Nature's Rights


What is Nature's Rights

"I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those
of the earth,
There can be no theory of any account unless it corroborate the
theory of the earth,
No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account,
unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of
the earth."

 Walt Whitman, "Song of the Rolling Earth" 1851,1881

           The idea of Nature's Rights occurred to me back in the late 1990's to describe profound experiences about nature I had between 1998 and 2002 as I studied a wetland called "Heroes Wetland". The poem about Nature's Rights (below) was written in 2002 long before this essay ( 2007-8). This essay is an attempt to turn my experiences into a practical understanding of Nature's Rights and how these rights might be secured legally or politically. The purpose of of a more aggressive seeking of rights for nature is to stop the wholesale destruction of species, forests, oceans and climate that currently is underway due to population pressures, the indifference of nation states and corporate greed.

           Heroes Wetland was more than one place, in fact: it was a metaphor for any place deeply loved and closely observed. I was absorbing how animals and birds, trees and water, air and humans all relate to each other in communities and ecosystems. As I began to watch the complex interactions of sun and water, seasons and birds, I began to see deeper meanings.  I did not begin to understand nature until I spent enough time watching, listening, smelling, touching and hearing to take it all into myself deep enough to begin to see a little from a Bluebird's point of view, a Raccoon's point of view, a Goldfinch, a Heron, a tree or a turtle. One begins to see the land form the earth's point of view. Whitman began to understand something of this when he realized people do not have separate "souls" apart from our bodies. We are our bodies, we are the earth. There is nothing beyond earth, evolution and the facts of here where we are.

        When I started seeing for the non-human point of view I began to see that that human rights, animal rights and environmentalism are falsely and arbitrarily separated domains.  The idea of Nature's Rights was to re-unify animal, human and environmental rights under one concept, since they are not separate in fact. I came to understand that the same forces and powers that cause animal extinctions cause poverty and war. I began to see that a human centered environmentalism is a waste of time. The common argument one comes across some environmentalist writings is that the Amazon or some other wild area should be preserved to benefit humans, so we can have medicines to cure cancer, for instance. It would of course be great to cure cancer. But Nature's Rights is not about what humans need so much as it is about what individuals of whatever species need. It is about the right of individuals within species to exist.

         Nature's rights is not merely about species rights. Global warming harms individual Polar Bears when it destroys the ice that the bears live on. It is true that global warming threatens the entire Polar bear population. But the concept of species is a taxonomic category and in fact, we can only save individual bears, if we would save the species. The species will survive so long as we stop killing individual bears.  Cars and coal burning power plants among other sources of pollution are that main culprits in the destruction of Polar bear, Harp Seal, and Arctic Fox habitat. Suing corporations or states on behalf of individual animals as well as on behalf of the biomes in which they live in complex webs with other individuals is what Nature's Rights is about. We must eliminate the fictitious idea of corporate personhood and substitute in its place the real notion of the personhood lf bears, chimps, whale dolphins and seals among others

         The concept of Nature's Rights is opposed to the ideology of property rights, which is a human centered construction arbitrarily imposed on nature and responsible for much of the destruction of nature. Animals, birds and fish have need of territory too, Indeed, the idea of property is an outgrowth of our animal nature and our genetic inheritance of the need of territory as we mate and build communities. We do not have the right to force other species out of their equal right to their places. Capitalism marginalizes nature,  and nature is forced to pay the unseen, unaccounted costs of capitalist ventures. Mankind has profited at the expense of nature. It is payback time. We need to payback what we have stolen.

       Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic" is an  important idea and he hints at Nature's Rights when he says....

When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the ethical harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture. That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.

        This points to the concept of Nature's Rights. Leopold refers to the land ethic as "biotic rights".  But Leopold does not go far enough.   Leopold 's Land Ethic is still to  too tame and human centered. Leopold wrote that soils, plants, oceans and the other facts of earth are still to be controlled by humans. "A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources,' but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state." Leopold does not wish to overly restrict 'resourcism", but merely preserve nature along the edges of resource exploitation. What Leopold suggest is that we merely save nature on the edges of the vast hegemony of private property and the capitalist conquest of the earth. I disagree with this. Nature needs to be affirmed as having rights equal to humans, apart from capitalism, as part of a community of beings on earth and not merely as a sequestered 'resource' kept alive as a relic or a threatened species relegated to reservations. Nature's rights must apply everywhere. A forest does not exist to be owned by humans: it also belong to squirrels,insects, fish, plants, monkeys and whatever else has evolved in conjunction with the ecology of the region. Nature's Rights grows out of our common genetic inheritance. Nature's Rights begins with the effort of all being to survive. Nature's Rights is about the effort of evolution to preserve the most lives among the most diverse and various species. Human centeredness is anti-evolutionary and unsustainable.

        "In wildness is the preservation of the world", Thoreau wisely said.  Humans must grant the right of other species to find their own evolutionary path, unaltered by human manipulation and genetic tinkering.  My Master's Thesis looked at violations of human rights in relation to history. But that was 10 years ago. I am now able to recognize that history has its roots in natural history, in the facts of evolution. Defending the rights of all species and individuals among species is a logical extension of the concerns of care and rights. I increasingly have turned my attention to nature and have understood that the basis or origin of human rights, women’s rights, and civil rights has to be found in the natural world. Even at the level of our genes we are part of nature just as nature is part of the fabric of our existence. Preserving nature begins with recognizing that all life is equally valuable.

There is a tendency among left leaning intellectuals to define consciousness in exclusively human centered terms. To seek to transform societies defining institutions by promoting environmentally sustainable, non-racist, non sexist, participatory and liberating outcomes is a praiseworthy goal. But what part do animals and nature play in defining what our consciousness is? What 'sustains' animal development and profit? How do oceans benefit from 'sustainable development'? How is consciousness supposed to be changed and are how these transformations come about, if nature is not affirmed as the basis of our humanity and then preserved from peril? The transformation of humanity is useless if it means destroying nature and the earth in the process. 

