Ecuador Leads the Way; Now it’s Pennsylvania’s Turn to Protect the Environment

Source: Bucks County Courier Times 

Ecuadorians made history on Sept. 28 when they overwhelmingly voted to pass a new constitution which grants inalienable rights to nature.

The new constitution gives nature the "right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution" and mandates that the government take "precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles."

"We cannot continue on the path we are on," Mari Margil, Associate Director of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said about our current relationship with the environment. "We need to do something fundamentally different."

Ecuadorians share Margil’s concerns. This is why they decided to invite Margil and other members of the Defense Fund to Ecuador to help draft legally enforceable "Rights of Nature" in the new constitution. The Defense Fund has worked with municipalities all over the country drafting and adopting local laws to protect the environment.

In an interview via email, Dr. Mario Melo, an Ecuadorian lawyer specializing in Environmental Law and Human Rights, told me that the new constitution redefines people’s relationship with nature by asserting that nature is not just an object to be appropriated and exploited by people, but is rather a rights-bearing entity that should be treated with parity under the law.

"In this sense, the new constitution reflects the traditions of indigenous peoples living in Ecuador, who see nature as a mother and call her by a proper name,Pachamama," said Melo.

Pennsylvanians should pay close attention, and follow Ecuador’s example.

On Oct 1. the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report, "Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State," that states that if we don’t adopt significant policy changes we will likely see more intense summer heat waves, a decrease in air quality, outbreaks of infectious diseases, a decrease in crop yield, and the disappearances of tree species and wildlife.

According to Melanie Fitzpatrick, UCS’s Northeast impacts science coordinator, Pennsylvania is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than 47 other states, and most countries.

"And if we continue to rely primarily on coal, oil and natural gas, by late this century the annual average temperature in Pennsylvania could rise 12 degrees above the long-term average," said Fitzpatrick. "But if we reduce our emissions, we may cut projected warming by half. Temperatures are going to go up, but there is still time to avoid the worst."

According to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the UCS’s report emphasizes the need for the state to adopt a strong Climate Change Action Plan, which is currently being written.

"Climate change will impact our economy, our environment and our quality of life, leaving long-lasting impacts for our children and grandchildren," said JohnWalliser , Vice President for Legal and Governmental Affairs at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. "We must embrace the need for prompt and deliberative action to address the impacts that are already happening in every city and every field and forest across the Commonwealth."

We are fortunate to have forward looking representatives in our state government who saw the need to pass the "Pennsylvania Climate Change Act" which mandated the forthcoming action plan. Bucks County is also fortunate to have Congressman Patrick Murphy fighting for alternative energy policies in Washington and bringing "green collar" jobs back home to our district.

But there are two things we must keep in mind as we try to build a sustainable future for our state, country and world.

First, there are fundamental difference between the Republican and Democratic tickets for the White House. While the Obama-Biden ticket embraces clean energy and "green collar" jobs as cornerstones for future economic and energy policies, Republican Vice Presidential candidate SarahPalin doesn’t believe it is important whether global warming is man made, while her running mate Senator John McCain has opposed increasing fuel economy standards and tax incentives for purchasing hybrid vehicles.

Second, we must be willing to challenge preconceived ideas about our relationship with nature and our consumer culture. Ecuadorians were brave enough to demand more from their government and themselves, and were willing to try something different.

Now it’s our turn.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at