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ENVIRONMENT: U.N. to Celebrate “Mother Earth Day”

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2009 (IPS) - “Mother Earth is not an object or merchandise. Mother Earth cannot be bought or sold,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales, speaking at a heavily-attended news conference here at U.N. headquarters on Earth Day.

Bolivian President Evo Morales addresses a press conference on climate protection. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Bolivian President Evo Morales addresses a press conference on climate protection. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

His remarks came shortly after the U.N. General Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution designating Apr. 22 each year as International Mother Earth Day, a move co-sponsored by Bolivia and 50 other countries.

“Sixty years after adopting the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights], Mother Earth is now finally having the rights recognised,” said Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

Urging the world community to accept a set of principles that would protect the planet’s resources and “right to life,” the Bolivian president said society cannot put its own narrow interests above those of the Earth.

“Not just human beings have rights, but the planet has rights,” he said. “What’s happening with climate change is that the rights of Mother Earth are not being respected.”

In this context, Morales outlined certain principles to be considered. The first among is the “right for no ecosystem to be eliminated.” The second “is the right for Mother Earth to live without contamination.” The third refers to “the right to harmony and balance.”

In laying out the fourth principle, Morales said: “We are all interdependent. We now must begin to realise that the Earth does not belong to us,” he said. “It’s the other way around. We belong to the Earth.”

The Earth Day observance was started in 1970 in the United States and many other countries as a way to bring awareness to the environmental problems facing the planet.

In adopting the resolution Wednesday, the General Assembly invited all member states, the U.N. system, regional bodies and non-governmental organisations to “observe and raise awareness of International Mother Earth Day, as appropriate.”

At the meeting, the General Assembly president, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, echoed similar views to those expressed by President Morales.

“It is only right that we… take care of Mother Earth as Mother Earth… sustains our humanity,” he said, adding that the world must listen to the indigenous peoples because, despite all odds, they “have sustained their profound links with nature.”

Brockmann urged support for small peasants who use sustainable farming methods in many parts of the world and raised concerns about growing poverty rates caused by unfair trade practices and production by big corporations in the agricultural sector.

“Our decision today marks one more symbolic step in changing the dominant mindset that has brought us close to self-destruction,” he said.

Both Morales and Brockmann appear to be in line with the scientific community on issues related to climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Many scientists agree that the fight against global warming needs the active help of indigenous peoples.

Their argument stems from the fact that the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples continue to live in close proximity to nature and that they have intimate knowledge of numerous species of plants and animals.

In recent years, scientific studies have shown that due to unsustainable use of natural resources by outsiders, indigenous communities are becoming increasing vulnerable to the impacts of global warming and loss of biodiversity.

In 2007, the U.N. General Assembly endorsed a resolution calling for the recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples to control their lands and resources, despite strong opposition from certain powerful countries, such as the United States and Canada.

Morales and some other world leaders think the recognition of the indigenous peoples’ right to be free from the domain of the economic culture of the settler nations’ on their lands is linked with the global fight for environmental conservation and protection.

“Of course we have the right to life,” said Morales in arguing that the fight against global warming cannot be won by using capitalist methods and that the planet should be looked upon as the source of human existence, and not as a separate entity.

“Without Mother Earth the life cannot exist,” he said.

Morales said, by proclaiming the international day, U.N. member states now had the opportunity to begin laying out a “Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. Such a character must enshrine the right to life for all living things.”

That, according to him, means, “The right to regeneration of the planet’s bio-capacity; the right to a clean life… for Mother Earth to live free from contamination.”

The popularly-elected Bolivian president lashed out at the rich countries of the industrialised world and others for failing to address the current financial and economic crisis facing the entire world and urged that they change their ways of thinking.

“It is capitalism which is responsible for this crisis,” he told reporters, adding that many countries in the developing world are suffering economically due to corruption in the global banking system.

The Bolivian president also endorsed calls for the need to reform the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and deplored the way the IMF functioned in Bolivia and many other poor countries around the world.

“There has to be a revolution within IMF. The capitalist crisis cannot be solved by injecting money,” he said in response to a question about the U.S. and other rich nations’ recent initiatives to resolve the global financial crisis.

Early this month, leaders of the world’s 20 most rich countries held a summit at London where they committed to provide more than a trillion dollars to poor countries for development initiatives.

In poor countries like Bolivia and others around the world, said Morales, “Capitalism uses the IMF to promote privatisation,” which, as many critics have pointed out over the years, undermine government efforts geared towards social development.

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