It was September 2022. In an event room at the Rockefeller Foundation headquarters in New York City, a group of extraordinary people gathered, including philosophers, lawyers, scientists, writers, artists. They were brought together by the More Than Human Rights (MOTH) Project, an interdisciplinary initiative linked to NYU that promotes reflection on why the conception of rights shouldn’t only apply to humans, but also to flora, fauna and fungi.
Among those present were figures such as Andrea Wulf, the German author of The Invention of Nature, a magnificent biography of Alexander von Humboldt; the English writer Robert Macfarlane, considered to be one of the greatest exponents of nature literature; the musician Cosmo Sheldrake (also English), who has recorded albums with the sounds of whales and birds in danger of extinction; the famous Chilean mycologist Giuliana Furci, director of the Fungi Foundation and advocate that — in the understanding of the macroscopic diversity of life — flora and fauna should be integrated with “funga,” the kingdom of fungi that allows the interconnection between all the organisms; the Colombian jurist César Rodríguez-Garavito, director of MOTH, as well as two renowned Ecuadorian lawyers, Agustín Grijalva and Ramiro Ávila. The latter two are former judges who sat on the Constitutional Court, the highest judicial body in Ecuador. Lately, emblematic cases about the rights of nature have been heard in this court. “I was obsessed with declaring that non-human entities whose cases reached the Court should be endowed with rights,” Ávila affirms.
To attend this meeting, all guests had to submit a text on the major topic in question, as observed from their respective disciplines. One document that was mailed in was the sentence handed down in the exemplary case of a forest. Los Cedros Protective Forest is a reserve of 6,000 hectares of a tropical ecosystem, located northwest of the Andes mountain range, in the Ecuadorian province of Imbabura. The nature reserve’s geography — which ranges from 3,000 to 9,000 feet in altitude — is crossed by four rivers and is home to jaguars, monkeys, reptiles, amphibians, 309 species of birds, 236 types of orchids and 600 species of moths… in addition to an entire universe of fungi. Today, it’s owned by the state, but in 1988, the land was purchased by Josef DeCoux, an American environmentalist who once managed the scientific station that lies at the heart of the reserve.