”By recognizing nature’s rights in law, we can shift the patterns that makes environmental destruction commonplace”


Speech by Pella Thiel – WWF’s Environmental Hero of the Year 2019 for her work for biodiversity

Speech in Swedish by Pella Thiel, at WWF Sweden’s ceremony on Oct 11th, 2019
in attendance of His Majesty of Sweden King Carl XVI Gustaf


Above all, I want to thank Nature, of course, that gives me and all of us everything we need – all we need to drink, all we need to eat, what we wear, the materials with which we build our houses.

I also want to thank the movement which works day and night, out of love for Life, for Nature, and does so tirelessly, without any awards, sometimes without being able to pay their bills, some even risking their lives.

And this happens due to a fundamental misconception in our culture. An assumption regarding the place of humanity in the world, that has been around for so long it seems hard or even impossible to escape. Magnus Carlson, my fellow award recipient, who will come up to this podium very soon, has written a song with the same name as this assumption: “Disconnected from the World”.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, for over two thousand years, we in the Western world have lived according to the idea that we are separate from nature. However, this has never been true. This assumption does not hold up to scrutiny. When we have breakfast, or just take the next breath, then we know that it is not true. However – all our policy, laws and institutions are rooted in the idea of separation between humans and nature. We have lived with this idea for about a hundred generations, for so long that we have forgotten it. We have almost forgotten that we have forgotten that we are part of Nature. Therefore, we take for granted that companies have rights, but not forests, seas or woodpeckers.

Today, we live with the consequences of this world-view. Extinction of species, climate change and disruption in all living systems of the Earth, as Fridays For Future have shown so powerfully, and that WWF have addressed for so long.

In his song, Magnus  sings “It’s panic out there in the streets”.
“ I want you to feel panic”, Greta Thunberg says.

I agree. It is time to panic. So we begin to act.

The word panic means “that which comes from Pan”; the Greek god, the trickster, the rascal, who also is associated with nature. The god of forests and meadows. He who mischievously turns things upside down.

If we shall be able to make a transition to a culture in harmony with nature, then we probably now must turn things upside down. We need to rethink humanity’s place on earth. And that’s hopeful, in a way. For we have hardly begun to do that. What becomes possible if we do, if we begin to see humans as a part of the world?

There are still people who know that this is the way it is. The world’s indigenous peoples have never forgotten. They are also the pioneers of the idea that nature has rights, which is the idea that I represent here today. This is an idea with potential to be the required change-maker. By recognizing nature’s rights in law, we can shift the patterns that makes environmental destruction commonplace. We can regulate ourselves, as if we were a part of the Earth’s living systems.

When I began to work with the Rights of Nature, it seemed like a utopian idea. That is also what everyone said to me: “yes, this seems very exciting, but… it is completely impossible!”. I could not myself have imagined, not even in my wildest dreams, how quickly this impossible idea would start to happen. Today, courts, parliaments and local administrations in many countries, like Colombia, Ecuador, USA,  New Zealand and Uganda, have given legal rights to rivers, forests and lakes. The World Council of Churches, an organization that represents half a billion Christians, now calls for a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in the United Nations.

Now that I receive this prestigious award, I represent a global movement of many many voices. Some human and many more-than-human. This is grand. Let me say how grateful we are that World Wildlife Fund have given this movement their support in Sweden, now recognized by this unique award.

On behalf of all these voices – my deepest thanks.