[Marxism] Justice and Sustainability

J.M.P.Cloke at lboro.ac.uk J.M.P.Cloke at lboro.ac.uk
Thu Apr 16 06:06:46 MDT 2009

    Ideas surrounding justice have certainly been 
functionally 'legal, propertied, concepts' for a prolonged 
period of time historically speaking, but at the same time 
it has also always had a far wider hinterland conceptually 
and now, I would say, is evolving rapidly.

    Even the UNCHR, flawed as its implementation has been, 
recognised a change in the idea of rights accrued (and 
hence (theoretically) access to justice) through the sole 
condition of being human. It isn't a coincidence that 
ideas such as the International Court evolved as 
globalizing capitalism underwent a rapid expansion, but if 
the ideas of justice represented by these concepts and 
institutions are so contingent on property rights and 
capital, then why does both nationalist and 
supra-nationalist capital tend to fight so ferociously 
against their legislation and implementation?

    Ideas on environmental justice (directly linked to 
social justice) have advance rapidly over the last few 
decades, as José Augusto Pádua says: "Over the last few 
years, two fundamental concepts - environmental justice 
and ecological debt - have renewed the debate about the 
global transition toward sustainability, creating a 
stronger link between the movements for social change and 
environmental care."

    If you don't believe this, then I invite you to read 
the following article on the move by Ecuador to change 
their constitution to "recognize legally enforceable 
Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights." This first, 
faltering step effectively constitutes the first practical 
attempt to 'de-property' the environment; I'm sure we 
shall all be very cynical about the prospects for success, 
but none-the-less it still represents a sea-change in the 
evolution of a more holistic concept of justice.

    Ecuador Approves New Constitution: Voters Approve 
Rights of Nature

    March 18, 2009 at 10:14:55

    by Mari Margil, The Community Environmental Legal 
Defense Fund

    By an overwhelming margin, the people of Ecuador today 
voted for a new constitution that is the first in the 
world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, 
or ecosystem rights.

    The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is 
pioneering this work in the U.S., where it has assisted 
more than a dozen local municipalities with drafting and 
adopting local laws recognizing Rights of Nature.

    Over the past year, the Legal Defense Fund was invited 
to assist the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly to develop 
and draft provisions for the new constitution to put 
ecosystem rights directly into the Ecuadorian 
constitution. The elected Delegates to the Constituent 
Assembly requested that the Legal Defense Fund draft 
language based on ordinances developed and adopted by 
municipalities in the U.S.

    "Ecuador is now the first country in the world to 
codify a new system of environmental protection based on 
rights," stated Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the 
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

    "With this vote, the people of Ecuador are leading the 
way for countries around the world to fundamentally change 
how we protect nature," added Mari Margil, Associate 
Director of the Legal Defense Fund.

    Article 1 of the new "Rights for Nature" chapter of 
the Ecuador constitution reads: "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 bodies."

    Legally Enforceable Ecosystem Rights: From the U.S. to 

    The Legal Defense Fund has assisted communities in the 
U.S. - in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Virginia - to 
draft and adopt first-in-the-nation laws that change the 
status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under 
the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities.
    From Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania, to the Town of 
Barnstead in New Hampshire, to Halifax in southern 
Virginia, the Legal Defense Fund works with communities 
that recognize that environmental protection cannot be 
attained under a structure of law that treats natural 
ecosystems as property.

    All of the major environmental laws in the U.S. - 
including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and 
similar state laws - treat nature as property under the 
law. These laws legalize environmental harms by regulating 
how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur. 
Rather than preventing pollution and environmental 
destruction, these laws instead codify it.

    The Rights of Natures laws developed by the Legal 
Defense Fund for local municipalities in the U.S. 
represent changes to the status of property law, 
eliminating the authority of a property owner to interfere 
with the functioning of ecosystems that exist and depend 
upon that property for their existence and flourishing. 
These local laws allow certain types of development that 
do not interfere with the rights of ecosystems to exist 
and flourish.

    These local laws - and now Ecuador's constitution - 
recognize that ecosystems possess the inalienable and 
fundamental right to exist and flourish, and that people 
possess the legal authority to enforce those rights on 
behalf of ecosystems. In addition, these laws require the 
governments to remedy violations of those ecosystem 

    The Ecuador constitution operates in the same way.

    Today's environmental laws are failing. By most every 
measure, the environment today is in worse shape than when 
the major U.S. environmental laws were adopted over thirty 
years ago. Since then, countries around the world have 
sought to replicate these laws. Yet, species decline 
worldwide is increasing exponentially, global warming is 
far more accelerated than previously believed, 
deforestation continues unabated around the world, and 
overfishing in the world's oceans is pushing many 
fisheries to collapse.

    The people, communities, and governments that the 
Legal Defense Fund works with recognize that environmental 
protection cannot be attained under a structure of law 
that continues to treat natural ecosystems as property.

    The Pachamama Alliance, with offices in San Francisco 
and Quito, played a key role in facilitating the Legal 
Defense Fund's involvement in the drafting of Ecuador's 
new constitution.

    Copyright © OpEdNews, 2002-2009

Jon Cloke

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