        So how do we accord trees or deserts or oceans rights? What about trees, for instance?  Do trees have legal standing?— as Christopher D. Stone asked in his book
Should Trees Have Standing? Towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects. (1971) Trees have the right to exist in biomes where they have lived for eons. No trees over a certain age should be cut down for instance. Clear cutting is a violation not only of the integrity fo the forests, but it harms the earth itself, causing erosion and spoiling of streams and rivers. It impacts all species that live int hat forests.   Humans do not have the right to cut trees. Cutting trees needs to be carefully controlled in view of preserving natural ecosystems, animals and plants.  The costs to individual species must be weighed in any silvaculture calculation The fact of merely owing a piece of property should not automatically grant anyone the right to cut trees, harm ecosystems, rare species or upset the local balance of beings. The biology of the earth itself depends upon the rainforests to survive and no corporation or group of corporations can claim ownership of such forests simply by virtue of deeds to property. 80% of the forests in Madagascar have been cut down, yet no one has paid the cost of the damage that has been done there. Many species of Lemur, tortoise and other species have gone extinct because of the plunder of Madagascar's ecologies. Property rights cannot be allowed to trump nature's rights where harm to other beings is considerable. The same is true of the oceans rights. Current predictions are that the oceans are now at least 50-% fished to death and will be totally over fished of commercial species by 2048--- how do we respect the oceans rights and stop this decimation? There needs to be intentional cooperation to stop the rape of the seas. There must be some union of concerned people like a UN, only in this case devoted to beings, biomes and habitats rather than to nations. Global warming is just the most recent environmental problem to come into view—there are many, many others…

       Natures Rights do not arise from human rights but rather are the basis of human rights. The right of diatoms of the sea far antedates the right of people to fish in the oceans. This means that the relations of humans to nature is not one of exploitation but of family and cooperation. This means that humans do not have the right to cause extinctions or fundamentally violate the genetic integrity of species, for instance.   Goldfinch societies, elephant societies, duck families, and algae and plankton in the sea are all being with rights. We depend of them and they on us.  We are not nature's "stewards"-- that bit of Christian arrogance needs to go.  Mankind is the worst threat others species of all kinds have ever faced. it is mankind that needs to change. Helping other species means learning about what they say their rights are. This means to watch them as closely as possible to learn their needs and ways. Bird’s concerns must weigh in when we are considering how to transform society? When we build Malls with huge parking lots, we cut down bird habitat. Someone must pay the birds for this loss of nesting sites and food.   When we build skyscrapers we kill migrating birds? There should be means to sue developers who harm the rights of birds or other species. BIrds deserve reparations for harms down to their livelihood and habitats.  Maybe skyscrapers should not be built and Malls not constructed, or these designed in way that does not harm birds. The Masai tribe feel they have the right to kill rare elephants who graze on land where Masai cattle live. But the rights of elephants certainly are equal to that of the Masai. Just as Elephants have as much right to live as the Masai, Bison have a prior right to land now used to grow feed corn for cattle in Nebraska, Iowa South Dakota and Kansas.  Bison deserve reparations for the atrocity of 50 million of them murdered by Americans in the 19th century. More room must be made for elephants and bison. The Masai must be prevented form killing elephants, and a great deal of the land of the Prairie states must be returned to wild herds of Bison. All ove rthe earth humans accord themselves the right to steal form other species. This must be reversed by making it possible to sue individuals or governments who harm the rights of Macaws, Sifaka Lemurs or Redwood trees.
       Nature's Rights means that humans must be restricted. We need to redesign American "game" and "resource" agencies. Each US state has a Division of Wildlife or Dept. of Natural Resources which acts as agents of hunters, who are only 5% of the population. he game agencies are creating what amounts to killing fields of our forests and rivers. We must end killing for pleasure as  method of "scientific management". We need to replace these agencies with Dept. of Nature's Rights, who would act as preservers of nature's rights, representing Squirrels, songbirds, bison, as well as trees and Armadillos.  There must be someone to protect animals and forests, oceans and deserts against those who see them merely as resources. We need to become advocates of the non-human.

           My concern with nature's rights reflected in various ways in the writings of others. One can see  the idea of Nature's Rights is implicit in  Henry Thoreau's Journal, for instance. His interest in biology combines implicitly with his concern with social justice and civil disobedience. Chomsky observes somewhere that his own interest in science and his interest in social justice are closely related, without the exact point of origin between science and justice being obvious to him. That is because Chomsky's work in language is too separated from his work with politics and justice. Val Plumwood's writings explore aspects of theme as does David Niebert's Human Rights Animals Rights.  How the idea of justice has its origin in nature is only just beginning to be visible on the far horizon of future science. Humans are not unique beings detached from the rest of nature, despite our tendency to abstract ourselves and thereby declare ourselves exceptional or unique. Our use of peculiar sort of  socially constructed, abstract use of language is one alleged source of this exceptionalism.  DNA, in fact, is a far more complex language than what humans speak.

         Nature's Rights arises from the language of nature, and not merely from the human use of words.  Chomsky writes about the search for the origin of language that "The answers may well lie not so much in the theory of natural selection as in molecular biology, in the study of what kinds of physical systems can develop under the conditions of life on earth ..." (1988: 167). Yes. that is where language has its origin and it is also where Nature's Rights comes from. Chimps show a remarkable sense of justice in their behavior. They are upset by harms being done to those they love, just as humans are. Every species does all it can to try to survive and that purpose is the basis of rights. Nature's Rights is about the relations of species to large communities, the relations of all beings on earth to one another. The idea of rights is an effort to make rational and coherent an idea that arises from the  natural facts of individuals of all species wishing to survive and care for their own kind. Species diversity came about so that the maximum number of individuals of a species could survive unmolested. Nature's Rights is the acceptance of this fact and the effort to stop that which harms individuals and species of whatever kind.

         Humans are now a major threat to Nature's Rights in the same way that corporations and nation states are a threat to human rights. The right of species to continue and survive is obvious when one  realizes that the primary threat to all species is the selfish greed and environmental neglect of human beings. The rights of sea turtles, say, need to be protected against long line fisherman, who are killing them off at alarming rates. The solution to this lies partly in abolishing long line fishing. Fishing needs to be severely regulated anyway as nearly 50% of the oceans "commercial" fish are already gone.
Or take the case case involving protection of dolphins under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which held that that federal agencies were in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act by allowing certain countries to import Yellowfin Tuna into the United States. Judge Thelton Henderson, an amazing African American civil rights advocate and now judge, fought against American and Mexican Tuna millionaires as well as the Clinton/Gore White House to help save dolphins form Tuna fisherman. More than 7 million dolphins have been drowned in tuna nets over the past 4 decades. But since 1990 and the advent of the "dolphin safe" tuna program,  brought about by Henderson and others, dolphin deaths have decreased by 97% in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region. One man can make a huge difference. Humans, both of the capitalist and the socialist variety, are the primary threat to Nature's Rights in every biome and domain. As Judge Henderson realized,  the concept of  civil, women's and human rights needs to be expanded and developed both as a scientific area of research as well as a rallying point for political action. Animals and ecologies need to be protected now, just as we once had to fight against abuse of women in factories or slave brought over on slave ships.

