Uplifting Rights of Nature to Protect Our Living Earth: 2016 WECAN Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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Living forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon – Photo by Emily Arasim

For just and effective climate change solutions, we must transform dominant economic, legal, social, political and cultural frameworks surrounding our relationship with each other and the living Earth.

On April 25, 2016, activists, educators, students, mothers and many other diverse allies joined together to explore this vital concept via an open online training, ‘Rights of Nature: Protecting and Defending the Places We Live’, presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.

Over the course of the training, presenters Shannon Biggs (Movement Rights) and Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN) shared the paradigm-shifting work of Rights of Nature, and explained how it is already being used around the US and the world to challenge legal systems based on exploitation of the Earth, and instead usher in a new set of frameworks based upon the inherent rights and natural laws of Mother Earth.

Osprey Orielle Lake began the training by presenting an overview of the dynamic international Rights of Nature movement.

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WECAN presents at a Rights of Nature press conference in Paris during the UN 2015 COP21 Climate Negotiations. Pictured left to right: Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN) and Pablo Solon (Fundación Solón) – Photo by Emily Arasim

Osprey is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, working internationally with grassroots and Indigenous leaders, policymakers and scientists to mobilize women for climate justice, resilient communities, systemic change, and a just transition to a clean energy future. Osprey serves as co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and as a member of the Bay Area Alliance for the Rights of Nature, acting as a judge and secretariat at numerous Rights of Nature Tribunals and events in recent years. She is the author of the award-winning book, ‘Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature’.

For Osprey and WECAN International, encountering Rights of Nature was a breakthrough, defining moment which allowed the organization to begin to address climate change at the deep systemic level that crisis of this magnitude demands – a level that confronts and calls for changes in our entire way of being, from the personal to the political.

“Rights of Nature is a revolutionary and evolutionary concept – which at the heart, at a very deep level, can address the dysfunctional economic and legal frameworks that are currently destroying people and planet,” Osprey began.

“After decades of environmental protection laws, which have had some notable successes, we can see that modern legal frameworks overwhelmingly fail to prevent the threats of climate change, degradation of our ecosystems and the growing displacement of humans and other species. So to live sustainably, we really need to change the very DNA of our legal frameworks,” she continued.

Osprey explained that the vast majority of modern legal frameworks treat nature as property, meaning that life giving forests, mountains, rivers and lakes can be sold, consumed and devastated under the protection of trade, property rights and commerce laws.

Because the Earth is treated as property, it has no legal standing of it’s own, rendering violations and harms to the Earth invisible in the modern ‘justice’ system.

“Yes we have environmental laws, but who is writing them? Yes we have regulation, but they are just giving limits to pollution, not attempting to halt it.”

“It is clear that we cannot solve this crisis by further subjecting the Earth to the very same system and worldview that caused this crisis,” she explained, outlining how capitalism and extractive modern economies inherently and by their very nature rely upon this legalized ownership of the Earth.

According to Osprey, the consequences of dominant legal frameworks reach deeper than just empowerment of destructive economics and failure to protect the growing threats of climate change.

“In adhering to current structures of law, we are furthering a dangerous human relationship with the natural world, and a vision of exploitation that cannot be allowed to continue. It all comes from, and continues to support this old paradigm, based in patriarchy and colonialism. A paradigm of ‘dominion over’ – dominion over women, dominion over the Earth, and dominion over Indigenous cultures. This is why at WECAN our four founding principles are the Rights of Women, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Rights of Nature and the Rights of Future Generations. ”

“Just as we recognize that it is wrong for men to consider women property, we really need to have an entirely different legal configuration that recognizes that Earth’s living systems are not the property of humans,” she continued.

Osprey went on to share inspiring news – action to challenge dominant systems of law and usher in a vision of rights and respect for the living Earth is not just theoretical, but rather is being put into action by a growing body of organizations, communities and countries.

Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador have adopted Rights of Nature measures within their national constitutions (albeit with serious problems in implementation). In New Zealand, a river has been giving legal rights and standing. Across the US and beyond, communities are passing local Rights of Nature ordinances to stop fracking, GMO’s, corporate theft of water and much more.

“Rights of Nature is a tool to directly stop corporate activities by raising human and Earth rights above those of the corporations,” Osprey emphasized, “We can change our laws, and we have the right to do that.”

With this strong vision, Rights of Nature thus emerges as a tool to challenge extractive industries, corrupt trade deals, carbon trading and false climate solutions, while also opening a door for personal and collective return to a life affirming relationship with the Earth.

“There is a real need to also change our fundamental personal values and what we uphold as meaningful in our lives…In this sense the development and implementation of Rights of Nature is best understood as a deep and necessary shift in our human understanding of our tie to Earth, as well as a change in legal and economic structures. It is about changing our values, our laws and our culture at the same time.”

In closing her presentation, Osprey highlighted a parallel and deeply interconnected movement from Indigenous leaders of South America.

“‘Sumak Kawsi’ or ‘Buen Vivir’, ‘good living’ has been described by Indigenous allies in many ways, including living in ecological and economic balance; harmony in relationships; personal and collective growth appropriate to local conditions; good health; living well in community, including the larger ecologic community; and a worldview centered on a “living cosmos that we are part and particle of.”

