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The blue dot

Two months ago, I signed on to the Blue Dot Tour, a grassroots movement promoting every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment. Almost 90 other Bowen Islanders and over 65,000 Canadians have joined.

Two months ago, I signed on to the Blue Dot Tour, a grassroots movement promoting every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment. Almost 90 other Bowen Islanders and over 65,000 Canadians have joined. Communities are also signing on: Richmond, Vancouver, Duncan, Ladysmith, Saanich and others have passed municipal declarations recognizing their citizens’ rights to clean air, water, and healthy food.
What is the Blue Dot? “That’s home. That’s us,” wrote Carl Sagan in his book, The Pale Blue Dot. “On it is everyone you love.” The iconic Apollo 17 photo of the Earth gave us a new way to see ourselves as living together on the same planet, and showed us how a paper-thin layer is all that protects us from the harshness of space.
The Blue Dot Tour across Canada was scientist David Suzuki’s long-term initiative to embed the right to a healthy environment in our country’s constitution. “More than half of us live in areas where air quality reaches dangerous levels of toxicity,” he writes. And he points to the 1,000 drinking water advisories in effect in Canada at any time, many of them in First Nations communities.
We are at last beginning to appreciate that our health depends on the health of our lands and waters. Asking that the planet’s soil, forests, and waters be respected is the wise thing to do. Over 110 countries in the world have already achieved this. The first was Costa Rica in the early 1990’s.
Bolivians, already living with the effects of climate change, enshrined the rights of the natural world in 2012. The first article of the Law of Mother Earth says that every human activity has to “achieve dynamic balance with the cycles and processes inherent in Mother Earth.” It defines Mother Earth as “a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.”
I am dazzled by the exquisite language of the law: “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb… She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organization.”
The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual worldview. It places the environment and the Earth (Pachamama) at the centre of all life.
Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, was the first country to change its constitution to give rights to the natural world. They include: “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structures, functions and its processes in evolution.” The law was passed in 2008 and gives local people the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of the ecosystems.
The government is committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries. Eleven new rights have been granted to nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Whether these new laws will be useful in challenging government-supported development remains an open question.
Recently, New Zealand gave legal rights to a river. It’s perhaps the first time in legal history that a river has been recognized in that way. According to the New Zealand tribunal, “the Whanganui River had personality sufficient to allow it to be heard in a court of law.” A preliminary agreement was signed between the Crown and the Whanganui River Iwi, an indigenous community with a long history of reliance on the river and its bountiful nature. Since 1873, they have sought to protect the river and have their interests acknowledged by the Crown through the legal system. The Whanganui River is now recognized as a person when it comes to law, the judgment stated, “which will give it rights and interests.”
How much “personality” does a river need? The mighty Fraser would seem to qualify. And how about a forest, a salmon bearing creek, a fjord such as Howe Sound? I can dream that one day we will give legal rights to all of them, that they will be considered a living sustaining force to be honoured, respected, and protected. And that our children and grandchildren and all of Earth’s children will be able to enjoy the right to healthy air, food and water.
The Blue Dot Tour may be over, but the movement is just beginning, creating a national conversation around the future of our country, our community.
The Blue Dot. It’s our only home.