What should our relationship with the dirt under our feet be? Physically, emotionally, spiritually and legally? Legally? Yeah, why not? That is exactly what the country of Ecuador has asked and answered in a new constitution they have drawn up between the land and the people that live on it. Yep. Nature in Ecuador now has rights of its own. I know, I know. It is bad enough, right, that there tree huggers. Now there are dirt and ground huggers too.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a U.S.-based nonprofit, teamed up with the Ecuadorian government to bring to life this “earth-shaking” and “ground defending” legal document. They have yet to see how, or if, it will work (it was only put into place in Sept. of 2008), but it is kind of mind-blowing to think about. How would the very fabric of our daily lives shift if the ground we walked, worked and lived on had actual, legally binding rights?
First of all, isn’t property meant to be owned? After all, all of the land on earth (save a section of Antarctica) is owned. Land, property. Aren’t these the same thing? All land is someone’s property right? Now obviously, not all human cultures have seen things the way that we do now in the great U.S. of A. But even in cultures where personal ownership of land was not spoken of I don’t think it was because the land owned itself. It was the idea of trying to hoard or possess the land, not the violation of the lands basic rights. I am no anthropologist here, and openly admit I could be wrong. But it feels somewhat like we may be opening a whole new way to relate to the creation around us.
Oh, I went and said it – creation. Yeah, I look at the world that way, as a wonderful creation. Even though the Judeo-Christian world view is being blamed for humans’ dominating, manipulative stance toward the earth, I still believe in it. And I don’t think it is fair to assess the Christian creation imperative as one of dominion for human sake. It is my understanding that God handed over the reigns of creation care to humankind so that we could care for it (us included) in his good name, not so we could use it in what ever way benefit us the most.
So would the ground having legal rights for its defense against human abuses alter how I walk on it? Probably. I would think twice before bringing in a nonnative plant species or using chemical or even natural additives. I would probably be more careful about the emissions coming from my house and my car. Would I be found guilty in a court of law? No. As a Christian I have always valued the land and cared for it as something that belongs to God, not to me. So, maybe the emancipated earth is nothing new after all. Maybe God has been defense council, Judge and Jury since the very beginning. It may be simply that we have strayed so far from any sort of connection with the ground we walk on that for most of us, granting it rights could be a scary prospect indeed, and a humbling one.