Sumak Kawsi is a worldview poised to helping bring life and actualization to the critical ideas encompassed within Rights of Nature.

Another avenue through which Rights of Nature are being put into action is International Rights of Nature Tribunals, a growing body of events in which expert judges and witnesses try diverse cases of Earth rights violations to demonstrate how Rights of Nature could be implemented, and the incredible momentum and results that can be engendered by their use. Osprey closed with a short video on the recent Tribunal in Paris during COP21 climate negotiations.

As the enchanting final words of Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation) closed the video, Shannon Biggs took the floor.

Shannon Biggs is the Co-Founder and Director of Movement Rights, an organization born in 2015 out of 12 years of work with Global Exchange, where she served as Director of Development before beginning the Community and Nature’s Rights Program.

Shannon is a leading international speaker, author and activist on the growing movement for Rights of Nature, and is the co-author of two books and many reports, including ‘Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots’ and ‘The Rights of Nature’. She is a lecturer of weekend ‘Democracy Schools’ that explore the rights-based framework for change, and leads Rights of Nature trainings around the country and world.

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Shannon Biggs presents on fracking as a violation of the Rights of Nature at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris during COP21

Shannon began her presentation my framing two critical questions – ‘What would it look like to live in a world in which the Rights of Nature are upheld?’ and more importantly, ‘How do we get there?’.

Shannon’s reply to the second question was short and powerful; “System change starts where you live.”

Through Movement Rights and other allied organizations, Shannon is working to build towards system change by “shifting law and culture”.

Her works sits at the intersection of Rights of Nature and community rights, focused on helping communities take back power in their locale by writing new laws that recognize their right to protect the Earth and determine what happens in their community, effectively placing their rights and Earth Rights over the supposed ‘rights’ of corporations.

“We are told that things like fracking, or dams or water withdrawals or the many other things that makes our homes sacrifice zones, we are told that we don’t have the ability to say no to say to those things,” Shannon explained.

“…but the kind of rights we are talking about are not gifts from governments, the kind of rights we are talking about are inalienable – the right to clean water, clean air… We cannot give these away and this is not something the government can grant us.”

“So our work is about changing the rules. If the law is standing in the way of us protecting our children, protecting our families, protecting Nature – then it is time to change the law and change where decisions are made.”

“Imagine, for example, what would it look like for the Gulf coast if the ecosystem had rights in a court of law to sure BP for full restoration? How quickly would we have changed how deep sea drilling is done, or if it is done at all?” she questioned.

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Shannon Biggs and Osprey Orielle Lake pictured in front of open hydraulic fracking flares in North Dakota, USA – Photo by Emily Arasim

Shannon framed law as “how we use power to make real a worldview”. Currently, law is empowering a worldview based on patriarchy, rights and dominion over the Earth and endless material growth, but this need not be the case. In challenging and changing law, we break down structures of power and dangerous worldviews.

“History shows us again and again that culture changes law, and law in turn broadly changes culture,” Shannon explained, drawing attention to Right of Nature as a continuation of the trajectory of past peoples movement for rights, including movements to abolish slavery and fight for women’s rights.

Shannon also spoke deeply to the centrality of Indigenous rights and leadership within the context of Rights of Nature.

“This is a time for Indigenous leadership. This is about learning from the original instructions… and this is what we need most desperately – how do we begin to restore our relationship with the Earth – in our mind states, laws and cultures?” she reflected.

“Indigenous people are standing up at this time, all around the world, to showcase how to protect the Earth. They are the defenders and protectors of the most biodiverse places on Earth, and from them we have so much to learn about how to live in balance. As part of Rights of Nature we must support global communities to make sure that Indigenous lands stay in Indigenous hands.”

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, Oklahoma) and Gloria Ushigua Santi (Sapara, Ecuador) standing in mutual solidarity in Paris for the COP 21 (in front of their respective portraits by Mona Caron. Photo via Movement Rights.

Shannon closed by sharing the case of Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, USA, the first global community to enact a local Rights of Nature ordinance.

In the face of attempts to fill a nearby mine site with contaminated sludge, citizens organized successfully to create a local law declaring the right of the ecosystem to be free from further contamination. Since this 2006 victory, the movement has spread quickly.

“What started as a ripple in the pond in Tamaqua Borough went to Ecuador, to Bolivia, to New Zealand, to India and it also came back to countless small communities who began asking ‘how can we do that here?’.”

Shannon noted that most Tamaqua Borough residents did not necessarily see themselves as environmental defenders, or as beings spiritually connected to the Earth, but rather saw Rights of Nature as a practical and effective tool for community, home and land protection.

“This is very important to consider as we explore how this movement can grow and spread. We must meet and start where people are.”

Nonetheless, Shannon explained that recognizing Rights of Nature and the legal standing of the Earth does ultimately means taking responsibility for our personal stewardship, recognizing that we are part and parcel of the Earth, and involving ourselves in organizing and action to defend and ensure that her rights are effectively and justly upheld once recognized.

