“We Cannot Command Nature Except By Obeying Her”
By Pablo Solón
03 May, 2011
Speech of Ambassador Pablo Solón, permanent representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations, on the occasion of the General Assembly interactive dialogue on harmony with nature, April 20, 2011
Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables, once wrote: “How sad to think that nature speaks and mankind doesn’t listen.”
We are here today to attempt to have a dialogue not just among States, but also with nature. Although we often forget it, human beings are a force in nature. In reality, we are all a product of the same Big Bang that created the universe, although some only see wood for the fire when they walk through the forest.
These three questions are the point of departure for our discussion today:
First, what is nature? Is it a thing, a source of resources, a system, a home, a community of living and interdependent beings?
Second, are there rules in nature? Are there natural laws that govern its integrity, interrelationships, reproduction and transformation?
And third, are we as States and as a society recognizing, respecting and making sure that the rules of nature prevail?
The philosopher Francis Bacon said that we cannot command nature except by obeying her. The time for superheroes and superpowers is coming to an end.
Nature cannot be submitted to the wills of the laboratory. Science and technology are capable of everything including destroying the world itself.
It is time to stop and reaffirm the precautionary principle in the face of geo-engineering and all artificial manipulation of the climate. All new technologies should be evaluated to gauge their environmental, social and economic impacts.
The answer for the future lies not in scientific inventions but in our capacity to listen to nature.
The green economy considers it necessary, in the struggle to preserve biodiversity, to put a price on the free services that plants, animals and ecosystems offer humanity: the purification of water, the pollination of plants by bees, the protection of coral reefs and climatic regulation.
According to the green economy, we have to identify the specific functions of ecosystems and biodiversity that can be made subject to a monetary value, evaluate their current state, define the limits of those services, and set out in economic terms the cost of their conservation to develop a market for environmental services.
For the green economy, capitalism’s mistake is not having fully incorporated nature as part of capital. That is why its central proposal is to create “environmentally friendly” business and green jobs and in that way limit environmental degradation by bringing the laws of capitalism to bear on nature.
In other words, the transfusion of the rules of market will save nature.
This is not a hypothetical debate, since the third round of negotiations of the World Trade Organization will be about the trade in services and environmental goods.
Humanity finds itself at a crossroads: Why should we only respect the laws of human beings and not those of nature? Why do we call the person who kills his neighbor a criminal, but not he who extinguishes a species or contaminates a river? Why do we judge the life of human beings with parameters different from those that the guide the life of the system as a whole if all of us, absolutely all of us, rely on the life of the Earth System?
Is there no contradiction in recognizing only the rights of the human part of this system while all the rest of the system is reduced to a source of resources and raw materials – in other words, a business opportunity?
To speak of equilibrium is to speak of rights for all parts of the system. It could be that these rights are not identical for all things, since not all things are equal. But to think that only humans should enjoy privileges while other living things are simply objects is the worst mistake humanity has ever made. Decades ago, to talk about slaves as having the same rights as everyone else seemed like the same heresy that it is now to talk about glaciers or rivers or trees as having rights.
Nature is ruthless when it goes ignored.
It is incredible that it is easier to imagine the destruction of nature than to dream about overthrowing capitalism.
Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
We have not come here to watch a funeral.
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