By Saral Sarkar, May 2011 (translation from German is by the Author.)
I have discussed recent political developments in Bolivia in two of my earlier blog-texts. This country is currently not only interesting for leftists – i.e. not only because of the efforts of its leadership to build up there a "socialism of the 21st century" – but also for environmentalists, because its (in its majority) Indian leadership apparently has a very unusual understanding of environmentalism.
Evo Morales and his comrades have revived the old Pachamama cult of the highland Indians and raised it to the status of a political matter. In Bolivia, for some time now, there is a "Law of the Mother Earth". For the Aymaras and the Quechuas Mother Earth is a goddess, called Pachamama, from whom all life comes. In the said law, which is also a part of the constitution, humans and nature are given equal status and equal rights. According to Morales "the rights of Mother Earth are even more important than human rights." (quoted in: Peter Burghardt, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 27.04.2011). This law and these words of Morales are, for the moment, perhaps only of symbolic value. They symbolize the intention of his party "Movement for Socialism", to blaze the trail for an ecological socialism.
Also other people and parties had – much earlier than Morales and his comrades – ostensibly taken up the cause of ecological socialism (or eco-socialism). I remember in this context a big conference on the subject environment and labour, which was organized by diverse left, green and environmental groups. It was held in 1982 in Bielefeld (Germany). I also remember a congress of the German Social-democratic Party held in the 1980s and quite a few books on the subject published in Germany. But the combination was not meant seriously. What all that meant was onlya little more environmental protection in the given framework of a highly developed industrial economy, or growth was to be sustainable growth, For proper leftists, this industrial society and this kind of growth was to get a socialist political-economic character. In order to make the idea tempting to politicians and people threatened with unemployment, it was always claimed that environmental protection would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. That was all. There was no question of equal status of humans and nature, no question of equal rights for both.
But if the Bolivian leadership really means what Morales has said in the sentence quoted above, if it seriously takes the task it has given itself, namely, to protect nature against the onslaught of civilization, then it ought to press for the withdrawal of humanity from large tracts of the earth, which is now almost fully occupied by it. Then it ought to demand that such vacated tracts are allowed to again become wilderness. It ought to demand that large parts of the forests, savannahs, rivers and swamps are not changed anymore. And, above all, it ought to tell humanity that it must reduce its own numbers and immediately stop all kinds of economic growth. It ought to say openly to humanity's face that the earth is not there only for humans, that also the other species – plants, animals, and even insects – are children of Pachamama, and that each of them have a right to sufficient habitat-space.
Actually, this last thought is included in the twin goals of protecting species and maintaining the biodiversity of the earth. But I think I do not need to tell my readers how bad at present the situation in these two respects is. To blame for this situation are, generally speaking, the growing population of our own species and our growing economies. These two facts make it necessary that we humans conquer ever greater parts of the earth's surface. Of course, this process is going on since the Neolithic period. But it sharply accelerated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Already in the 1960s, a nature lover produced a film to which he gave the title "No Room For Wild Animals".
But particularly the leftists – at least the great majority of them, who, as we know, strongly sympathize with the present leadership of Bolivia – do not want to hear all that. They have only replaced the term "economic growth" with tactically clever and well-sounding terms: sustainable growth, qualitative growth, selective growth, green New Deal etc. And those who consider the number of humans on earth to be too high are summarily abused by them as rightists. Some three months ago, I had a conversation on this subject with an old leftist friend. He asserted that the world population of humans would peak in 2050 at 9 billions and he thought this number of humans can be fed and otherwise provided for without any problem. I could not put the question how much habitat-space would then still be left for the other species. The friend had to go immediately. No time for a politically incorrect question.
Actually, it is not the Bolivian leadership that first thought of the rights of nature and nonhuman life. In the 1980s, on the basis of decades-long nature conservation movements in Europe and the USA, thinkers like Arne Naess, Bill Devall and George Sessions formulated a philosophical position that they called Deep Ecology. The first and the most important of the eight basic principles of their Deep Ecology Platform reads: "The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonymous: intrinsic value, inherent value).These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes."
Deep Ecologists differentiate between their position and that of the great majority of environmentalists, who say: humans need environmental protection, which is also economically useful, for thereby not only economic damages are prevented but also many jobs can be created in the environmental protection industry. They call this position shallow ecology.
Morales and his comrades probably had not heard of Deep Ecology before they formulated their conception of the rights of Mother Earth. This eco-philosophy is relatively unknown even in the intellectual circles of Germany. It is a great credit to the Bolivians that they, with their combination of deep ecology and socialism (their version of eco-socialism), have enabled many people to think of eco-socialism as the alternative to capitalism, the enemy of nature. I wish them much success, also in praxis, and much courage to remain steadfast in the face of resistance.