Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, has already made great strides in medicine: He’s the one who discovered that chickens turn you gay. Now he’s applying that innovation to legislation, saving the environment by declaring nature to have rights equal to people. The law would act as a bill of rights for nature, including the right to exist free of human alteration, the right not to be polluted, and the right "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities."

Yeah, it sounds good in theory, and it’s based on beliefs about nature from Bolivia’s indigenous cultures. (We’ll pass lightly over the wisdom of making laws based on spiritual beliefs.) But Bolivia has a history of paying lip service to nature with one face, and opposing functional, workable improvements with the other.

For instance: At a climate summit in Cancun this past December, Bolivia tried to obstruct an agreement that would have provided financial incentives for forest protection. The reasoning? It would “turn nature into a commodity.” But Bolivia’s 2009 revenues from deforestation-based industries — natural gas, timber, soybeans — totaled over $5 billion. And needless to say, blocking forest protections isn’t really the way to protect forests. In fact, it sounds like it might be the way to protect $5 billion.

Still, the Guardian reports: "While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries." So there might be real progress on the way.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.