Does ‘Mother Earth’ Have Human Rights?

According to a Fox News report,[1] delegates to the United Nations are debating today whether or not to extend human rights to “Mother Earth.” Bolivian President Evo Morales has led the charge to get this item on the agenda for the General Assembly of the UN. The official UN agenda[2] lists today’s discussion as “Interactive Dialogue on ‘Harmony with Nature.’” Fox News states that the goal is “to discuss the creation of a U.N. treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature.”

The first question is whether or not “Mother Earth” has human rights. From a strictly literal standpoint, the only answer to this question is “no” because the earth is not human. It is a logical fallacy to ascribe human rights to the environment because it is by definition not human. However, that is not the only question. We also have to consider what the UN intends to do for “Mother Earth” that it is unwilling to do for humans. The news report notes, “Treaty supporters want the establishment of legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they perceive as the inalienable rights of other members of the Earth community—plants, animals, and terrain.” If these inalienable rights are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as proclaimed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, then the United Nations will have to provide some interesting definitions. If plants and animals have an inalienable right to life, then why does the UN support abortion? If plants and animals have an inalienable right to life, then what do they serve in the cafeteria at the UN headquarters in New York? If “Mother Earth” has a right to happiness, how is happiness defined for the environment? If plants have a right to liberty, where should humans build their homes and communities?

An even bigger question related to this event concerns the other pressing issues in the world. Why is the UN debating human rights for “Mother Earth” when human rights for humans are being openly violated in countries around the world? While multiple countries are at war with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and much of the Middle East is in turmoil with political rebellion and upheaval, does it not seem more important for the United Nations to address human issues among its member nations?

Fox News suggests that there is a bigger issue at stake in this discussion—an effort to overturn capitalism. They report:

Communities and environmental activists would be given more legal power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature. Though the United States and other Western governments are supportive of sustainable development, some see the upcoming event, “Harmony with Nature,” as political grandstanding—an attempt to blame environmental degradation and climate change on capitalism.

In addition, the report states that President Morales has a desire to see the end of capitalism. The report notes:

Emboldened by this triumph, Morales’ goal is to emulate his domestic achievement as a U.N. treaty. In a 2008 address to a U.N. forum on indigenous people, he said the first step in saving the Earth is to “eradicate capitalism” and to force wealthy industrialized countries to “pay their environmental debt.” Morales presented 10 points, or Evo’s Ten Commandments, as they are affectionately called by devotees, to save the planet. Among them is a call to end the capitalist system, and a world without imperialism or colonialism. Respect for Mother Earth is Commandment 6.

In the 10 minutes or so that I listened to some of the discussion, it was pretty easy to confirm this idea. One panelist commented, “The dominant economic system does not correspond to reality.” Others made comments about the evil nature of the U.S. economic system. Therefore, while Fox News may sometimes be guilty of spinning their news stories to a conservative angle, it appears to be justified in this instance.

The final question to be raised regarding this issue is whether or not the United Nations is actually a legitimate governmental authority qualified to enact such human rights treaties. Yes, the United States and other countries all over the world joined the UN by treaty to work as an oversight body to avoid the catastrophes of the two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century. However, does the UN able to exercise the power to grant rights to nature? Does the United Nations serve as the governing authority over creation? I dare say the answer is a resounding “NO!”

The only One with the power to grant rights to the creation is the Creator. We read in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Fast forward a couple of millennia, and Paul states in Colossians 1:16, “For by Him [Jesus] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

From Genesis 1–2, we see that God gave dominion over the earth—plants, animals, etc—to humans and that God told Adam to cultivate and keep the ground. By this, I do not believe that God was advocating a “scorched earth” view of environmental management. Just as in everything else, we are stewards of the earth to use it for our benefit and God’s glory. The earth does not have rights over humans because it was not made in the image of God. At the same time, we are to view the earth as a resource to be cultivated AND kept. I say to the United Nations, deal with problems you actually have authority to address—if you actually have any authority—and leave the earth to God.