Pachamama. The earth is our mother.

14 Mar


I’ve just heard a Radio National Science Show story that has stirred my imagination more than anything in a long time.

Robin Williams interviewed Canadian environmental activist, scientist and academic David Suzuki, who is  the driving force behind a movement to have enshrined in the Canadian constitution a clause that states everyone has the right to clean water, clean air, and food.

One hundred and ten countries already have protection for the earth enshrined in their constitutions. Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico have guaranteed protection for Pachamama, Mother Earth, in theirs. Suzuki, together with First Nations peoples, artists, musicians, and writers such as Margaret Atwood, are taking the Blue Dot Tour around Canada and having extraordinary  success in their campaign to persuade cities and municipalities to adopt the Blue Dot Declaration for a Healthy Environment.

However, this isn’t merely a grand statement. So far fourteen cities, including Montreal and Vancouver, have committed to enacting legislation protecting the environment within the next two years.

The Blue Dot Tour takes its name from the famous essay by Carl Sagan, written after Voyager I cameras were, at his suggestion, trained on earth. Our planet appeared as a pale blue dot in a sea of darkness. Here is an extract from Sagan’s essay:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 

The significance of the proposed Canadian environmental protection legislation is considerable. The burden of evidence will shift from  activists who currently must prove a developmental project will damage the environment, to developers who will have to prove it will not. Such legislative shifts immediately change the discourse, putting the well-being of Pachamama and the human beings living on her and with her before economic considerations and profit.

As Suzuki points out, without air we die in three minutes. Without clean air we become sick. Without water we die in a few days. Without clean water we become sick. Without food we die in a couple of weeks.

In NSW, changes introduced by the LNP government now determine that the “principal consideration” for decision makers such as the Planning Assessment Committee must be the economic benefits of the proposed mining project. The massive Shenhua coal mining venture in the Liverpool Plains, vigorously opposed by environmentalists and farmers for almost seven years, was given approval at the end of January 2015, after twice being knocked back, under this “principal consideration” change.

However, the matter is now before federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who has “stopped the clock” on the project until further investigation into the effects of the mine under federal government Water Trigger Legislation, which states that

Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), was amended in June 2013, to provide that water resources are a matter of national environmental significance, in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mining development.

It will be very interesting to see how Greg Hunt handles this situation.

Those of us living on this part of the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam could send an email to Greg Hunt, quoting the extract from the Carl Sagan essay above.


21 Responses to “Pachamama. The earth is our mother.”

  1. doug quixote March 14, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    Greg Hunt is the one we are to rely on to help save NSW’s prime agricultural land and environment?

    If I was religious, I’d say God help us.

    Electing a Luke Foley NSW Labor government might be a better option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey March 14, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

      Dump the State Liberal government on Saturday and a toxic PM on Monday….. Seems attractive to me, but not I would think what the polls suggest is likely to occur.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jennifer Wilson March 14, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

        I don’t think that is going to happen, HG, but it is my dream.


    • Jennifer Wilson March 14, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

      Labor has made no undertakings to reverse the changes, DQ
      But it’s no use asking me, I hate them all just now. I want to move to another level of existence where there are no politicians.

      Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote March 14, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

        It seems Labor policy is to impose a moratorium on all coal seam gas extraction unless and until all 16 of the Chief Scientist’s recommendations are implemented. I suppose the Chief Scientist may be given some credit for knowing what she is doing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson March 15, 2015 at 9:13 am #

          That is good news. Next they must change the assessment criteria to remove economic considerations as primary.


  2. hudsongodfrey March 14, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

    I’m actually slightly worried that even poor activism, the kind that relies on bad science and fear campaigns, now gains more traction than what passes for conventional wisdom from those charged with an oversight in the national interest.

    Basically the signal that the mining sector seems to rely almost entirely upon what we can only presume to be a corrupting influence over our system of government, is written largest in the gaping absence of any social contract much less engagement with voters in an effort to bother securing their endorsement.

