By Keala Carter
“Coyote” Alberto Ruz Buenfil has devoted his life to nurturing the bonds that connect humans with the place we inhabit and its other inhabitants, from the beaver to the bee to the wind and the water. His ethic has been influenced by and has in turn influenced movements toward intentional communities, ecovillages and bioregionalism. He has assiduously advocated for the inclusion of the Rights of Nature in legal frameworks and was instrumental in the inclusion of Article 13 ‘Rights of Nature’ in the Constitution of Mexico City in 2016. With a sense of history and the survival of the earth at stake, Alberto is keen to arm people, poets and politicians with the knowledge of our inherent interdependence and the belief that we can do something to change the course of our collective future.
Ruz, a founder of the Rainbow Peace Caravan, the Vision Council-Guardians of the Earth and the first Forum for the Rights of the Mother Earth in Mexico City, is preparing for a rare free web conference on Monday, Feb. 27 for Gaia University. We took advantage of the moment to visit with him about this most timely subject. Details about the conference follow.
EP: The title of the upcoming Gaia University conference “Why rights of nature is an essential issue today.” Can you explain to me why now is a ripe moment in time for the rights of nature and a shift toward biocentric jurisprudence?
Alberto: When the environment and ecology became an important issue 30-40 years ago, the movement was “humans saving nature” for human benefit and enjoyment. It wasn’t until 2008 when people from Bolivia and Ecuador, Raphael Correa and Evo Morales, started shifting the discussion to the Rights of Nature and preserving the environment for environment’s sake. Raphael Correa and Evo Morales started incorporating indigenous culture to understand our relationship with the Earth. I realized that we couldn’t keep thinking of the Earth as a non-living being, from the occidental viewpoint, that the Earth exists solely as a resource for us. La tierra no es de nosotros. Our life depends on Her but the last hundred years has been a steady deterioration of Mother Earth. Silent Spring is no longer a prophecy, we are living in it. Nature is telling us we are reaching the limits of human growth. Now, instead of degradation happening in remote areas of the globe, it’s happening everywhere, in front of everyone’s eyes. For centuries we have had collective amnesia about the negative impacts humanity has had on the environment.
EP: What would a pivot to biocentric jurisprudence look like?
Alberto: Until now, constitutions, rights, movements have dealt with the struggles of human rights (slavery, women’s liberation, children), which are all from an anthropocentric point of view. But a shift to biocentric would be a totally different paradigm. A reset to our hard drive. Not in one aspect of our lives but in all aspects. A holistic approach that would recognize the inherent rights of nature. And because nature is not limited to our geopolitical borders, shifting to a biocentric jurisprudence would need to be an integrated effort instead of the patchwork approach that we have used so far.
EP: How can people support this movement in their own lives? Where can I look for answers to know my choices align with the biocentric ethic?
Alberto: I first awoke to this idea when I was very young, 15 or 16 years old, and went on a camping trip where we set up tents and making fires and I realized that this all affected the environment. Even the rocks we moved. We need to become conscious of what we do every day. Look around you. What is your footprint? Don’t wait for a university lecture to make changes in your lifestyle and habits. Learn to compost, learn where your water comes from. Start to educate yourself in small things and put them into practice and then other people will see what you are doing and make changes in their own lives. It’s all about the ripple effect.
EP: How would you describe the progress you have seen over the years?
Alberto: Years ago when I started talking about the Rights of Nature in Mexico City everywhere I went people looked at me like: “What?!” It’s a radical idea. And for me that radical idea came when I went to my first bioregional congress in Northwest Canada in 1988. That’s when it first struck me that everything we were saying or writing or deciding or thinking was affecting the lives of the coyote, the life of the river, the life of the tree. In twenty years, from 1988 to 2008, we saw the first government (Ecuador) adopt the Rights of Nature into their constitution. It was a very small step in 1988 but if a country is doing it, it is a bigger step, and we continue to make progress. Evo Morales brought the concept to the United Nations in 2009 and that was the basis for the U.N. adopting a resolution on Harmony with Nature. And we are going back to the U.N. again this year because this is the way you change legislation and you change mentality, you change everything. It’s a gradual change. Last year, we organized the first forum for the Rights of Earth in Mexico. Here we’re doing another step, we’re bringing people from all the different movements, articulations, organizations, networks, and alliances together. In talking to others you realize it’s not only me who is thinking, “How I can protect the trees and the birds around my house?”
EP: How do we convince people to place the interest of other species equal to or above their own interests?
Alberto: The first thing is take a step back and look at what we’re doing and understand why it’s so important other species exist because without the bees, butterflies and tiny insects, the whole chain upon which we depend is going to break and we are all going to go if it breaks. We are eight billion human beings right now and every day there is one less bear and one less lion and one less elephant and this is only the most visible of the species. The life of Us is destroying the life of all the Others. We are the predators now that are destroying life around us everywhere, every second. In the States right now, I see it as a crossroads, we could be at the beginning of the world’s first global dark age (and it’s a perspective we cannot forget, we cannot dismiss and think it is just a political prophesy, because if this ripple effect happens in that direction it’s going to happen everywhere). On the other side, we are seeing another global reaction. A sentence came to me from the book of one of my friends, Despertar de la Mujer which means “the awakening of the sleeping woman,” which comes from a legend in our country Mexico that the moment when the sleeping woman (which is the volcano Iztaccíhuatl) wakes up, all of humanity is going to wake up. And I saw that happening with the women’s marches the day after Trump’s inauguration. I realized there is an awakening and maybe what we needed to wake up is this. I haven’t heard such radical speech since the sixties but it is different from the radical of the sixties because this is a radical full of love, full of consciousness, of nurturing, of finding, and that is maybe what we needed in the planet right now to happen so that we could choose to say now is the time we cannot continue waiting for something to happen, we have to make it happen. So it might be a step in our evolution that will bring us to a planetary consciousness and at the same time a Mother Earth consciousness, which is the ultimate step. We have to make changes in our daily life and habits and that will lead to a change in culture and laws in order to avoid walking to our own extinction. The women need to lead the way.
Gaia University presents “Why Rights of Nature is an Essential Issue Today: Towards a Biocentric Jurisprudence of the Earth”
Date: February 27th – Time: 11:00 a.m. PT/ 2 p.m. ET
Host: Alberto Ruz Buenfil
Natural Law established the right relationship between humans and non-human beings and Mother Earth for millennia. Slavery, colonialism, religion, governments, global market economy and Roman Law created an anthropocentric based global culture, that has justified the domination of a small part of humankind over most of humanity and over Nature. Since the 1960´s, a response and resistance to that paradigm has continuously been growing. We are part of that radical change.
Bio: Alberto Ruz has forty years dedicated to studying, creating, promoting and serving as an international networker. Alberto is a pioneer, veteran and historian from the intentional communities, Ecovillage and bioregionalist movements. His accomplishments include: Co-founder from Huehuecóyotl ecovillage in Mexico (1982); Founder and coordinator of the “Caravana Arcoíris por la Paz.” (1996-2009); Adviser to the Global Ecovillage Network since 2003; Ashoka fellow (2002-2005); Partner to the Brazilian Ministry of Culture´s program “Cultura Viva” (2006-2007); Chief of Environmental Department in Coyoacan-Mexico city´s “Eco-Neighbourhood program (20010-2012); Director of Environmental Culture´s Department in State of Morelos (2013); Recipient of the “The Kozeny Communitarian Award” from FIC (Federation of Intentional Community) in 2015; and Coordinator of the First International Forum for the Rights of Mother-Mexico June 1-5th 2016.