Who Speaks for the Earth?

In the 1970’s, when I was active in the National Organization for Women (and a proud charter subscriber of Ms. Magazine), I made women’s rights my prism for who got my vote, and which businesses and charities I would support. It was a simple approach but proved a spot-on compass for decisions that would affect my life as a woman on many levels. Although I’ve come lately and through a circuitous route to this realization, the rights of the Earth serve much the same purpose.

The idea that the Earth does in fact have rights – to exist, to habitat, to thrive and evolve – no less than humans and all other livings things, is these days usually attributed to author, Catholic priest, and ‘geologian,’ Thomas Berry, and to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.   Both proposed a profound ecological consciousness that is lacking in our worship of the Big Fix.   It’s hard to understand how anyone working on environmental issues could miss this forest for the trees, but people can (and I did).

Budda quote on timeSometimes it takes one riveting speech to bring it all home.   This did it for me.  I’m at the first Healing Our World Conference (Orlando, 2013) listening to Sister Patricia Siemen, director of The Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry Law School, and feeling something like an electrical current move through me. Here she is at a TEDx, describing how she was transformed from a social justice activist working on securing land for a homeless shelter – “Over my dead body would some [protected] bird stand in the way …” to an attorney who regularly litigates for the rights of Florida’s rivers and streams. In that speech, and many others she has given, she argued convincingly that human rights that ignore the rights of all beings and the Earth itself, harm ‘the single emergent community’ of which we are all a part.

I’m with Sr. Pat that there’s something wrong with a legal system that supports the destruction of the environment for short-term legal economic benefit.   Of course, Citizens United has only exacerbated this. In a ‘true Earth democracy,’ says Sr. Pat, if other species could vote, they would vote us off the planet.  And with good reason:

In my backyard, it’s farewell, Panama Hatties, hello, gridlock over the Intracoastal bridge:

Palm Beach Post: PGA Partners has optioned 7.95 acres on the south side of PGA Boulevard at Ellison Wilson Road, along the Intracoastal Waterway. The firm has applied to annex the site into Palm Beach Gardens, raze the restaurant and build its mixed-use project, initially valued at $175 million.

Miami Herald: One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.

And don’t even bring up Minto West, a project that opponents point out will essentially double the size of the existing town.

So who speaks for the Earth? This is only partially a rhetorical question, and I hope it is one that encourages reflection based on your own experience — of ownership; your sense of ‘the commons;’ your appreciation of the wild. And if you were to attempt to answer, perhaps you, too, arrived at the same response: if not us, then who? If not now, then when?*

So don’t forget to vote: http://voteyeson1fl.org/sections/page/faq

Dig more deeply into this topic here:





*(Blending Hillel the Elder and activist, John E. Lewis)

One thought on “Who Speaks for the Earth?

  1. Once again, another week with a thought-provoking perspective. I had never thought of the Earth has having rights. Animals, yes, people, yes, all living things having a right to exist in some fashion that is not fraught with suffering and with basic means to survive beyond the first level of Maslow’s famous hierarchy. But the Earth? The feel of this idea is mythic and ancient. Mother Earth is after all, an ancient name.

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