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Monday, October 06, 2008

Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.
With the public ratification of its new constitution last week, Ecuador has for the first time anywhere in history granted inalienable rights to nature. The new constitution also includes strict egalitarian provisions about food production, water access, and protection for indigenous peoples and uncontacted tribes.

As the Guardian link makes clear, this unprecedented act stems in part from Ecuador's custodianship of the Galápagos Islands and in part from its long history of abuse at the hands of multinational corporations:
The origins of this apparent legal tidal shift lie in Ecuador's growing disillusionment with foreign multinationals. The country, which contains every South American ecosystem within its borders, which include the Galapagos Islands, has had disastrous collisions with multi-national companies. Many, from banana companies to natural gas extractors, have exploited its natural resources and left little but pollution and poverty in their wake.

Now it is in the grip of a bitter lawsuit against US oil giant Chevron, formerly Texaco, over its alleged dumping of billions of gallons of crude oil and toxic waste waters into the Amazonian jungle over two decades.

It is described as the Amazonian Chernobyl, and 30,000 local people claim that up to 18m tonnes of oil was dumped into unlined pits over two decades, in defiance of international guidelines, and contaminating groundwater over an area of some 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) and leading to a plethora of serious health problems for anyone living in the area. Chevron has denied the allegations. In April, a court-appointed expert announced in a report that, should Chevron lose, it would have to pay up to $16bn (£8.9bn) in damages.

Chevron, which claims its responsibilities were absolved in 1992 when it handed over its operations in Ecuador to the state-owned extraction company, Petroecuador, immediately set about discrediting the report. A verdict on the case is still thought to be a long way off, and Ecuador's government could face US trade sanctions for its refusal to "kill" the case.
It remains somewhat unclear what this law will mean in practice, especially in the context of a country whose economy is so heavily dependent on petroleum extraction. However things shake out, though, this should be a fascinating test case for protection of the environment outside the failed paradigms of property rights on the one hand and "securitization" on the other.

Here's the full text of the relevant articles, including an intriguing bit of commentary that suggests a codified right to civil disobedience in defense of the environment: “Public organisms” in Article 1 means the courts and government agencies, i.e., the people of Ecuador would be able to take action to enforce nature rights if the government did not do so.

There's still more at MeFi. This has received almost no press in the States, but it's an amazing and very important development, definitely worth keeping your eyes on.

(cross-posted at culturemonkey)