Shannon closed by sharing information about the Bay Area ‘What Would The Delta Say? Rights of Tribunal’, held in April 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Tribunal was used as a stage to discuss and try corporate and state actors seeking to build tunnels to take water from Northern to Southern California to spur development and continued fracking and oil drilling.

“Through the Tribunal we want to give a voice to the Delta ecosystem. It is an opportunity for the fish to speak, for the marshes to speak, for us to truly look at how this affects the people and ecosystems of the Delta. It is an opportunity to pursue environmental justice and to envision a world in which rights were upheld.”

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Mobilizing to protect the Bay Area Delta. Photo via Movement Rights.

In closing the training, Osprey framed Rights of Nature as a powerful tool to take back power in our communities, reassert our democracy, and challenge corrupt ‘1%’ governance structures facilitating environmental and social abuses around the world.

The training ended with a fascinating Questions and Answer session in which participants delved into topics including the applicability of Rights of Nature to movements to protect seeds, farmers rights, and stop GMOs; connection between Rights of Nature and work to defend and support land defenders; Rights of Nature as an element of preparations and community capacity developments for Treaty negotiations of Indigenous peoples in US, Canada and beyond; problems with commodification of the Earth and assigning monetary value to ecosystem functions; and reflections on identity, “deep and ancient reciprocal relationship” and our sacred interconnection with the Earth.

More information about this and other recent WECAN US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Education and Advocacy trainings available here.

Rights of Nature Training Resources (shared by presenters and training participants):

 

 

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‘Rights of Nature: Protecting & Defending the Places We Live’ Training Resources

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On July 28, 2015 the U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative presented the final session in a series of free, online advocacy and education trainings. ‘Rights of Nature & Community Rights: Protecting & Defending the Places We Live’ featured climate women leaders Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights and Osprey Orielle Lake of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network.

During the training Shannon and Osprey provided a background on Rights of Nature and the importance of a legal framework that honors Earths living systems rather than treating them as property. They described how Rights of Nature can be used to take immediate, concrete steps to protect our communities and the planet– and also as a tool for furthering deep, long-term shifts in culture, law, policy, and our relationship with the Earth. They shared techniques for asserting community rights and Rights of Nature over supposed corporate ‘rights’, power, and profit, and told stories about communities across the US and the world who are already using local Rights of Nature ordinances to take back their ability to protect the Earth and make decisions about the places they call home.

A collection of resources presented during the training is provided below.

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Stories & Solutions from the Frontlines: Climate Women Unite At WECAN Event in Lima

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International women leaders at WECAN event. Photo via Leo Sacha.

On December 8, 2014, a group of extraordinary women leaders gathered in Lima, Peru to speak out against issues of social and ecologic injustice, and to share stories and plans of action for building a livable, equitable world.

‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change-Lima’ was hosted by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) as part of the mobilization surrounding the UNFCCC COP20 climate negotiations, held in Lima that same week. Crucially, the event created a platform to bring to the forefront some of the voices that have been historically excluded, particularly those of Indigenous women.

The event opened with a powerful welcome ceremony, led by Eda Zavala, an Indigenous leader from Tarapoto, Peru.

Eda Zavala of Tarapoto, Peru. Photo via Amazon Watch.

WECAN International Co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, introduced the event,

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Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Executive Director.

“We are here today to explore what we, as women from different parts of the world, can do to accelerate our collective efforts to stop extractivism and protect our lands and children’s future. How can we as women connect more deeply in our defense and protection of the web of life and the Earth in the face of climate change and dangerous economic and legal frameworks? How can women of the Global South and North work in deeper collaboration, and how can we recognize and act upon the historic responsibilities of industrialized countries and so-called wealthier communities? Indigenous and frontline communities are where we must focus our efforts, and we acknowledge with deep respect and fierce outrage the threats and crimes against defenders of the land.”

“Foundationally, how we treat the Earth is how we treat women. Violence against the Earth, begets violence against women…Women comprise about 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change, and yet, while women continue to suffer disproportionately, they also stand on the frontlines of global efforts to revision our world and build real solutions,” Lake explained.

Bianca Jagger, social and human rights advocate, and Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, presented further opening remarks focusing on the importance of women’s leadership and solidarity with frontline communities worldwide. Please see Ms. Jagger’s important analysis of COP20 and her participation in the WECAN event here.

Bianca Jagger of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation and Sonia Guajajara, National Coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, Maranhão. Brazil. Photo via Amazon Watch.

Following opening remarks, panel sessions moderated by Leila Salazar-Lopez, Program Director at Amazon Watch, and Lake of WECAN International began, featuring women land-defenders sharing their experiences and solutions.

Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women in Ecuador denounced the destruction caused by the oil industry’s steady encroachment on her people’s territory. Poignantly, Gloria explained the devastation of the Earth and the health, security, and wellbeing of Amazonian communities as a direct result of misconceived notions of development and progress.

Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca, Vice President of the Huaorani nationality of Ecuador, detailed her fight for an immediate end to all oil exploration and drilling in Yasuni National Park, one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, and home to an incredible array of cultures and communities. Yasuni is one of the few places in the region that thrived during the last ice age, and, quite extraordinarily, is one of the few expected to withstand extreme future climate changes. Despite this, the Ecuadorian government and foreign and national companies are pushing into this previously ‘intangible’ zone, compromising the very survival of the land and its people.

