Ecuador Constitution Grants Rights to Nature

News accounts of Ecuador�s vote on Sunday approving a new Constitution mainly focused on how its terms could help the country�s leftist leader, Rafael Correa, an American-educated economist, gain and hold more power. Details are in Simon Romero�s article on the Ecuador vote and its implications.

But as I mentioned last week, the Constitution includes a novel set of articles that appear to be the first in any Constitution granting inalienable rights to nature. Cyril Mychalejko of wrote an interesting column exploring the political subtext and explaining how realities on the ground in that turbulent country may limit the significance of the language. Still, the wording alone is fascinating, as is the simple fact that the provisions were included.

One passage says nature �has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.�

[UPDATED:] The language in these provisions was written by Ecuador�s Constitutional Assembly with input from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based group providing legal assistance to governments and community groups trying to mesh human affairs and the environment. The group says it has helped more than a dozen communities in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia draft and pass laws �that change the status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities.�

My guess is that Edward O. Wilson would love to see this language adopted everywhere.

Simon Romero, my colleague covering the news, told me in e-mail Sunday night that this particular provision �has been derided within Ecuador� given the history of pollution from state-run and private oil companies in the Amazon and the government�s need to keep oil flowing to sustain the economy.

Earlier this year, Nick Kristof, our peripatetic Op-Ed columnist, filed a column and nice video from the Ecuadorian Amazon showing one approach to economic development shaped around the living forest.

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