         There are those, particularly among the Marxist or anarchist tendencies, who believe that human consciousness is the supreme fact on earth. Unfortunately many leftist thinkers are still human centered in this way. The abolitionists of today are environmental and animals rights activists. An example of backward thinking on the left is Michael Albert, of Z magazine, who, in his autobiography states... "I see no comparison in importance between seeking to eliminate the roots and branches of sexism, and seeking to eliminate the roots and branches of violence against animals." This justification fo violence against animals and nature is precisely the attitude that is causing extinctions, destruction of rainforest and the horrors of factory farming. The fate of the earth does not rest in some imaginary “self conscious” human centeredness—as if human consciousness were a god that could save or destroy nature. Humans who are the primary threat to nature, not just capitalists but also Marxists. China and the former U.S.S.R. both have horrible environmental and animal rights records. But it is precisely human pride or the human belief in their own exceptional superiority that is the problem, and this hubris is as part fo the left as well as the right. Human consciousness is itself grown from nature and evolution, but its counter-evolutionary tendencies must be restricted or curtailed. As Jane Goodall and others have pointed out we need to return to less destructive tendencies in our own nature in order to save the earth. The forces that currently threaten the earth are all institutional, economic and religious. We need to relearn that we share the earth with many others. Natures' Rights  is about learning to appreciate the consciousness of other species, even at the level of plankton or plants, and how they view their own existence. Left-wing speciesism will not help the oceans, forests or endangered animals to the earth.

        It is true we cannot escape consciousness--- though what ‘consciousness’ is exactly is a complex question. Clearly, Chimps are conscious, as are Cetaceans, and in a different way Aphids, and Sponges,  Diatoms and other simple species possess some rudimentary consciousness. But each consciousness is different and there is no hierarchy in nature. Humans like to create hierarchies and put  themselves at the top of it. It is true that humans must intervene to save certain species such as Tigers, Whooping Cranes and Condors. But by far the majority of threatened species are threatened by humans. The primary question of Nature's Rights is not what can humans do to save nature, but rather what can humans be encouraged to do to change themselves. How can humans be restrained from doing. How do we restrain and regulate humans in the interests of natural communities and ecosystems so nature can heal itself. Nature's Rights is primarily about re-educating humans and changing their behavior. In some cases, such as in protecting Mountain Gorillas or Black Rhinos, parks have used guns to shoot poachers who threaten these highly endangered animals. Of course the actual poachers are the bottom of the ladder of the international black market in rare animals, which needs to be stopped at all costs.

        How do we recognize the rights of other beings? How do we admit they have their own special ethology, or  ways of knowing? To what degree does their consciousness imply moral considerability? ( As Peter Singer rightly asked) Just as slaves and women were once considered to be neither citizens or persons, so animals and even plants and whole biomes must now be thought of as having rights equal to those of 'persons'. Orangutans are conscious of trees in ways we are not: Bats are conscious of the dark in ways we are not; Ants in their tiny worlds know things we do not. Bees can pinpoint exact patches of flowers from a great distance and tell others about it is a celar language unique to bees.  This list of the superior capacities of many species over the capacities of humans can be extended as far as knowledge of animals and birds, worms and Aardvarks will allow. Each species is special and deserves preservation.  What degree we admit that Orangutans have rights must be defined by how they relate to their world, rather than by how we relate to their world. Forest destruction in Indonesia and New Guinea must be stopped not because it is good for us to do so, but because the ecosytem and animals of that region demand it. The rights of Orangutans include the forest they live in. If we try to see the world though their eyes, we can begin to see their rights, their purposes and concerns.

        To understand what Nature's Rights is means to overcome Speciesism. To over come speciesism means to cease looking at the world though human eyes alone. What rights do Polar Bears have in the face of global warming caused by humans? The continued existence of these bears requires humans change their ways not just in the Arctic but all around the earth.
 We must protecting, preserve, and vindicate the rights of natural systems everywhere. To understand what Speciesism and how it functions in the same way as racism and sexism see Paul Waldau's book The Specter of Speciesism. Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff have also written on these subjects. Christianity and Buddhism as well as all the other major religions share a common misogynistic view of nature and animals as a lesser world of illusion, whereas human birth is superior to animal or vegetable birth.  This human centered view of nature as a "vale of tears" and sin or as Maya is partly what is behind the destruction of nature and the endangerment of species.

       It is important to inquire into and preserve what matters on earth, against the onslaught of those who exploit, abuse and terrorize others. A person is something that matters on the earth. Birds and animals are people too....even forests are people. Gods and corporations or other institutions that control most aspects of the world are not people and really should not have equal standing with birds and forests and individuals. Birds feel pain. Gods and corporations feel nothing.

        Nature's Rights is a effort to get humans to
recognize that natural communities and ecosystems are legal persons with legal rights. We need to make the concept of corporate rights or the notion that corporations are people, illegitimate. this needs to be surprised into every way possible.  It should be clear that the notion of “nature’s rights” is a very different idea than the concept of  "natural rights" or "natural law". Natural law and natural rights were concepts used to justify antiquated, human centered ideas of property rights,. This is clear for instance in the ideas and philosophy of John Locke, who conceived of "natural rights" as meaning property rights, and who supported and profited from slavery. Property rights are not nature's rights but rather a rights that  treat nature as a slave system of exploitable free raw material or labor.  Factory farming, the Pet trade as well as some forms of genetic engineering or the patenting of life forms are based on property rights, intellectual property as a slave system.

       The idea of 'natural law' was created partly to overcome the idea of the divine rights of kings and in that sense it was a good thing. But corprorations have becaome as unjust as the kings of old and must be stopped. Rights must be accorded to those who, heretofore have been denied them. But with a few exceptions the thinkers of the Enlightenment did not go far enough in outlining the rights of nature's beings. By the end of the 19th century, the rise of corporations led to the use the notion of natural rights as a justification for the fiction of corporate personhood. The history of the 14th amendment is an illustration of this. This amendment was originally designed to protect the lives of ex-slaves, and thus was a defense of human rights. But it was soon corrupted to give corporations fictional personhood. Human rights and what I am calling Nature's Rights are not fictional but are defined as positive and inalienable rights accorded to actual beings.

        Nature's Rights are meant to eliminate the slavery of nature to human markets. So for instance, in North America, the trade in Beaver skins soon wiped out the population in many parts of North America. But, many species thrive when beavers are present. The beaver is a keystone animal, essential to to the natural history of North America. When beavers are wiped out other species suffer too. Humans must recognize the rights of beavers to live and thrive and accommodate them to the human world as much as is possible. Humans must accommodate beaver ponds, lodges and dams. The should be ways to return creeks to Beaver habitat that he been buried or by developments, for instance. Beaver trapping, trapping of all kinds, should be outlawed.

