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Re-Visioning Our Relationship with Earth: Lessons from 'Rights of Nature & Systemic Change' Event


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.



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.”


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.


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.


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.