Photo via Atossa Soltani

Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca, Vice-President of the Huaorani nationality of Ecuador. Photo via Atossa Soltani

Hueiya elucidated how the rivers that once flourished and sustained life of breathtaking diversity are now poisoning the fish and causing unheard of cancers and skin diseases, particularly in children.

We must fight to protect the Earth and our territories for these children and future generations, Hueiya explained, reminding all present that if our ancestors had not taken action, we would not be here today.

Tantoo Cardinal, Native Canadian actress and activist addressed the audience next, taking them from the heart of the Amazon rainforest, to the devastated tar sands region in Canada. Tantoo explained the ways in which the poisoning of the Earth and Indigenous communities in North America, unleashed through extractive industries, is but an extension of a colonial mindset,

“For generations, our language was outlawed. Our songs were outlawed. Our way of relationship with creator, with creative force, was outlawed. Our names were taken away.”

Tantoo and hundreds of other men and women from across Canada and the US have been working ceaselessly to insure that exploitation is stopped, and that the root causes of these injustices are addressed.

Nina Gualinga, Kichwa youth leader from Sarayaku, in the Ecuadorian Amazon opened the second panel discussion, reflecting on how she was compelled to become an Earth defender,

“I grew up in a beautiful place in the rainforest of Ecuador, in Sarayaku. I don’t have words to describe my childhood, but it was beautiful. I cannot ask for anything else. When I was about seven years old, maybe eight, this representative of an oil company called CGC came to Sarayaku. It was an Argentinian oil company. And I did not speak Spanish, but I saw that my elders, my mother and all the people in Sarayaku were worried…That was the first time I feared that my land and the life that I knew was going to be destroyed.”

Hailing from Nepal, and representing communities in India and Thailand, Mrinalini (Tina) Rai, Indigenous advisor and gender expert from the Global Forest Coalition, shared her experiences of the challenges women face in forest communities.

Pictured left to right: Nina Gualinga, Mrinalini (Tina) Rai, Casey Camp Horinek, Atossa Soltani, & Osprey Orielle Lake. Photo via Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

Ponca Nation elder, actress, long-time activist, and Indigenous Environmental Network representative, Casey Camp-Horinek, reflected on experiences at the frontline of the fight against extractive industries in Oklahoma, USA.

“We’re living in a very destructive area, where I am. We have ConocoPhillips. We have fracking. We have earthquakes as a result of that fracking. We have fish kills. We have cancer rates that are astronomical at this time. We have literal killings. They may not be coming after us with their bayonets and their rifles, but they’re coming at us with nuclear waste, they’re coming at us with fracking, they’re coming at us with pipelines that are carrying that filth from the tar sands, where they’re killing my relatives up there. And they’re bringing it to you.”

Casey’s presentation echoed earlier speakers, highlighting the fact that while not everyone present at the event directly experiences the impacts of extractivism and exploitation at this time, it is imperative that we act in solidarity with the communities who suffer, working to heal past harms and prevent the spreading of this devastation.

Atossa Soltani, Founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch also spoke, concluding her comments with a fierce testimony and analysis of why fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to avert catastrophic levels of climate disruption.

“Looking for more oil and gas is insane. We need to keep the oil in the ground.” Atossa explained.

During the final panel session, presenters shared strategies for implementing a living forest worldview and developing renewable energy alternatives, just economic structures, resistance movements, and systemic change.

Pictured left to right: Patricia Gualinga, Sonia Guajajara, and Nino Gamisonia. Photo via Atossa Soltani.

Traveling from Maranhão, Brazil, Sonia Guajajara serves as the National Coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, and has been working to expose violations of Indigenous Rights happening across her home country. Specifically, Sonia is campaigning against the industrial agribusiness interests responsible for deforesting and polluting great swaths of land in Brazil, as well as against the construction of several mega-dam projects expected to displace thousands and flood irreplaceable ecosystems.

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Patricia Gualinga, Kichwa leader from Sarayaku, Ecuador.

Nino Gamisonia of the Rural Communities Development Agency in Abkhazia, Georgia gave fresh insight on a region whose story is seldom told. Nino outlined detailed women-led solar energy projects that are leap-frogging rural communities towards clean energy alternatives in her region.

Speaking from experience leading her communities’ fight to protect diverse cultural and ecologic heritage from oil extraction, Patricia Gualinga, Indigenous Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador spoke last:

“The destruction of nature is the destruction of our own energy and of our own existence here on Earth,” Patricia explained, “the destruction of our spaces is the destruction of indigenous populations. And even though you might not believe this, this is your destruction, as well.”

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Strategy circle led by allies at the Indigenous Environmental Network.

After the panels, several breakout sessions were organized, including ‘Indigenous Women North and South: Defenders of the Mother Earth Treaty’, presented by the Indigenous Environmental Network, and an initial strategy session for distributing and gaining visibility for the ‘Declaration of the Meeting of Women Against Extractivism and Climate Change’, or Declaración del Encuentro de Mujeres Frente al Extractivismo y al Cambio Climático.

This powerful statement, written at a gathering of Indigenous women and allies in Quito, Ecuador in October 2014, denounces false development paradigms, territorial dispossession, and the poisoning of communities and nature. A group of women, including panelist Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca, worked throughout COP20 to gain recognition and support for their demands. Click here to read the full declaration in Spanish and English.

Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women, Ecuador, and Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca, Vice-President of Huaorani nationality of Ecuador. Photo via Amazon Watch.

Lake closed the event with a clear directive from all participants that the deliberations, new partnerships, and strategic plans that arose from the gathering would be carried out in 2015. Special thanks to Amazon Watch and the Indigenous Environmental Network for participation in this and other events in Lima.

WECAN International is deeply honored that the team from Democracy Now! attended ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change-Lima’. Their coverage is presented below, allowing you to hear directly from some of the courageous and inspiring women who spoke at the event.

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Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Special Projects & Communication Coordinator

International Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal Climate Change Case Statement

On December 5 and 6, 2014, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature convened the second ‘International Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal’ in Lima, Peru, using the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth to examine and make formal observations on cases of exploitation of the Earth that have remained outside the consideration of formal institutions.

Cases on trail included the BP Deep Horizon oil spill, the Belo Monte mega-dam in Brazil, threats to the Great Barrier Reef, fracking projects in North America and Bolivia, REDD initiatives, the persecution of defenders of the Earth, and unmitigated fossil fuel and mineral extraction in sites such as Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park and El Mirador gold mine, and Peru’s Four Rivers Basin.

WECAN International Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, served as a judge during the Tribunal, focusing specifically on the case analyzing the ways in which Earths inherent rights have been violated by the impacts of climate change and false climate solutions. Her final statement is presented below, alongside photos from the event.


Honorable President of the Tribunal and Ladies and Gentleman,

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Blanca Chancoso, Kichwa leader, Ecuador.

I want to express my deepest appreciation for all the witnesses for Mother Earth who have spoken so powerfully in the defense of Pachamama and their communities these past two days. Particularly, I want to honor the voices of the Indigenous women who have spoken here.

Thank you to the presenters of the climate change case for such a compelling and critical testimony about global warming and false solutions.

The presentation reminded me of a forum I participated in during the Peoples Climate March in New York City this past September. Scientists were reporting on their research concerning the harmful effects of increasing CO2 emissions on pregnant women and their growing babies. What was almost too difficult to grasp at this forum was that we, as a species, we are literally weighing the very health of our babies against a destructive system that has gone completely mad.

Today the climate change presenters have made well-founded arguments illustrating the ways in which the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth have been fundamentally violated by global temperature rise, and by a myriad of false solutions being proposed for mitigation.

If the global mean temperature warms by more than 2 °Celsius (and likely less than that given the dangerous change we have already witnessed), risks to ecosystems and livelihoods will surpass tolerable levels. Your arguments have made it clear that the consequences of climate change are leading to irreversible and fatal changes to the very web of life.

President of the Huni Kui people of Acre, Brazil, Ninawa Kaxinawá (Hunikui)

Because of a world view based on domination of Nature, and a destructive capitalist framework based on endless material growth and extractivism, grave violations of Mother Earth’s rights are taking place, destroying not only animals, plants, rivers, oceans and the atmosphere, but bringing into question the very existence of the human species.

The fossil fuel industry, our governance structures, and corporate institutions must be held accountable for these violations against Nature. While many world leaders hold on to the notion that we can postpone serious reductions in fossil fuels, nature is clearly demonstrating that Earth’s natural laws cannot be manipulated, compromised, or ignored.

From the arguments of the presenters, we can see that false solutions, such as geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy, and ‘climate smart’ industrial agriculture are only furthering violations of Mother Earth’s rights. These are a techno fixes that interfere with the natural laws of our planet and further promote the commodification and financialization of living systems.

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Mary Louise Malig.

Geo-engineering is doubly dangerous and destructive because it not only interferes with the Earth’s natural ability to balance herself, but it also does nothing to address the root causes of climate change.

As Naomi Klein stated in her book This Changes Everything, “The appeal of geo-engineering is that it doesn’t threaten our worldview. It leaves us in a dominant position. It says that there is an escape hatch.” In other words, it allows us to just keep doing what are doing, despite the fact that it is clearly not working.

Likewise, you have shown us that market mechanisms are a violation of the Earth’s rights, allowing for escalating destruction through the buying and selling of the right to pollute through schemes like carbon trading.

It is not a surprise that in these schemes Nature is assumed to be an object of the marketplace, as the commodification and financialization of nature is inherent in the capitalist system.

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Osprey Orielle Lake.

We must ask ourselves: Does it make any sense to try to protect the Earth and heal our damaged ecosystems by further subjecting nature to the very logics and systems that caused the damage in the first place?

Our Mother Earth is calling out to us and our hearts are breaking. She is letting us know that we are on a path of great devastation. Today, our hearts also break for our fallen sisters and brother, defenders of the land, whose stories we have heard throughout the Tribunal.

