Ecuador has become the first nation in the world to grant constitutional rights to the natural environment.
On Sept. 28, the country voted for a new constitution that - among changes to education, social security and elections - gives many of the same rights to rivers, forests, plants and animals as it does to people.
"Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve," the legislation states. "... It shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorean governments, communities and individuals to enforce those rights ... [and]every person, people, community or nationality will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature."
Therefore, people do not have to claim damage to themselves or their property in order to file a claim against those that harm the environment.
"As a constitutional measure, this is groundbreaking," says Theresa McClenaghan of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
But the motivation may be far more practical than sentimental: Ecuador has often been stuck with the bill to clean up the mess left by foreign oil and mining companies. It is still trying to extract compensation from Texaco, which it accuses of dumping more than 17 million tonnes of petroleum waste into the rain forest in an area known as the "Amazonian Chernobyl."
GRAND THEFT SOLAR
Californian cities may be renowned - in video games at least - for auto theft, but newspapers reported a different kind of crime this month: the stealing of solar panels.
Energy costs are soaring and the American economic future looks, to say the least, unstable. Solar panels cost tens of thousands of dollars to install, but, once in place, provide free energy. So it is understandably tempting to try to get something for nothing, especially in California, where the state's Million Solar Roofs initiative has seen installations soar over the past few years to more than 30,000 panels statewide.
Fortunately, the solar industry has been working on new kinds of panels that would be cheaper to build and easier to install, and would - coincidentally - also be harder to steal.
With a recession looming, environmentalists fear that climate change will be neglected as governments scramble to rescue the ailing economy.
But dealing with one issue does not have to mean abandoning the other. A United Nations report says climate change and economic development "cannot be addressed separately" and dealing with both can be done only by the creation of "green jobs."
The Green Jobs Initiative - launched by the UN Environment Program and trade and labour organizations - argues that investment in environmentally friendly sectors such as public transportation, waste recycling and renewable-energy generation is the best way to propel long-term job creation and improve conditions for the billion people worldwide who live in poverty.
The global market is estimated to be worth $1.37-trillion (U.S.) and is projected to double by 2020. Some of the biggest areas of growth are in developing countries. For example, solar technology employs 600,000 people in China, where green ventures account for 19 per cent of total investment.
In particular, the UN report calls for a greater focus on "decent" work, noting that jobs in the environmental sectors in developing countries are often dangerous and unhealthy. Recycling and waste management in China employs ten million people, but because it is usually done at a small fraction of the cost as in developed nations (often illegally and by hand), recyclers are frequently exposed to extremely dangerous levels of chemicals and heavy metals.
Governments are moving on an unprecedented scale to prevent bank failures and stimulate the stock markets. But "imagine if some of those stimulus packages could be targeted towards not maintaining the old economy of the 20th century but investing in the new economy of the 21st century," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.
For example, the report says an investment of $630-billion - just shy of the $700-billion U.S. rescue package - through to 2030 could create at least 20 million jobs in the renewable-energy sector.
Zoe Cormier is a science writer based in London.