    I’m deeply suspicious of the Nocebo effect whenever medically dubious claims are made. But that scepticism doesn’t negate the fact that people are being steamrolled by a capitalist behemoth where the existence of profit is manifest while the evidence of how that benefit is shared with them, the rest of the community or in some cases anyone who even lives in this country is patently absent, and technically not even required.

    The idea that we have to do something to shift the emphasis I think goes beyond mere environmental oversight to the very nature of our social contract with capitalism and democracy itself. Yet, I think we accept that we have to choose the former because fixing the latter is too hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 14, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      We need to shift many of our paradigms. As you say, to the very nature of our social contract with capitalism and democracy. Such shifts take place over decades, and I think we are in process of shifting. It’s become a crisis like never before, given the danger now to our environment, which has not existed to this extent before.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michaela Tschudi March 14, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

        Good to have you back on the sunbeam writing about these issues. You bring such clarity.

        Liked by 1 person

      • hudsongodfrey March 14, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

        Well of course when we talk of it as “our” environment I guess we try to appeal to humanity on an intergenerational scale. Yet many of the social and environmental trends we’re dealing with force us to think beyond our own longevity. So I think we’re called upon to start the paradigm shift with an ethical focus on the future that is perhaps more unprecedented than the threat itself.

        The politics of a nation can sometimes undergo radical change in the course of a far more compressed period of time. Even if we are now dealing on a global level with far more unwieldy problems, economists would probably try to analyse some of these questions in terms of underlying behavioural factors within trade based systems and the like. And in a way if those arguing for the likes of an ETS could extend their theory to include a broader environmental dividend then the real question being asked might take a very different form.

        We may find ourselves asking whether the only reason previous generations of humanity didn’t become functionally unsustainable was that they lacked the capacity we have to attain the crucial tipping point. A question perhaps best contemplated in terms of the forces that drove some of the great ancient civilisations to their destruction. If we haven’t learned to avoid those mistakes then as a catalyst for apocalyptic population decline conflagration is probably a narrow favourite over starvation.

        I know that sounds a bit dire, but I have great hope that we aren’t that stupid. The similarly intergenerational memory of the wars of the early to mid 20th century perhaps kept more present in the age of multimedia communication technology may provide that cautionary tale.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson March 15, 2015 at 9:16 am #

          Excellent point, ethical future focus. Which of course is Suzuki’s goal.

          I have the sense of us being engaged in the most tremendous ideological battle. Yes, such things have occurred before but never in such complex circumstances, and with the planet degenerating at such speed.

          I agree with the conflagration rather than starvation.

          It’s my birthday today. So I’m inclined to optimism for the next few hours!!


          • doug quixote March 15, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

            Many happy returns! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • hudsongodfrey March 16, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

            Congratulations, even though I’m a couple of days late.

            My apologies for the tardiness if there was any chance sleep could be belayed indefinitely then I might’ve looked in sooner.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jennifer Wilson March 17, 2015 at 7:13 am #

              Thank you HG. Sleep ought never to be delayed, let alone indefinitely. 🙂


      • paul walter March 16, 2015 at 2:51 am #

        It happens when, on evidence, people take them on instead of endorsing them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter March 16, 2015 at 2:54 am #

          Sorry wrong spot..Jennifer Wilson’s comment re paradigms shifted..

          Your birthday?

          Happy birthday, Jennifer Wilson!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson March 16, 2015 at 6:55 am #

            Thank you PW. It was a most beautiful day.


            • paul walter March 16, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

              In your case, it would be because you earned it.

              On the thread topic, I can add that I am deeply fond of Suzuki and beleive he too understands a radical falure of imagination that defines our era.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Jennifer Wilson March 16, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

                The imagination is so misunderstood and undervalued. People think it’s about fairytales or something.


                • paul walter March 16, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

                  The politicans seem a paradigmatic, enthusiastic example of your proposition, as to the second part.

                  Liked by 1 person

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