A beautiful thing about democracy is that it is inherently self-correcting. Democratic constitutions survive because they change with the times. They adapt to new environments. That’s why they’re called “amendments” to the constitution. Chile is joining a wave of constitutional change in South America to adapt to the changing climate and protect its biodiversity.
An ecological constitution
Environmentalist delegates in Chile’s assembly have until July fifth to hammer out the changes they propose for the country’s constitution. The changes aim to address issues like climate change, toxic pollution, and a loss of biodiversity.
The ideas in the new constitution are very similar to those of Ecuador and Panama’s recent legislation on the Rights of Nature. This includes the education and empowerment of citizens to defend nature, the rights of animals and nature to exist and regenerate, and the rights for nature’s legal representation.
Chile’s current constitution was created in 1980 and emphasizes privatization and deregulation of certain sectors, like the private buying and selling of water rights in perpetuity. While this carte blanche attitude toward capitalism has enabled some in the country to succeed economically, progressives and environmentalists argue that it has contributed to the country’s wealth inequality and greatly harmed the environment. Much of Chile’s wealth comes from the mining of minerals like copper and lithium, the pollution from which has harmed many low-income communities. The Chilean people have responded with protests demanding constitutional change.
“We need to end as soon as possible the obscenity of the so-called sacrifice zones. There are thousands of people sacrificing their health and lives to allow others to have a comfortable life,” said Patricia Politzer, a Chilean journalist elected to the assembly as an independent. “I think the protection of nature will become the backbone of the new constitution…allowing for an environmental perspective to influence all institutions.”
Poised to make a change
Things actually look good for the vote to change the constitution. Progressives and delegates in support of environmentalism make up the majority of the 155 delegates in the assembly. The Chilean Assembly also has 17 seats reserved for Indigenous community representatives, who would be expected to vote for the constitutional change. Similar legislation in other neighboring countries empowers the environmental stewardship of Indigenous communities, respecting their culture and ties to the land.
The green enlightenment continues to make constitutional changes in South America, with Chile set to be the latest step in a journey to preserve biodiversity and our environment.