May 22, 2013
Sunday, June 17th marked the signing ceremony of the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth, organized at the Global Alliance, a side event in Rio Centro.
The signing was preceded by a panel of extraordinary people who for decades have spoken out about the dependence of human rights on the respect for the rights of nature. Among the panelists were: Leonardo Boff, Vandana Shiva, Pablo Solon and Cormac Cullinan.
Aine O'Connor rsm signs the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth
It is not so much that we must bring about a new "Ecological Civilization" as an alternative to the human-centered world we live in, Vandana Shiva suggested, but that we must re-member and restore the sacred relationship we have mistakenly ignored with the catastrophic consequences we witness today around the globe.
Natalia Green, an environmental attorney from Ecuador, spoke eloquently in summing up the case for Mother Earth. She urged us to recall the Abolition Movement, asking: How long ago was it legal to own other humans beings? What did ownership of other human beings mean? Slaves were deprived of their right to live, to exist, to maintain their dignity and integrity as distinct and creative beings, to pursue their own destinies free of a master's yoke.
We hit them, she reminded us. To do our bidding, we hit them. Until one day we realized that hitting them made them less productive and able to do our work. So we thought maybe we shouldn't be hitting them so much and we agreed to hit them less. We looked after their wellbeing because it was in our own interest. Finally we asked ourselves whether we should be hitting them at all. Soon we learned to call them sisters and brothers.
Today our evolving relationship with Nature echoes the story of abolition. Having forgotten that we are from the same source, of the same substance, related through our common ancestry to the stars, we demand Nature give up its air, its water, its soil, its minerals, its other creatures for our use. For generations we have taken, polluted, poisoned, blasted and killed under the assumption that Earth is a collection of resources that belong to us
Today the effects of our erroneous assumptions have put our very lives in peril and so we have begun to agree that we should be hitting our slave less. The "green economy" hopes to treat Earth less abusively... so it will continue to serve us. Our relationship is master and owner to slave.
Mary Bilderback rsm signs the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth
However, our most recent scientific understanding of the Universe agrees with the ancient wisdom of Indigenous Peoples: We are one interrelated, interdependent reality. Earth is indeed the Mother of us all. Humans share the genetic language of all life. All that exists traces its ancestry to the stars. Trees have rights and rivers have rights, different from the rights of humans but equally inalienable.
We went to Rio 20 years ago to rethink our reckless treatment of Nature. Since then, human poverty has deepened and expanded, Earth's climate has become erratic, and her ecosystems have become critically compromised. Today as we return to Rio to rethink our treatment of Earth, more and more of us understand that she is no warehouse of resources but truly our Mother. Our goal is not to abuse her less in order to stretch her resources farther, but because we seek ethical ground on which to live in harmony with her.
On Sunday Áine and I signed the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth as representatives of Mercy International Global Action. How proud we felt to be Sisters of Mercy, how humbled to be part of this historic, holy event acknowledging the sacredness and intrinsic glory of all God's creation.
LISTEN to Cormac Cullinan's inspiring words on the need for a Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth
Messages to: Mary Bilderback RSM
17 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil