a commodity and putting a price tag on the processes of the natural world.

Current country commitments of the United Nations Paris Agreement add up to a 3+ degree rise in global temperature by 2050, an outcome that will dwarf the ravages of recent global record-breaking hurricanes, fires and droughts. We must do better than the promises of Paris. Climate scientists tell us we need to keep global temperatures to a 1.5 degree rise, something that cannot be accomplished unless we leave 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. The Paris Agreement lacks a plan to accomplish that, and as a non-binding agreement, provides the opportunity for countries like the U.S. to simply walk away.

To avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis and move toward a planet in balance, we must challenge the idea that Earth’s living systems are property and change our legal frameworks to adhere to the natural laws of the Earth. Recognizing Rights of Nature means that human activities and development must not interfere with the ability of ecosystems to absorb their impacts, to regenerate their natural capacities, to thrive and evolve, and requires that those responsible for destruction, including corporate actors and governments be held fully accountable.

This report explores not just the idea of a radical shift toward recognizing rights of ecosystems (and our responsibilities to the Earth) but includes global examples from around the world where these new laws are taking root. In the last year alone, New Zealand and India have recognized rivers as rights-bearing entities that now “own” themselves. They join the fast-growing list of 7 countries and dozens of local communities that are finding the only way forward to protect human communities is to shift our hearts, minds and legal
frameworks to align with natural law. We can choose to shift now, while there is still time to escape the worst devastation of climate chaos. Failing that, we must remember Mother Earth does not negotiate.

Click here to download and read this report. (PDF)

Click here to download and read this report. (PDF)