Bolivia’s nature legislation something to strive for

By Heather McGraw

Some of us in Chicago may love the iconic Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, but if we’re speaking truthfully, a cornfield is almost certainly more of a state symbol than a carnival ride. Midwestern farmers have undoubtedly dealt with decades of struggles regarding their crops, and their battle likely isn’t over yet because new federal budget talks might include cutting funds to farm subsidies, according to a May 4 Washington Post article.

While farmers might have to take the hand dealt to them, indigenous small-scale farmers in Bolivia recently took matters into their hands, pushing through national legislation in January that could make their lives better.

Bolivia’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature is modeled after a native South American concept called Sumaj Kawsay, which means “living well,” striving for humans to remain connected and harmonious with nature. The law addresses 11 key components or “rights” for nature, including the right to have nature’s processes free from human alteration, like pollution’s impact on the environment. The law also creates a position for the “Ministry of Mother Earth,” who will act as a middleman or spokesperson for nature.

One of the key points of the Bolivian legislation is a shift away from non-renewable resources—the country has the second largest natural gas reserves of South America. In 2010, 70 percent of the nation’s exports came from extractive or mining efforts.

The real goal is not to prevent any industrialization or growth but simply take the focus off production and consumption.

So, Bolivia, hats off to you. This new law is something the entire world should have to follow. Do we have someone to pass worldwide legislation? The United Nations maybe? The country’s president, Evo Morales, is trying to make that happen. He has introduced his country’s idea to the U.N. General Assembly in hopes of establishing a peace treaty that could grant some of the same rights as Bolivia’s “Mother Earth Law.”

Bolivia is on the right track. We can only hope the U.N. agrees and decides to present the legislation as a peace treaty that all U.N. members will sign. But that isn’t the only opportunity for other countries to follow in Bolivia’s footsteps.

There are plenty of places throughout the U.S. that could benefit from similar legislation. While federal mandates may not be adopted in the U.S. as smoothly as they were in Bolivia, there are opportunities to implement them at a state or municipal level.

For Chicago, a great example of something in the works at a local level is the Clean Power Ordinance. This law is currently stalled until the new City Council begins its term on May 16. The ordinance will then need to pass through the newly organized Health Committee and the Energy, Environmental and Public Utilities Committee. I urge these committees to look at the Bolivian “Mother Earth” law as a model. We must consider environmental concerns before they seriously affect us. Use this opportunity to include guidelines for future legislation in the law.

As the law states, the Earth is a “living dynamic system” made up of beings who are “interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.” We should accept the ever-changing nature of our environment and realize we need to advance our ways of thinking, too.

As far as I know, we haven’t discovered another habitable planet we can move our civilization to. Maybe it would be smart to keep this one in our thoughts until we do.