Saturday, September 06, 2008

New Ecuador constitution recognizes evolution

On September 28, the people of Ecuador will vote on a new constitution and that constitution is expected to gain easy approval. The new constitution includes a five article section granting rights to nature as a whole. The section refers to nature as Pachamama, a local pagan goddess, the equivalent to Mother Earth or Mother Nature in Anglo-American idiom. Nature has the right to "integral restoration" and people of any nationality can petition the courts in the name of nature. The government Ecuador is obligated to protect nature and prevent extinction or harmful alteration of ecosystems and natural cycles.

In a choice of phrase that would be almost unthinkable in the Untied States, the first article states that nature has the right to maintain "its processes in evolution." While it's possible to read that use of the word "evolution" to mean simply "change" and not to refer to the transformation of species through Darwinian processes, the very presence of the word would be too controversial to survive in this country. But in Catholic Ecuador, things are different.

This is one of the most unambiguous extensions of rights to a nonhuman entity that any country has attempted in modern times. In the United States, corporations acquired individual rights over a century ago almost by accident. Laws in Western countries against cruelty to animals regularly dance around the issue of whether this constitutes rights. Indigenous populations often exercise rights as groups that are separate from their rights as individuals. And Fascist countries tried to reverse the whole Western trend of individual rights by reasserting the superiority of the rights of the nation and state over the individual. But this is something new. The Ecuadoran move to encode the rights of nature in the constitution goes beyond anything yet attempted. It might prove to be a dead letter in practice, but it is definitely a precedent to watch.

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