        Many beings need protection against violations wrought upon individuals, species and ecological systems. These damages inflict pain to beings and losses ecosystems. For instance, Salmon in the Pacific region are disappearing because corporate fishing fleets, as well as dams built upstream, which prevent or hinder the migration of salmon. Moreover, farmers who use the water retrained by these dams, believe their right to water permits them to violate the rights of salmon.   As a result of these factors Salmon are prevented them from reaching their ancient spawning habitats.  Millions of years of successful salmon hatcheries have been destroyed. The notion that humans have superior rights to Salmon and Salmon are a "resource" is part of the fault here. Salmon are independently existing beings who have the right to live as much as humans do. Regulations and restrictive penalties must be dealt out to stop further damage to salmon populations. Farmers must not be allowed to farm lands if such farming harms Salmon.  One does not preserve Salmon so other men can fish for them. One preserves Salmon because Salmon in themselves have  the right to continued existence on earth. A vegetarian and fish free diet is helpful here as in so many other areas of human/nature interaction.

       Human rights can only extend so far as they do not unduly harm the rights of other species. Human Rights are at bottom Natures' Rights and in no way are human rights  to be construed as superior to nature's rights. Nature's right's are not corporate or property rights.  Establishing nature's rights means to remove the notions of nature as an exclusive human property, just as the abolition of slavery required the removal of the idea of slaves as property. No one owns forests or rivers, migration routes or oceans, air spaces or prairies, deserts of mountains.

       In of majority of cases where nature and humans conflict, animals concerns, nature’s rights, are excluded from human concerns, purposes and institutions, in exactly the same way that once women, blacks, Indians or other groups have been excluded or discriminated against---  they are left out of the definition of what is reasonable, conscious and deserving of rights.
A person is something that matters on earth. We get upset if a human rights are violated. But birds and animals are people too....even forests are people, if by people is meant a community of beings who are conscious and seek their own intentions and purposes. Nature's rights is the basis of human rights. The process of evolution created species differences so as to allow the most diversity of beings to coexist on our planet. We owe nature the duty to respect these millions of other kinds of beings, each as unique as ourselves. Neither fictional gods or corporations or other institutions that control most aspects of the world can be considered people. Neither gods or corporations should be accorded equal standing with birds and forests and individuals. Birds and animals feel pain. Gods and corporations feel nothing. My question in this poem is how do we stop automatically asserting human rights and human consciousness above the claims of other species and their peculiar ways of knowing? How can we come to grant rights to all nature, trees, birds, animals, rivers, mountains, and the earth itself? We are all related and every kind wants to survive as much as we do.






Nature’s Rights

The question of nature's rights is not
just a question of who represents
chimps in court,
or how to keep the Japanese from killing whales,
nor is it enough to object
to those who wish to
count every grass blade,
kill odd numbered “pests”
and reduce all plants and animals
to patents owned under the personal province
of bio-profiteers.
 “Total ecosystem management”
is an excuse to turn cells into factories
create genetically engineered fish or cows
and refashion the ethics of slavery
under the guise of environmentalism.
this is no big surprise...

So what are Nature’s Rights?
Do Trees have standing?
Do oceans, deserts, forests or rivers have rights?
The Pileated Woodpecker evolved relative to  forests in North America and its body and beak speak of the existence and scope of these hardwood covered hills in Vermont, Ohio and Oregon. Without dying and fallen trees and the ants and bugs that live in them the Pileated will disappear.
It has a right to these forests. These forests are not merely a resource for humans.
The Godwits developed long beaks to eat worms and crustaceans in the estero mud of salt flats.
The right of godwits grows up from this ecology.
Since we are all animals
humans rights derives from  animal rights
and what applies to you applies to Meer Cats and Geckos.
If human rights derive from animal rights
then animal's rights derive from Nature’s Rights.
Nature's Rights is the basis of all other rights.
Nature's rights derive from he earth itself, as we call came from the seas and share each other's genetic inheritance.
Rights for Africans, Indians and women must extend to wolverines, wombats,
sea stars, algae and the earth itself,
and therefore,
Nature’s Rights evolves
not just out of  the folds of yours and my brain
but comes spinning with weathers
around the earth and
perhaps from the Milky Way’s vast arms,
a huge disc of stars,
turning silently
thousands and thousands of light years across
with our tiny sun revolving with the spinning galaxy
way out on one of those arms.

Look at all the lives on the earth
according to their own terms.
You do not need to give animals rights--
you only need to listen to what they say
their rights are.
If you listen to the forests long enough
you will hear trees claim to legal standing
and you will stop cutting them down.

Have you listened to the Monarch butterfly
speak of its right to Milkweed
as it flies around its pink flowers
each flower like a little star?

Have you listened to the Red Milkweed
speaking of its need of clean water
in the wetlands where it grows?
The health of its leaves,
turning red after flowering
speaks of the water quality.

Monarch Butterfly on Red Milkweed

 Or have you heard the orioles song
as it builds its nest
from last years Milkweed fiber?
Its song sings of its rights,
a fact ignored by ornithologists,
too busy counting and dissecting to listen.
The “Science of Birds” was largely gained
through cruelty to birds,
which brings into question the value
of what is so far known of birds.


Nature's Rights:
(Robins Nesting)

Have you listened to the Robin singing
above its nest full of little ones
and seen her eyes glower
as a cat or human approaches?
Have you seen the look of justice
when the blue jay complains of the hawk
and conspires with the Red Headed woodpecker
to drive it away?---
Inter-species declarations of rights.


Red Headed


Or have you seen when a raccoon approaches a
nest of geese, and the ganders sound an alarm
Lowering their necks in threat?
How the gorillas cry and growl when poachers approach
and the white tail of the deer is flag that flickers
between tree trunks, running,
a flag of alarm,
in so many words saying something like:
“Nazi hunters in Camouflage
have come to kill our babies”. Run, Run.
The hummingbird squeaks a quiet alarm
around its favorite patch of bee balm.
“Do not harm what helps me live” it says.

Killdeer Protecting Eggs

Have you seen how the Killdeer
flashes her orange tail at you
and limps away, pretending injury
so you will not harm her eggs ?
And the Pileated Woodpecker
cries in the morning to its mate
with the sound of a monkey saying
”this is our land,
or –“do not tread on us”.
“Since we share, you share too”.
---And the crows gathering into flocks in the fall
a thousand caws in the oaks of November
all of them saying, together,
this roost is our families roost,
this is the land where we belong,
these are the trees of our awkward songs,
these are the branches of our birth.

Have you watched the poppy’s orange color
announce its right to the fog shrouded hills
when the sun lifts its own orange
out of the grey and blue?
Orange sun and orange flower
meet in a meadow of harmony.
Justice is what comes together
and brings the meeting between.
It is why birds mate
and fox kits play.

Have you seen how the air gives
its rights to the eagle's wings
or how the right to sunlight is shared
by all the forest leaves that feed the trees?
Life is what matters
and that is what death forgets
and why life always wins.
Because death is nothing
and the right to live cries its need
through the forests
and over the islands .

Have you heard
how the cry of gulls calls
over the silver sea,
and how lonely beaches answer back with
seaweed and crab shells?
The earth is talking about its rights
when the forest burgeons in spring
and the question of who adjudicates the rainbow
 is all about listening.

Nature is not about Darwinian dictators
but about hesitant listening.
Listening between leaves, between waves,
listening to owls between the whipoorwills
and the cicada between the acorn falling and
the frog at the waterfall.

Now that I know this:
I don’t eat meat either.
You are not the center of the universe
commanding a Great chain of Being
from the top down., as your grandfathers imagined.
You are nothing more than a breath
across a glorious rainbow
worth all the dew that
plants drink at dawn.
No small thing to be worth as much as
sun on the gold fur of a chipmunk.
Sunlight in a chipmunk's eye shows
what a vast and infinite world she lives in.

Chipmunk's World

Have you seen how the rainbow’s
beauty dignifies the sky
and covers the land under its arch
with a memory of what needs to be?
A mouse startled by rustling leaves
while drinking from a stream
knows more of rights
than surveyors and developers.

Nature had its rights stolen
when people stopped listening
to morning glories
or hearing how the
the land calls forth migrations,
or how traveling warblers
violate all private properties.
Nature’s Rights are not yet found
 in courts or governments.

They are found in the sprouts of ferns
out of the forest floor
or the dust of mushrooms
on the rotting log.
Consider the rights of rotting logs
and the need of detritus and “debris”.
Consider how the right to wing-space
is measured in the flight of
the hummingbird over the Gulf of Mexico.
Measured in wonder
the rights of the hummingbirds are many, many
mountain chains long.

The moon knows more about nature’s rights
than judges.
The tides know more
about winter and summer
than lawyers.
If you want to know what is coming
you need to ask what goes.
If you want to know what right
you have to kill albatrosses
or the mothers of elephants,
ask the sea breeze what dolphins mean
or barnacles about the purpose of kelp.
It is because of killers
Black widows and dart frogs have poison.
If killing stops poison will de-evolve.
Elk  have antlers to defend females and fight off wolves. Antlers defend Nature's Rights.


If you want to know the rights of biomes
or the rights of tortoises
ask islands about the meaning of the sea
or mountains about why terns fly south
or ask the desert night
why macaws have multi-colored feathers.
The right of fish to the river is the same
as the right of your eye to light.
Animals Rights is meaningless
unless you ask the animals
what their rights are.
They have equal standing with us
they are animals like us.
Nature has prior claim to all property.
Just as humans understand human rights
nature announces its own needs.
Listen to their babies cry
just like your babies
watch how they suffer just as
you and your loved ones suffer.
There are no creatures and no creator,
natural beings are self-created.
Nature's rights is about their coexistence.

(Portrait of my Daughter with a Pileated Woodpecker and his Daughter)


If you do not see this
then that is what darkens the world
and explains why the animals are dying
why the fish are gone
the forests cut over
and greedy men sit alone
in minimal rooms, doing accounts,
with no self worth mentioning
nor nature to be seen.

What clouds the issue of rights
is due to what you are not seeing
and what you are not seeing
comes from your refusal to listen.
Nature’s Rights become clear
only when you begin to hear them.
It is not the laws you pass that matters
but the love that is in your listening.

 Good laws will come
only if you begin where
mushrooms rot,
in the humus before gods
grew fangs of false justice--
eons before biologists got a raise.
The human refusal to listen to the rights of non- humans is destroying the earth.

Rights begin
where sea gets salt
where the tree frog sings
between the ears of all your memories.
Rights begin in the fact of your listening,
in the very existence of ears and hearing.




Robin: Dappled Light on the Forest Floor







The Yangtze dam destroyed an area where rare cranes nest and eat. The human development on this river also led to the extinction of the Yangtze River  dolphin, the Baiji.  The ‘Marxist’ Chinese state defined ‘human consciousness’ as excluding the concerns that natural systems, dolphins or birds matter. Perhaps a third of species who thrived in the Yangtze have recently been driven into extinction. These and many other questions arise all over the world.    



    But a body of legal opinion is proposing what are being called "wild laws", which would speak for birds and animals, and even rivers and nature. One of the first was introduced in September, when a community of about 7,000 people in Pennsylvania, in the US, adopted what is called Tamaqua Borough Sewage Sludge Ordinance, 2006.


    It was hardly an event to set the world alight, except for two things: it refuses to recognise corporations' rights to apply sewage sludge to land, but it recognises natural communities and ecosystems within the borough as "legal persons" for the purposes of enforcing civil rights. According to Thomas Linzey, the lawyer from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, who helped draft it, this is historic.


    Imagine if it happened here. Fish, trees, fresh water, or any elements of the environment, would be recognised as having legal rights. Local communities threatened with a damaging development would be able to act to protect their environment by asserting fundamental rights on behalf of the environment, instead of fighting losing battles against landowners' property rights.


    The idea has implications for climate change and other debates. The right of polar bears to exist as part of an intact Arctic community could be asserted in court to obtain injunctions against a range of activities that could infringe that right. The law would also restrict the mandates and powers of public institutions and entities such as companies to do anything that increased greenhouse gas emissions, deeming this to be an infringement not only of human rights, but also of the rights of the whole "Earth community."




The official directives needn’t be explicit to be well understood:  Do not let too much empathy move in unauthorized directions.

—Norman Solomon


The way we are educated and entertained keep us from knowing about or understanding the pain of others . . .

—Robert Jensen



The nonprofit Edge Foundation recently asked some of the world’s most eminent scientists, “What Are You Optimistic About?  Why?”  In response, the prominent neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, cites the proliferating experimental work into the neural mechanisms that reveal how humans are “wired for empathy.”


Iacoboni’s optimism is grounded in his belief that as these recent findings in experimental cognitive science seep into public awareness, “. . . this explicit level of understanding our empathic nature will at some point dissolve the massive belief systems that dominate our societies and that threaten to destroy us.”  (Iacoboni, 2007)


Only five years earlier, Preston and de Waal predicted that science is on the verge of “an ultimate level description that addresses the evolution and function of empathy.”  (Preston, 2002)


While there are reasons to remain circumspect (see below) about the progressive political implications flowing from this work, a body of impressive empirical evidence reveals that the roots of prosocial behavior, including moral sentiments like empathy, precede the evolution of culture.  This work sustains Noam Chomsky’s visionary assertion that while the principles of our moral nature have been poorly understood, “we can hardly doubt their existence or their central role in our intellectual and moral lives.”  (Chomsky, 1971, 1988; 2005)


The emerging field of the neuroscience of empathy parallels investigations being undertaken in cognate fields.  Some forty years ago the celebrated primatologist, Jane Goodall, observed and wrote about chimpanzee emotions, social relationships, and “chimp culture” but experts remained highly skeptical.  Even a decade ago, scientific consensus on this matter was elusive,  but all that’s changed.  According to famed primate scientist Frans B.M. de Waal “You don’t hear any debate now.”  In his more recent work, de Waal plausibly argues that human morality—including our capacity to empathize—is a natural outgrowth or inheritance of behavior from our closest evolutionary relatives.  It’s now indisputable that we share moral faculties with other species.  (de Waal, 2006; Kropotkin, 1902; Trivers, 1971; Katz, 2000; Gintis, 2005; Hauser, 2006)


Following Darwin, highly sophisticated studies by biologists Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson posit that large-scale cooperation within the human species—including with genetically unrelated individuals within a group—was favored by selection.  (Hauser, 2006, p. 416)  There were evolutionary (survival) benefits in coming to grips with others.


If morality is rooted in biology, in the raw material or building blocks for the evolution of its expression, we now have a pending fortuitous marriage of hard science and secular morality in the most profound sense.  The details of the social neuroscientific analysis supporting these assertions lie outside this paper but suffice it to note that it’s persuasive, proliferating, and exciting.  (Jackson, 2004 and 2006; Lamm, 2007)


That said, one of the most vexing problems that remains to be explained is why so little progress has been made in extending this orientation to those outside certain in-group moral circles.  That is, given a world rife with overt and structural violence, one is forced to explain why our moral intuition doesn’t produce a more ameliorating effect, a more peaceful world.  Iacoboni suggests this disjuncture is explained by massive belief systems, including political and religious ones, operating on the reflective and deliberate level.  These tend to override the automatic, pre-reflective, neurobiological traits that should bring people together.


Thus a few cautionary notes are warranted here.  The first, then, is that social context and triggering conditions are everything because where there is conscious and massive elite manipulation, it becomes exceedingly difficult to get in touch with our moral faculties.  As Albert cautions, circumstances may preclude and overwhelm our perceptions, rendering us incapable of recognizing and giving expression to moral sentiments (Albert, n.d.; and also, Pinker, 2002).  For example, the fear-mongering of artificially created scarcity may attenuate the empathic response.


The second is Hauser’s (2006) observation that proximity was undoubtedly a factor in the expression of empathy.  In our evolutionary past “there were no opportunities for altruism at a distance” and therefore the emotional intensity was/is lacking.  This can’t be discounted but,  given some of the positive dimensions of globalization, the potential for identifying with the “stranger” has never been more robust.  For examples of help extended to strangers that wasn’t available in our evolutionary past, including blood donations, Holocaust rescuers, adoption, and filing honest tax returns, see Barber (2004).


Finally, as Preston (2006-2007; and also, in press) suggests, risk and stress tend to suppress empathy whereas familiarity and similarity encourage the experience of natural, reflexive empathy.  This formidable but not insurmountable challenge warrants further research into how this “out-group” identity is created, reinforced, and its influence diluted.


The concept of empathy was first discussed by the German psychologist Theodore Lipps in the 1880s.  He introduced the term “einfuhlung” (in-feeling) as a way of describing one person’s affective response to another person’s experience.


Empathy is not synonymous with compassion, shared suffering or sympathy with another’s pain.  Limited to the former, one would be paralyzed by “over-identification” and the inability to distinguish oneself from the other’s distress.  At a minimum, it requires being able to grasp another’s feeling state, to put oneself in the place of another.  This necessitates making a distinction between self and others by employing the cognitive capacity for detachment in order to act on that perception.  (Hardee, 2003)


We know from neuroscientific empathy experiments that the same affective brain circuits are automatically mobilized upon feeling one’s own pain and the pain of others.  Through brain imaging, we also know that separate neural processing regions then free up the capacity to take action.  As Decety notes, empathy then allows us to “forge connections with people whose lives seem utterly alien from us.”  (Decety, 2007)  Where comparable experience is lacking, this “cognitive empathy” builds on the neural basis and allows one to “actively projects oneself into the shoes of another person,” by trying to imagine the other person’s situation.  (Preston, in press)  Empathy is “other directed” and recognizes the other’s humanity.  But, again, why the disjuncture?  What can we expect from this potentially transforming synthesis?


Hauser, as I read his exposition of a “universal moral grammar,” posits a more neutral or benign process at work.  Given a moral grammar hard wired into our neural circuit via evolution, this neural machinery precedes conscious decisions in life-and-death situations.  However, we observe “nurture entering the picture to set the parameters and guide us toward the acquisition of particular moral systems.”  At other points he suggests that environmental factors can push individuals toward defective moral reasoning, and the various outcomes for a given local culture are virtually limitless.  (Hauser, 2006)  For me, this discussion of cultural variation fails to give sufficient attention to the socioeconomic variables responsible for shaping the culture.


Cohen and Rogers, in parsing Chomsky’s critique of elites, note that “Once an unjust order exists, those benefiting from it have both an interest in maintaining it and, by virtue of their social advantages, the power to do so.”  (For a concise but not uncritical treatment of Chomsky’s social and ethical views, see Cohen, 1991.)


Clearly, the vaunted human capacity for verbal communication cuts both ways.  In the wrong hands, this capacity is often abused by consciously quelling the empathic response.  When de Waal writes, “Animals are no moral philosophers,” I’m left to wonder if he isn’t favoring the former in this comparison.  (de Waal, 2000)


One of the methods employed within capitalist democracies is Chomsky and Herman’s “manufacture of consent,” a form of highly sophisticated thought control.  Potentially active citizens must be “distracted from their real interests and deliberately confused about the way the world works.”  (Cohen, 1991; Chomsky, 1988)


For this essay and following Chomsky, I’m arguing that the human mind is the primary target of this perverse “nurture” or propaganda, in part because exposure to certain new truths about empathy—hard evidence about our innate moral nature—poses a direct threat to elite interests.  That is, given the apparent universality of this biological predisposition toward empathy, we have a potent scientific baseline upon which to launch further critiques of this manipulation.


First, the insidiously effective scapegoating of human nature that claims we are motivated by greedy, dog-eat-dog “individual self-interest is all” is undermined.  Stripped of yet another rationalization for empire, predatory behavior on behalf of the capitalist mode of production becomes ever more transparent.


Second, for many people, the basic incompatibility between global capitalism and the lived expression of moral sentiments may become obvious for the first time.  (Olson, 2006, 2005)  For example, the failure to engage this moral sentiment has radical implications, not the least being consequences for the planet.  Researchers at McGill University (Mikkelson, 2007) have shown that economic inequality is linked to high rates of biodiversity loss.  The authors suggest that economic reforms may be the prerequisite to saving the richness of the ecosystem and urge that “. . . if we can learn to share the economic resources more fairly with fellow members of our own species, it may help to share ecological resources with our fellow species.”  While one hesitates imputing too much transformative potential to this emotional capacity, there is nothing inconsistent about drawing more attention to inter-species empathy and eco-empathy.  The latter may be essential for the protection of biotic communities.


Third, learning about the conscious suppression of this essential core of our human nature begs additional troubling questions about the motives behind other elite-generated ideologies, from neo-liberalism and nationalism to xenophobia and the “war on terror.”  Equally alarming for elites, awareness of this reality contains the potential to encourage “destabilizing” but humanity-affirming cosmopolitan attitudes toward the faceless “other,” both here and abroad.  In de Waal’s apt words, “Empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”


Finally, as de Waal admonishes, “If we could manage to see people on other continents as part of us, drawing them into our circle of reciprocity and empathy, we would be building upon rather than going against our nature.”  (de Waal, 2005)  An ethos of empathy is an essential part of what it means to be human.  We’ve been systematically denied a deeper and more fulfilling engagement with this moral sentiment.  I would argue that, paradoxically, the relative absence of widespread empathic behavior is in fact a searing tribute to its potentially subversive power.


Is it too much to hope that we’re on the verge of discovering a scientifically based, Archimedean moral point from which to lever public discourse toward an appreciation of our true nature, which in turn might release powerful emancipatory forces?



Dana Dunn, Marco Iacoboni, Kathleen Kelly, Stephanie Preston and Joel Wingard provided helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.  Thanks, per usual, to Mickey Ortiz.


Gary Olson, Ph.D., chairs the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.  He may be reached at:  olson@moravian.edu



References Cited



Albert, M.  (n.d.)  “Universal Grammar and Linguistics,” www.zmag.org/Zmag/articles


Barber, N.  (2004)  Kindness in a Cruel World.  New York:  Pantheon, pp. 203-231.


Chomsky, N.  (1971)  Human Nature: Justice versus Power, Noam Chomsky debates Michel Foucault.  www.chomsky.info/debates


Chomsky, N.  (1988)  Language and Problems of Knowledge:  The Managua Lectures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Chomsky, N.  (2005a)  “What We Know,” Boston Review (Summer)


Chomsky, N.  (2005b)  “Universals of Human Nature,” Psychotherapy and Psychomatics, 74.


Chomsky, N., Herman, E.  (1988)  Manufacturing Consent:  The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  New York:  Pantheon.


Cohen, J., Rogers, J.  (1991)  “Knowledge, Morality and Hope: The Social Thought of Noam Chomsky,” New Left Review, 187, pp. 5-27.


Decety, J.  (2006)  “Mirrored Emotion,” Interview, The University of Chicago Magazine, 94, 4, pp. 1-9.


de Waal, F.B.M.  (1996)  Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Primates and Other Animals.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


de Waal, F.B.M.  (2006)  Primates and Philosophers:  How Morality Evolved.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


de Waal, F.B.M.  (2005-06)  “The Evolution of Empathy,” Greater Good, Fall-Winter, pp. 8-9.


Gintis, H., Bowles, S., Boyd, R., and Fehr, E.  (2004)  “Explaining altruistic behavior in humans,” Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, pp. 153-172.


Gintis, H., Bowles, S., Boyd, R., and Fehr, E.  (2005)  Moral Sentiments and Material Interests.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Hardee, J. T.  (2003)  “An Overview of Empathy,” The Permanente Journal, 7, 4, pp. 1-10.


Hauser, M. D.  (2006a)  Moral Minds,  New York: Harper Collins.


Hauser, M. D.  (2006b)  “The Bookshelf Talks with Marc Hauser,” American Scientist www.americanscientist.org


Iacoboni, M.  (2007)  “Neuroscience Will Change Society,” EDGE, The World Question Center.   http:www.edge.org/q2007pp14-15


Jackson, P. L., Meltzoff, A. N., and Decety, J.  (2004)  “How do we perceive the pain of others?” Neuroimage, 125, pp. 5-9.


Jackson, P. L., Rainville, P., and Decety, J.  (2006)  “To what extent do we share the pain of others?”  PAIN, 125, pp. 5-9.


Jensen, R.  (3/20/02)  “The Politics of Pain and Pleasure.”  Counterpunch.


Katz, L. D., ed.  (2000)  Evolutionary Origins of Morality.  Bowling Green, OH: Imprint Academic.


Kropotkin, P.  1972 (1902)  Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution.  New York: New York University Press.


Lamm, C., Batson, C., and Decety, J.  (2007)  “The Neural Substrate of Human Empathy: Effects of Perspective-taking and Cognitive Appraisal,” Journal of Cognitive Neural Science, 19: 1, pp. 42-58.


Mikkelson, G. M., Gonzalez, A., and Peterson, G. D.  (2007)  “Economic Inequality Predicts Biodiversity Loss,” PLoS ONE 2 (5):e444.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000444.


Olson, G.  (2005)  “Scapegoating Human Nature,” ZNet, 11/30/05.


Olson, G.  (2006)  “Graduates face choice between love or ‘selling out.’”  ZNet Commentary.


Pinker, S.  (2002)  The Blank Slate.  New York: Viking.


Preston, S. and de Waal, F.B.M.  (2002)  “Empathy:  Its ultimate and proximate bases,” Behavior and Brain Sciences, 25, pp. 1-72.


Preston, S.  (2006-2007)  “Averting the Tragedy of the Commons,” SHIFT, 13, pp. 25-28.


Preston, S., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Grabowski, T. J., Stansfield, S. M., and Damasio, A. R.  (in press)  “The Neural Substrates of Cognitive Empathy.”  Social Neuroscience.


Solomon, N.  (4/17/03)  “Media and the Politics of Empathy,” Media Beat.


Trivers, R.  (1971)  “The evolution of reciprocal altruism,” Quarterly Review of Biology, 46, pp. 35-57.



November 16, 2007

Wheat Biopiracy The Real Issues the Government is Avoiding

By Vandana Shiva

The epidemic of biopiracy is an assault on our living heritage of biodiversity and cumulative innovation embodied in the traditional knowledge of agriculture and medicine. In the long run, it determines livelihoods and economic sovereignty because what is commonly available becomes an ?intellectual property? of a company for which royalty must be paid.

It is the governments duty to protect the resources and heritage of the country and prevent its usurpation by foreign interests and commercial corporations. The governments affidavit is in effect arguing that the government will allow the theft of our heritage and the public good that belongs to the Indian people.

The moment a patent is taken on plants and seeds derived from Indian biological resources, biopiracy have occurred. Challenging and stopping such biopiracy is the duty of government. The governments repeated failure to legally challenge biopiracy has forced the petitioner to take up such challenges on behalf of the Indian people, and to protect the public interest and the national interest.

Biopiracy refers to the use of intellectual property systems to legitimize the exclusive ownership and control over biological resource and biological products and processes that have been used over centuries in non-industrialized cultures. Patent claims over biodiversity and indigenous knowledge that are based on the innovation, creativity and genius of the people of the Third World are acts of ?biopiracy?. Since a ?patent? is given for invention, a biopiracy patent denies the innovation embodied in indigenous knowledge. The rush to grant patents and reward invention has led corporations and governments in the industrialized world to ignore the centuries of cumulative, collective innovation of generations of rural communities.

A patent is an exclusive right to make, sell and distribute the patented product. Patents on biodiversity imply that corporations who own patents get exclusive rights to the production and distribution of seeds, livestock and medicine. This establishes monopolies on food and health, makes it illegal for farmers to save and exchange seed, and prevents decentralized, pluralistic economies for the production of food and medicine. It also encourages ?Biopiracy? or theft of our indigenous knowledge.

The new IPR laws embodied in the TRIPs agreement of WTO have unleashed an epidemic of the piracy of nature's creativity and millennia of indigenous innovation. RFSTE/ Navdanya started the campaign against biopiracy with the Neem Campaign in 1994 and mobilized 1,00,000 signatures against neem patents and filed a legal opposition against the USDA and WR Grace patent on the fungicidal properties of neem (no. 436257 B1) in the European Patent Office (EPO) at Munich, Germany. Along with RFSTE, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) of Germany and Ms. Magda Alvoet, former Green Member of the European Parliament were party to the challenge. The patent on Neem was revoked in May 2000 and it was reconfirmed on 8th March 2005 when the EPO revoked in entirety the controversial patent, and adjudged that there was "no inventive step" involved in the fungicide patent, thus confirming the ?prior art? of the use of Neem.

In 1998, Navdanya started a campaign against Basmati biopiracy (Patent No. 5663484) of a US company RiceTec. On Aug 14th 2001 Navdanya achieved another victory against biopiracy and patent on life when the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revoked a large section of the patent on Indian Basmati rice by the US corporations RiceTec Inc. These included (i) the generic title of the RiceTec patent No. 5663484, which earlier referred to Basmati rice lines; (ii) the sweeping and false claims of RiceTec having `invented?, traits of rice seeds and plants including plant height, grain length, aroma which are characteristics found in our traditional Basmati varieties and (iii) claims to general methods of breeding which was also piracy of traditional breeding done by farmers and our scientists (of the 20 original claims only three narrow ones survived).

The next major victory against biopiracy for Navdanya came in October 2004 when the European Patent Office in Munich revoked Monsanto?s patent on the Indian variety of wheat ?Nap Hal?. This was the third consecutive victory on the IPR front after Neem and Basmati, making it the third consecutive victory. This was made possible under the Campaign against Patent on Life as well as against Biopiracy respectively. MONSANTO, the biggest seed corporation, was assigned a patent (EP 0445929 B1) on wheat on 21 May 2003 by the European Patent Office in Munich under the simple title ?plants?. On January 27th 2004 Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) along with Greenpeace and Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS) filed a petition at the European Patent Office (EPO), Munich, challenging the patent rights given to Monsanto on Indian landrace of wheat, Nap Hal. The patent was revoked in October 2004 and it once again established the fact that the patents on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources are based on biopiracy and there is an urgent need to ban all patents on life and living organisms including biodiversity, genes and cell lines.

Through citizen actions, we have won three-biopiracy battles and have thus contributed to the defense of farmers' rights, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. Navdanya?s focus on collective, cumulative innovation embodied in indigenous knowledge has created a worldwide movement for the defence of the intellectual rights of communities.

Our challenge in the EPO forced the EPO to recognize that Monsanto?s ?Naphal? patent was a biopiracy patent. Instead of challenging the US patents on ?Naphal?, the government is making excuses to avoid performing its duty. It seems instead to be wanting to help the biopirates in their biopiracy.

The weak excuses the government has given are:

Patent EPO 445929 is not valid in India, and it has no adverse impact, therefore no action is to be taken. (p 1.4) (The petitioner is fully aware that the EU patent is not valid in India. But the EU patent was given for a variety derived from Indian genetic material. Hence, we needed to intervene. The EPO recognized that the patent was based on biopiracy. However, the government is refusing to admit what the EPO has already admitted.

The US Patent No. 5763741 on a variety derived from an Indian variety with claims covering the unique properties of the Indian variety need not be challenged because the patent expires on 18th February 2010. A theft is a theft. Whether the patent expires 2007 or 2010 is not the issue. The main issue is that the properties and traits which Monsanto is claiming as their ?creation? are derived from an Indian variety. This is relevant not just for this variety but for the hundreds of thousands of India?s traditional varieties. Tomorrow Monsanto will claim patents on varieties derived from our salt tolerant varieties, or our flood resistant varieties, or draught resistant varieties.

A broad patent on varietal traits derived from traditional Indian varieties is an act of biopiracy in itself. If such trends continue, and precedence is established that Indian biodiversity is up for grabs we will loose our heritage and economic sovereignty. That is why precedence must be established by challenging biopiracy. The petitioner has done it in the case of the EU patent. The government must do so at least in the case of the US patent.






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