A New Water Ethic and Rights of Nature

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Disasters related to freshwater shortages are occurring and rapidly increasing around the world. It is therefore starkly evident that changes are needed regarding the way that humanity regards and safeguards the global water cycle.

“We must adopt a new water ethic that puts water protection and restoration at the centre of the laws and policies we enact.” (Maude Barlow, Blue Future: A new water Ethic, Council of Canadians, 2013)
There is no basis for the assumption that our species is separate from and inherently superior to other life forms or that we have a privileged place and can negligently destroy nature for our whims. There is, however, a basis for believing that, as members of humanity and the vast terrestrial community, we have a duty to use our foresight and empathy for the benefit of the whole.
“We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.”  

Download: UN,The Future We Want, RES/A/66/288 para.39, 2012.pdf  

There has been a worldwide tradition of thinking in terms of seven generations and it was widely recognized that the foundations of all sustainability are dependent and based upon healthy functioning environmental cycles and systems. Chief amongst these being, the freshwater cycle, which virtually all species are dependent upon.
“Civilization is rooted in nature, which has shaped human culture and influenced all artistic and scientific achievement, and living in harmony with nature gives man the best opportunities for the development of his creativity, and for rest and recreation.”  

Download: UN, 1982, World Charter for Nature, A/RES/37/7.pdf  

Regardless of who we are or where we live it is important to understand that the water cycle and its inherent ecosystems are the life support system of the entire planet and that the responsibility of safeguarding these is a common human responsibility. It is also in our own long-term interest to safeguard these for future generations and for all life on Earth.
It is utterly unsustainable to ignore the regenerative nature of water and use existing time and resources in managing ever-decreasing water resources, whilst in the meantime allowing the natural water cycle to degenerate. This is like designing a house and disregarding the need for solid foundations. Collapse is inevitable.

This is Our World, Our Water and Our Responsibility!

Human life is not viable independent of other species and ecosystems. We are all interdependent and because we utterly depend upon them, we need to live in such a way as considers their needs as well as our own.
A new ethic of coexistence with nature, all the natural worlds and the natural cycles is still possible but it ultimately depends not on law, science or monetary values but also on more ancient, natural, humanitarian principles and values. A deeper awareness and respect for nature and all natural elements such as water, air, earth and fire is essential. If humanity wishes to continue to survive and evolve on Earth, respect for the ancestors and their wisdom is crucial.
“How long can we go on and safely pretend that the environment is not the economy, is not health, is not the prerequisite to development, is not recreation? Is it realistic to see ourselves as managers of an entity out there called the environment, extraneous to us, an alternative to the economy, too expensive a value to protect in difficult economic times?
When we organize ourselves starting from this premise, we do so with dangerous consequences to our economy, health, and industrial growth. We are now just beginning to realize that we must find an alternative to our ingrained behaviour of burdening future generations resulting from our misplaced belief that there is a choice between economy and the environment. That choice, in the long term, turns out to be an illusion with awesome consequences for humanity. (Charles Caccia Member of Parliament, House of Commons WCED Public Hearing Ottawa, 26-27 May 1986.”  

Download: UN, 1987, Our Common Future Brundtland Report.pdf  

Maintaining the natural worlds and ecosystems that are so fundamental for human life and all life on Earth is not simply a job for a few. It is the responsibility of humanity as a whole. Because we all rely upon freshwater, the responsibility of safeguarding the hydrological cycle and the ecosystems, which maintain it, is a common human responsibility. It is also in our long-term interest to safeguard these for all future generations.
“We need nothing short of a new global ethic – an ethic which espouses attitudes and behavior for individuals and societies which are consonant with humanity’s place within the biosphere; which recognizes and sensitively responds to the complex and ever-changing relationships between humanity and nature and between people. Significant changes must occur in all of the world’s nations to assure the kind of rational development which will be guided by this new global ideal – changes which will be directed towards an equitable distribution of the world’s resources and more fairly satisfy the needs of all peoples.”  

Download: UNESCO, 1975, The Belgrade Charter.pdf  

Because humanity is an integral part of nature, in the long term humanity can only flourish if we live in accord with Earths’ natural cycles. This has been the way for millions of years and we ignore it in favour of short-term mass profit for a few, at our peril.The new global ethic elucidated by UNESCO could guide humanity beyond the present crisis.
“This kind of development will also require the maximum reduction in harmful effects on the environment, the utilization of waste materials for productive purposes, and the design of technologies, which will enable such objectives to be achieved. Above all, it will demand the assurance of perpetual peace through coexistence and cooperation among nations with different social systems. Substantial resources for reallocation to meet human needs can be gained through restricting military budgets and reducing competition in the manufacture of arms. Disarmament should be the ultimate goal.”  

Download: UNESCO, 1975, The Belgrade Charter.pdf  

Seeing that safeguarding the hydrological cycle is central to achieving water security and thus relates to global defense, 1% annually of the defense budgets of all countries in the U.N could be allocated for its protection and restoration.

There are laws of nature, which should never have been abused and forgotten. The present crisis we face concerning water security, food security, economic instability and potential wars for water are direct results of our negligence of these laws.
“We recognize, honor and respect water as sacred and sustains all life. Our traditional knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible in caring for this sacred gift that connects all life.”  

Download: Indigenous Peoples Kyoto Water Declaration 2003.pdf  

“If we are members of the earth’s community, then our rights must be balanced against those of plants, animals, rivers and ecosystems.”  

Download: Our Water Commons, Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians, 2008.pdf  

Humanity is after all a part of this incredible, interrelated natural world and we have immeasurable intelligence and capacities when our minds are connected in a common collective focus, for the well being and benefit of the whole.

For the survival of all life on Earth, including humanity, it is imperative that we remember and appreciate our living interdependent relationship with all of nature.

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