And while it is true the Earth will live on and survive even we do not, it is tragic to think that our mark as species on this beautiful, luminous planet will be one of destruction and violence, instead of beauty, dignity and harmony with Nature.

Your presentation makes it clear that our legal and economic frameworks are at war with the sacred web of life. We need an entirely different legal configuration that recognizes that living systems are not enslaved human property for our exploitation. In order to live in harmony with the Earth and safeguard a healthy world for present and future generations, we need to reform the destructive aspects of our modern life.

The testimony of the climate change presenters highlights this urgent need to address climate change with solutions based on climate justice and respect for the natural laws of the planet.

I will name here just 9 of a myriad of actions we need to take in concert given the scale of this crisis.

  1. We need to advance a new society, based on social justice and environmental sustainability that recognizes human rights and Rights of Nature.
  2.  We must limit global warming to below 2.0 °Celsius, but we should and can aim for the 1.5° limit proposed by acutely vulnerable nations.
  3.  All CO2-emissions must fall to net zero by mid-century, at the very latest.
  4.  We must divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy.
  5. We need to respect all governmental treaties with Indigenous peoples and defend their right to continue to inhabit traditional lands, undisturbed by industrial projects and extractive industries.
  6.  We must reject greenhouse gas emissions reductions schemes that come from high-risk technologies, like geo-engineering and nuclear power.
  7. We must address unsustainable consumption and production in the Global North, and governments must recognize the historic responsibilities of industrialized countries.
  8. We must leave at least 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground and stop further fossil fuel exploration and development
  9. We must transition to 100% renewable energy sources and decentralize and democratize ownership of this new energy economy.
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Domingo Ankuash, Shuar leader from Ecuador led the case against the El Mirador gold mine. He is calling for an investigation of the tragic death of Shuar leader J. Tendentza, killed a few days ago as he prepared to travel to Lima to testify at the Tribunal & other events.

We need to support movements and governance and economic structures that are not based on endless material growth, and instead envision a new way of living that is based on care for each other and Pachamama, Mother Earth. A society with a new understanding of ourselves, progress, and well-being.

Sumak Kawsy, or ‘living well’, a concept coming from the great wisdom of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, offers us an important direction forward to help us overcome current misconceptions of ‘development’ and well being. As we think about reparation, mitigation, restoration and prevention of further harm to each other and the Earth, we need to embrace these ideas of Sumak Kawsy.

In this way, uplifting the Rights of Nature can help us address our dysfunctional systems and support the transition we need by reconnecting us with the world around us. This is essential because underlying so many of the root causes of our destructive relationship with the Earth is a belief that we are somehow separate from nature.

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Casey Camp Horinek of the Ponca First Nation.

This sense of disconnect from our living Earth has proven to be not only spiritually heartbreaking and ecologically devastating, but a disaster in the human experiment. My hope is that in uncovering how our current legal and economic systems violate Natures rights, and in confronting the false climate change solutions being put forward by policymakers, we will have a deeply needed societal transformation. That we will come home, back to Mother Earth with respect and care, and rather quickly given the small window of time we have before we pass ecological tipping points.

As case presenters and Mr.Pablo Salon stated, climate change is very complex and far-reaching, consequently, the judges affirm that this case will remain open for further evidence to be collected and prepared for a Tribunal during the UN climate negotiations in Paris next year.

Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal members held a press briefing to present Tribunal findings at UNFCCC COP20 climate negotiations. Pictured from left to right: Nnimmo Bassey, Atossa Soltani, Tom Goldtooth, Pablo Salon, and Osprey Orielle Lake . Photo via Andrew Miller.

You can watch the press conference on the Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal here: http://unfccc6.meta-fusion.com/cop20/events/2014-12-09-14-00-amazon-watch

WECAN Women Mobilizing for Climate Justice at COP20 in Lima, Peru

This December 2014, policymakers representing 195 countries will meet in Lima, Peru for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP20. Building on the September 2014 U.N. Climate Summit in New York City and talks held in Bonn, Germany last month, COP20 is the first round of negotiations as policy makers work to finalize a new global climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

At this critical time, social movement leaders and climate activists will also be gathering in Lima to further push for an agenda which is founded in climate justice, and which matches the scale and severity of the crisis we face.

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WECAN International advocating with other women’s groups at COP19

As scientists have made perfectly clear, if we do not move forward boldly within the next decade, we will pass irreversible climate tipping points with catastrophic impacts. And, until we act in the name of climate justice, diverse ecosystems and communities will continue to be polluted and destroyed, defenders of the Earth will continue to be persecuted, species will continue to be lost at an unfathomable rate, and we will continue to bet on the lives of our children.

Ignited by these facts, and deeply concerned that the voices of women and Indigenous and frontline communities have not been heeded in previous discussions, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) is headed to Lima. WECAN International will advocate inside the U.N. negotiations, and will lead and join in the diverse grassroots mobilization efforts happening in parallel.

On December 9th, WECAN International will host a formal side event inside the UNFCCC COP20, with allies from Amazon Watch and TakingItGlobal. We will showcase examples of youth and women as agents of local and global change, with particular focus on Indigenous women at the forefront of climate change impacts and solution building.

