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The Noble Absurdity Of Granting Constitutional Rights To Nature

Giving nature rights, as South American nations are keen to do these days, is well-intentioned, but far too limited in scope to make sense.

The Noble Absurdity Of Granting Constitutional Rights To Nature

Can nature be considered a legal person?

Héctor Abad Faciolince

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — The Webb space telescope's extraordinary ability to "see" has allowed us to observe what was previously hidden by cosmic dust.

Thanks to cameras catching infrared light, which humans cannot see, a new universe has unfolded, thousands of millions of light years away: with unknown galaxies, stars that are born and collapse, cosmic precipices, magnificent explosions and black holes that swallow stars.


By and large, the universe is a frozen expanse with occasional spurts of hot, ionized gas and stardust at unimaginable temperatures. It makes for a fantastic, terrifying spectacle.

An unstable anomaly

Yet we needn't look far to notice nature's strange predilection for lifeless spots, or areas where life as we know it is impossible. We can see this in our own solar system, with planets that are freezing deserts or seething fireballs.

This is in contrast to our vision of nature as centered around ourselves, and earthly. We hear "nature" and we think of a bucolic landscape, with crystal-clear waters running through a green valley, filled with animals flying, grazing or frolicking amid foliage, cascades and streams — and all at a heavenly temperature of 22 degrees centigrade.

What we call nature is a near and fairly unstable anomaly, condemned to disappear in time, once the sun explodes, or with a tiny alteration of the earth's orbit. The slightest cosmic modification will suffice to turn this planet into a barren piece of ice or fire, or back into stardust.

The Colombian Constitutional court recognized the Atrato river as an entity with rights

Juan Tapias/VW Pics/ZUMA

A river as a legal person

Lately there has been considerable talk of Latin America's great contribution to philosophy through Andean neo-constitutionalism.

The contribution is more to jurisprudence than philosophy in fact. It is a legal concept wherein nature is declared a subject with rights, contradicting the West's "hegemonic modernity." Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia are the new adepts of this inclusion of nature in the legal order.

When a subject is given legal rights, it is also given duties.

Being the fussy but poor lawyers we've always been thanks to our colonial past, we think we can legislate everything away, forbidding volcanic eruptions, say, like the Spanish empire banned native tongues, nudity, human sacrifice, idol worship and promiscuity.

In ethical terms, generally, when a subject is given legal rights, it is also given duties.

In declaring nature a legal person, the first step is to stipulate that the "Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), where life and reproduction take place, shall have the right to comprehensive respect for its existence."

The Colombian Constitutional court recognized the Atrato river as an entity with rights. Very well, but it might have also reminded the river it had a duty — a legal duty — not to drown any child or adult, flood crop fields nor cast freshwater fish into the sea every time it overflows.

Good intentions are not enough

When nature is recognized as a subject with rights, I wonder if our laws will recognize the inalienable right of met to keep their natural, elliptical movement in space — even when they're heading for the earth.

There should also be a study on the right of tectonic plates to freely clash, and provoke tsunamis and earthquakes as they please. Indeed, let the Pacha Mama exercise her right to keep her ancestral gases and liquids deep inside her entrails, without humans poking to seek them out.

I know there are good intentions and considered ecological concerns behind the various declarations on the rights of nature. But their sentimentalism, I fear, can also spark contradictions and absurdities.

The universe is indifferent to life or death, to heat or cold, oxygen, hydrogen. For the natural world, everything is the same, whether there are animals, plants, water... or not.


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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Putin’s Kyiv Obsession, From Failed Feb. 24 Blitz To Coming Winter Siege

Kremlin war aims in Ukraine have never been entirely clear. Part of that is due to the setbacks the Russian army has suffered; and now it appears that both the strategic and symbolic objective of reducing the capital of Kyiv to its knees is again very much on Vladimir Putin's mind.

photo of a passerby in a residential area of Kyiv

Gray skies over Kyiv

Hennadii Minchenko/Ukrinform/ZUMA
Anna Akage

The notion that Vladimir Putin was only interested in the contested southeastern regions of Ukraine vanished on Feb. 24. His so-called “special military operation” was in fact an all-out invasion of the nation — with Kyiv as the central objective.

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Russian forces attacked the capital from the direction of the Chernobyl exclusion zone and Belarus. In addition to regular troops, OMON special police units and troops loyal to Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov were directed toward Kyiv.

High among the orders was the assassination of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, along with his family and top advisers. Oleksiy Danilov, a top military chief, Russian special forces tried in vain several times to pierce the presidential quarters in the first days of the war.

Those efforts, as well as the wider attempt to capture Kyiv, were repelled by Ukrainian forces, with the battles for the city and its surroundings lasting just over a month. By early April, Moscow was diverting its war effort elsewhere, and the capital would gradually regain some semblance of daily normality.

Nearly nine months later, Russian troops have gained then lost much of the territory they have occupied, and are moving steadily back closer to the border of the 2014 conflict. During this time, the south and east of the country suffered heavy losses, and entire cities were destroyed. The retreat of Russian forces from Kherson earlier this month marked another low moment, with signs that the Ukrainian army is ready to move farther east — and perhaps even head toward the Crimean peninsula.

So where is the Kremlin looking now? Yes, Kyiv again.

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