written by Sr. Patricia Siemen
Valentine’s Day in the United States is a time to celebrate what we love—and is usually focused on rekindling our relationships with our romantic partners. This year I invite us to stretch our love to include Earth herself. The single, comprehensive Earth community provides us our life’s sustenance, our very home, and is the context for all the relationships that are essential for our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Clearly Earth deserves heart-felt protection!
My own heart was opened more deeply when I attended the Global Alliance on the Rights of Nature Summit in Quito and Otavalo, Ecuador, last month. Ecuador is the only country in the world that has constitutionally protected Nature’s rights to exist, persist, maintain, regenerate, and flourish. For five days I met with over 60 Earth jurisprudence leaders, international environmental activists, and indigenous leaders who spoke about the devastation happening to their lands, their people, and their cultures. Their stories were stories of resistance and hope, stories highlighting how the law has failed to protect their communities.
The Summit concluded in Quito, with over 400 participants attending the world’s first Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, chaired by the internationally renowned Dr. Vandana Shiva of India. Eight international cases of violations of the Rights of Nature were presented to the Tribunal in an evidentiary hearing forum. After a day-long hearing, the Tribunal determined that each of the cases (which can be found at therightsofnature.org) would advance to the next World Tribunal on the Rights of Nature to be held in Lima, Peru, in December 2014.
Then I returned home and my heart expanded as I experienced the power, beauty, and solidarity of folks like the Silver Springs Alliance, dedicated to protecting the health of the Silver River, and the Preserve Brevard members. But soon my heart clinched again as this week the St. Johns Water Management District approved the Niagara Bottling permit allowing Niagara to double its pumping from the Floridan Aquifer to nearly a million gallons a day–in direct contrast to already low flows of the Wekiva River Basin and neighboring springsheds. This approval was granted over an incredible amount of citizen resistance and registered public comments opposing the permit.
Our work to love and protect the natural systems that are our home areas expands daily. I used to live in Southwest Florida. Now an oil boom and hydro-fracking threat is taking place in that corner of the state. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently approved a proposed oil well located approximately three-quarters of a mile west of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently nearly 115,000 acres of mineral rights have been leased by a Texas company from Collier Resources. This lease, which runs for five years and can be extended, includes large portions of the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW Lands), and even the famous Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with some of the last old-growth cypress in our state.
The onslaught feels endless and my heart wavers at times. But as I learned from the tribal peoples in Ecuador, our role is to defend with our lives the land that sustains the community’s wellbeing. Let our hearts burn in defense of our home areas. And may we take the time to savor the natural beauty and resiliency that the land community provides us. Be still my heart, and listen. Adelante!