As part of the event, WECAN International will present the newly released ‘Women’s Climate Action Agenda’ as a blueprint for our path forward. The UNFCCC does not have an overarching mandate on gender to guide policies, so, with the Action Agenda in hand, WECAN will be advocating for gender sensitive policy-making, in collaboration with expert leaders from the Women and Gender Constituency.

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Indigenous Leader, Patricia Gualinga of Ecuador, speaks at a recent WECAN event.

Outside of formal U.N. proceedings, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network will host and take part in a series of public events and actions addressing issues of women and climate, climate justice, and rights of Nature and Indigenous peoples.

On December 8th, WECAN International will present ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change-Lima’, bringing together a diverse group of women leaders from across the world to speak out against activities and policies threatening the Earth and their communities, and to share the visions with which they are working to shape a more equitable and healthy world.

Panel discussions and strategy circles will focus on extractive industries and mega-dams, forest protection and territory rights, renewable energy alternatives, new economic frameworks, rights of nature, systemic change, and how relationships between women of the Global South and North can further grow the climate justice movement. WECAN International’s ‘Women’s Climate Action Agenda’ will be explored as a tool for creating systemic change and implementing on-the-ground solutions. The event is free and open to the public, with more details available at wecaninternational.org/pages/unfccc-cop20-2014

While in Peru, WECAN International will also take part in the ‘International Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal ’, hosted by theGlobal Alliance for the Rights of Nature, on whose Steering Committee WECAN serves.

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The Tribunal model uses the ‘Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth’ as a foundation for adjudicating and disseminating judgments on violations of Nature happening across the globe. The Tribunal shows us what a legal framework that works within the planets limits really looks like, and provides a potent tool for communities working to defend the Earth and their health and heritage.

At the Lima Tribunal, a diverse panel of international experts will hold trials on 12 different cases linked to COP20 proceedings, including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, threats to the Great Barrier Reef, hydraulic fracturing in the US, mineral and petroleum extraction in Latin America, mega-dam construction in Brazil, and the violent persecution of individuals and communities working to defend the Earth. In adjudicating these critical cases, Tribunal organizers hope to compile the information and compelling analysis needed to catalyze real international action on these cases.

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Panel members at the first International Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal in Ecuador.

The Tribunal, to be held on December 5th and 6th, is free & open to the public. To register and get further information, visit therightsofnature.org/events/ron-ethics-tribunal-lima

Continuing the week of mobilization in Peru, WECAN International and Indigenous allies will take to the streets as part of the People’s March Lima on December 10th.

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“We are rising,” explained Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Co-Founder and Executive Director, “We are rising in the streets, in the court house, in the forests, in the fields, and in the conference rooms of COP20. We know there will be no climate justice until the voices of women, Indigenous peoples, Nature, and future generations are the voices that guide policies and global action. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. WECAN will mobilize ceaselessly in pursuit of this goal.”

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Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Special Projects & Communications Coordinator

Re-Visioning Our Relationship with the Earth: Lessons from ‘Rights of Nature and Systemic Change in Climate Solutions’

Deeply aware of the crisis created by systems that value growth and profit above all else, an extraordinary group of panelists gathered to speak out at ‘Rights of Nature and Systemic Change in Climate Solutions’ on September 22, 2014. The event, presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) and the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, was held as part of the mobilization surrounding the People’s Climate March and U.N. Climate Summit in New York City.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

Rich with varied voices and perspectives, the event focused on the need to redesign our social, political, economic and legal structures to function with respect to the rights of the Earth and the knowledge systems of the original stewards of the land, the worlds indigenous peoples.

“If our environmental law and economic systems were working we would not be in this crisis,” explained Osprey Orielle Lake, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WECAN International, in her opening statement. “Our current laws do not stop pollution, they ‘regulate’ it and allow it to continue. We must disrupt this broken framework.”

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network), Shannon Biggs (Global Exchange), Gloria Ushigua (Association of Sapara Women, Ecuador), Linda Sheehan (Earth Law Center), and Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Nation, Indigenous Environmental Network) joined Lake to expose fundamental flaws in our current laws and management schemes, while presenting bold strategies for re-visioning them. The issue could not be more critical, presenters explained, as a shift to a legal framework and knowledge system that sees the Earth as a living being with inherent right is a requirement for any genuine climate solution.

Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network took the floor first, focusing on the need to learn from and re-align with indigenous knowledge which conceives of the Earth as a vibrant, living Mother who must be cared for and respected.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

Tom explained how many climate action plans currently being considered, such as REDD carbon projects and biotechnology schemes, continue to violate the laws of nature and rights of the Earth in attempts to divide, conquer, and profit, ultimately making them false and highly destructive proposals. He emphasized that communities across the globe must reject climate policies which continue to commodify and manipulate, instead coming back to “our true nature of working in harmony with Mother Earth.”

Linda Sheehan of the Earth Law Center spoke next, reaffirming and expanding up Tom Goldtooth’s sentiment that our plans of action, movements, laws and policies must function with respect to the Rights of Nature.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

According to Linda, our current legal structure overwhelmingly views the Earth as an entity to be traded and degraded, resulting in continued exploitation and failing policy. “We think we can chop up nature, we can control it. This is simply a misunderstanding,” she explained.

