When the forest wins

During the economic crisis of 2008, when the rest of the world was busy bailing out banks, Ecuador chose to give itself a constitution that turned everything on its head and put nature at the center of things. The small Andean state is still the only country in the world to grant all of nature the status of a legal entity, at least on paper. Forests, rivers and meadows now have a right to exist for their own sake, and not just because they serve us humans. This very idea can trigger a revolutionary shift in paradigm because it is the continuation of a line of evolution: First, slaves were granted rights, then women and now nature – Mother Earth or «Pachamama» in Ecuador.

Illustration: Eine Hand hält einen Wald und die andere schützt ihn von oben

15 years ago, I stumbled into a copper mining conflict there. Paramilitaries stormed a village in the rainforest in order to drive people off their land. I took photos but mainly felt overwhelmed. Somehow, this had something to do with me as well. With me and Europe and the world. But I did not know how it all fit together. It was the beginning of a long journey. Not long ago, I was back in Ecuador and in this very same cloud forest in Intag, north of Quito in the subtropical Andes – a biodiversity hotspot, where more species live than almost anywhere else in the world. Even now, corporations still want to get their hands on the copper underneath, because the raw material is fundamental to the global energy and mobility transition. But to destroy a rainforest for this purpose contradicts the very point of these transitions. And in Ecuador, it is now illegal to boot. A court recently ruled that Codelco, the world’s largest copper company, must stop its operations in the Intag valley, as they go against the rights of nature.

For almost thirty years now, the people there have been fighting for their forest. Some of them have put up with daily harassment, financial difficulties and even months in prison. They received the news of the verdict with astonishing equanimity. The next company or the next government would surely come along; the threat to the forest was far from over. If only the world would finally see that true wealth is not to be found in more cars and money, but in community and health.

If only the world would finally see that true wealth is not to be found in more cars and money, but in community and health.

Germany, as a giant importer, plays a central role in the global commodity trade, particularly now in the course of the global transition towards renewable energies, electric mobility and increasing digitalization. The pressure to extract fresh copper from the ground is increasing. But early this year, with its new supply chain act, Germany made its own small first step towards subscribing to the concept of «Pachamama». The act is intended to curb the destructive effects that our comfortable lives as citizens of a wealthy country have on other parts of the world. It tries to do that primarily by focusing on human rights but, at least indirectly, it protects nature at the same time, for example by prohibiting harmful soil or water pollution that could lead to human rights violations. And once again it becomes clear: Human rights and the rights of nature are inextricably linked. Nature is us.

Elisabeth Weydt is a freelance journalist and co-founder of Radio Utopistan, a non-profit media outlet for the dissemination of constructive stories. She works primarily on the topics of resource exploitation, justice systems and the transformative power of civil society. Her book Die Natur hat Recht («Nature has rights») was published by Knesebeck in September 2023.

This article is licensed under Creative Commons License