There are human rights defenders all over the world who are struggling to defend their lands and the planet from exploitation. Their struggle is not only a defence of their human right to a healthy environment, because their identity is bound up with the lands and nature, but also they are struggling in defence of the right to life itself. These defenders take a holistic view of rights - they recognise the inherent value of nature and of all the beings that exist on the land.
Earth rights defenders include the First Nations Peoples in Canada who are defending their lands against tar sands open cast mining – a devastating project to extract the remaining fossil fuel from the bowels of the Earth. Another example is that of people in the Niger Delta region defending their land against oil companies, especially Shell. The Ogoni people have been politically and economically marginalised by Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta, and they face violent repression when they speak out, as many mining communities do. This struggle reached an historic pinnacle nearly 20 years ago with the execution of human and environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, by the Nigerian government with the active complicity of Shell.
Many indigenous cultures have not lost their sense of connection to nature, as the Western world in general has. In capitalist cultures nature is a resource to be endlessly exploited and a commodity, but in many indigenous cultures nature has deep spiritual and cultural value, as well as being the source of shelter, food, water and nourishment.
Other people all over the world are fighting to defend their communities from extractive operations in particular, including in the UK where many communities are now under threat of ‘extreme energy’ projects such as fracking and coal bed methane.
All life is interconnected and we cannot have healthy human beings on a sick and dying planet. If we are to rise to the challenge of climate change then we must defend the rights of all living beings. This view was enshrined in the proposed Universal Declaration of The Rights of Mother Earth, which was a product of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth hosted by President Evo Morales in Bolivia in 2010.
The Declaration identifies the capitalist system as one of the causes of great destruction of the planet and of climate change. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is a natural companion to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however there has been little support for the former at UN level. A law of Ecocide has also been proposed as the 5th crime against peace – in recognition that we cannot have a peaceful society if the life support systems of our planet are degraded. As socialists we support this.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth was a response to the failure of the Copenhagen talks on climate change in 2009, which was captured by corporate interests. Powerful corporate interests and governments such as the US and UK continue to defend the status quo and pay lip service to tackling ecological collapse whilst presiding over the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the continuation of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and permit new extreme energy projects.
The task of socialists must be to help build a sustainable, just society, to fight oppression in all its forms. We are in solidarity with those Human Rights defenders who not only act to defend their communities, but also act in the process against capitalist and neo-liberal exploitation.