Working to challenge this flawed vision, Linda and allies at the Earth Law Center have joining forces with groups across the U.S. to create and instate new laws that put the rights of the Earth and communities above those of corporations, including notable successes in Santa Monica, California this year.

From the frontlines of the fight to end fossil fuel extraction in the Amazon Basin, Gloria Ushigua of the Association of Sapara Women, Ecuador shared her story next.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

“We are here to defend our rights, our spirits, our forests,” Gloria explained, highlighting the ways that indigenous communities across the world, embedded firmly in a tradition that sees the Earth as a flourishing and living being, are already challenging conventional models and leading the way towards climate solutions.

Gloria’s words however, shook up the conversation as she explained how despite Ecuadorian law that officially gives rights to Nature, massive corporate and political violations continue. Ultimately, changing our legal framework must thus be but the first step, to be followed up with ceaseless civil society action to insure that these rights are respected on every level.

Shannon Biggs of the Global Exchange spoke next, expanding upon Gloria’s declaration that systemic change in climate solutions and our relationship with the Earth must come not only at the policy level, but at the level of communities and individuals across the globe.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

“It all comes down to community, it is up to our communities to be stewards of the land,” Shannon explained, “we must challenge unjust law that says nature is property.”

Shannon continued on to detail the concrete ways that the Global Exchange and its partners are working to expand local ability to implement and enforce the Rights of Nature, focusing on community applications of these principles as tools for climate resiliency and the protection of the Earth.

Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation and Indigenous Environmental Network took the floor as the final presenter of the day. Her speech was one of hope, explaining to the audience that while the task of uprooting and re-visioning the dominant system seem daunting, this is only so when constrained under the impression that politicians and economists are the center of ultimate power.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

“If the sun did not rise today, would you be here? If you did not have a drink of water, would you be here today? THAT is the true power,” Casey explained, the audience erupting in applause.

Following the series of presentations, audience members and speakers engaged in a question and answer session that kept many in discussion for more than an hour after the official end of the event. Expanding upon earlier discussion surrounding mal-aligned economic and climate policy that seeks to control and subdue nature, Linda Sheehan poignantly remarked, “they call it ecosystem management as is the earth has been unruly. No. We need to regulate ourselves.”

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

All of the presenters are engaged with a dynamic process of conducting Rights of Nature Ethic Tribunals. The first was held in Ecuador earlier this year, followed by a October 5th  Tribunal in the San Francisco Bay Area (click here to read more!) and upcoming December 2014 Tribunal in Peru. Crucially, these Rights of Nature Tribunals demonstrate how a new legal framework, embedded in principles of the Rights of Nature, can be successfully used as a tool for ending corporate exploitation and building climate resiliency and solutions.

Reflecting on the afternoon panel and plans moving forward, Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN International stated, “to truly live sustainably and live in harmony with the Earth, we need to change the very DNA of our economy and legal frameworks to adhere to the natural laws of the earth and for this, Rights of Nature can play a central role. Please join our efforts at WECAN and in the growing movement for the Rights of Nature.”

For more information about the Rights of Nature movement, check out:

wecaninternational.org/pages/rights-of-nature-international-advocacy-trainings

therightsofnature.org

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Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Special Projects & Communications Coordinator

The Earth is Not for Sale: Taking a Stand at the People’s Tribunal for the Rights of Nature

This Sunday, October 5th, allies in Oakland, California will unite to hold a ‘People’s Tribunal on the Rights of Nature’.

The proceedings stem from a growing movement that seeks to highlight and protect Mother Nature’s inherent and inviolable rights, exposing and putting on trial violations of the Earth and its communities at the hands of the Chevron Corporation.

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Photo by Emily Arasim.

Using a recent refinery explosion in Richmond, CA as a case study, the People’s Tribunal will demonstrate exactly how a new legal framework, embedded in principles of the Rights of Nature, can be used as a tool for ending corporate exploitation and building climate resiliency and solutions.

The event, organized by the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance as part of a global Earth Rights Day of Action, will be held between 10 am and 2 pm at the Laney College’s Forum in Oakland, CA.

Crucially, the Tribunal will serve as forum to strengthen tactics used at the first International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Ecuador last year, and to prepare for upcoming international Tribunals in Peru in December 2014. Taken together, these three powerful tribunals have the potential to chart a new course and provide tools for communities to exercise their rights, protect Natures Rights, and begin to stop environmental and social degradation.

WECAN International Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, will serve as a moderator of the People’s Tribunal on Sunday.

“We have seen decades worth of environmental protection laws that have failed to prevent the increasingly grave threats of climate change, degradation of our planet’s ecosystems, and the growing displacement of humans and other species,” stated Lake, explaining the impetus for events such as the People’s Tribunal. “To achieve sustainability, even at its most basic level, the time has come for society to restructure the fundamental framework of our governance and economics systems as they relate to the relationship of humans and our Earth.”

The event is free and open to the public, however requires registration at http://therightsofnature.org/events/bayareatribunal.

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Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications & Special Projects Coordinator