Revolutionizing Environmental Law: Exploring the Rights of Nature Movement
The global momentum supporting efforts to enshrine rights for rivers, species and ecosystems has been building for more than a decade. It feels like there is a new report or story in the press on a weekly basis, if not daily. From Florida to Washington State to Cape Cod to Ecuador, New Zealand, India, England and beyond, the movement around Rights of Nature is burgeoning around the planet. If you’re a long-time reader of this newsletter, you’re likely at least familiar with the concept, but for many, even those well-steeped in environmental activism, this revolutionary approach arguing that nature should have legal standing turns the page on traditional notions of environmental law.
Briefly stated, the current system of environmental regulations and their enforcement in this country (and around the world) are only as strong as the legislation and the mindset they sprang from. Advocates of a Rights of Nature approach hold that this system is doing nothing more than attempting to regulate the pace and scale of ecological destruction. The recent approval of the Willow Project in Alaska is a reminder that the government oversight of land and water was designed to ease and support resource extraction from the start, and it was only later that regulations regarding environmental harm were added to the mix. Imbuing natural systems, features and species with specific legal rights and standing changes the game, theoretically giving nature the right to literally have her day in court.
Giving nature legal standing challenges many core tenants of Western society and makes a variety of players in the system deeply uncomfortable. These are not minor distinctions being made; rather the Rights of Nature movement is truly revolutionary, with all the danger, drama, contradictions and passion that come with revolutionary movements. In this newsletter, we dip into the growing river of activity, highlighting projects, opinions, news and perspectives to support our collective understanding of this building movement.
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Opinion: Rights of Nature Is a Logical Extension of the American Legal System
“The line between harm to humanity and harm to Nature is non-existent. Despite our enormous capacity to create and destroy, we humans are not separate from our natural environment.”
Britt Gondolfi has supported Bioneers Rights of Nature initiatives by researching the intersections of tribal sovereignty and federal Indian law. In this opinion piece, she details why nature should have rights, and how Tribal Courts are taking the matter into their own hands.
Rights of Nature at Bioneers 2023
Learn more about Rights of Nature at Bioneers 2023 with a film screening and a panel session.
“Does Nature Have Rights?” is a short film that shows frontline Ecuadorian conservationists invoking the “Rights of Nature” clause in their nation’s constitution to work to save areas of immense biodiversity.
In the “International Perspectives on Rights of Nature in Tribal Law” panel, we’ll hear from Indigenous leaders whose tribes have adopted Rights of Nature frameworks to protect sacred territories. They will share practical strategies for organizing and implementing Rights of Nature campaigns within international legal frameworks. Join us to learn more about the movement, and how you can be a part of it.
Dan Wildcat on Rights of Nature
“I think we need to recognize that the most important thing that we have to disabuse ourselves of in the modern world is this false dichotomy between nature and culture.”
Dan Wildcat, Ph.D., discusses what we need to do to save Mother Earth, beginning with changing our view of our place on the Earth in this speech from the Bioneers Indigenous Forum.
Bioneers Rights of Nature Project
Rights of Nature is a global movement to protect nature (rivers, mountains, and entire ecosystems and the life forms supported within them) by recognizing its legal rights. Just as humans and corporations are considered to “have rights,” this legal strategy grants rights to nature itself. These frameworks turn the existing property rights-based paradigm upside down and offer a powerful basis and strategy to conserve lands and communities. They also offer a radically different worldview: the right of nature to exist, persist, flourish and evolve.
Rights of Nature legal frameworks could hold important keys to shifting the system and transforming the law from treating nature as property to a rights-bearing entity on whose behalf people have legal standing as trustees. Bioneers is partnering with a variety of Native allies and organizations to explore these alternative legal strategies to “occupy the law.” Bioneers is partnering with a variety of Native allies and organizations to explore these alternative legal strategies to “occupy the law.”
Urban Tilth: Transforming Soil in a City of Industry for Urban Farming
In At Home on an Unruly Planet, science journalist Madeline Ostrander reflects on the climate crisis not as an abstract scientific or political problem, but as a palpable force that is now affecting all of us at home. She offers vivid accounts of people fighting to protect places they love from increasingly dangerous circumstances. This excerpt details the struggle of creating a farm on land that was previously home to an oil refinery in Richmond, California.
Register for Bioneers 2023 Conference to see Madeline Ostrander as a panelist and purchase her book here.
Bioneers 2023 Conference Media Partner: San Francisco Public Press
Check out these recent print and audio pieces from our friends at the San Francisco Public Press: California Indian Tribes Denied Resources for Decades as Federal Acknowledgement Lags They air our Bioneers radio show every Wednesday at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on their radio station KSFP 102.5 FM and streaming at KSFP.fm. You can find their investigative reporting and solutions journalism at SFPublicPress.org – Sign up for their free newsletter here, so you’ll be the first to access upcoming reporting on sea level rise and building on the bay and their “Civic” podcast.
Other Projects Focusing on Rights of Nature:
- Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights | CDER hopes to build a global movement for democratic and environmental rights.
- Center for Earth Jurisprudence | The mission of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence is to advance law, policy, and governance systems aimed to legally protect the sustainability of life and health on Earth.
- Movement Rights | Movement Rights is founded on the idea that we must align human law (and culture) with the laws of the natural world.
- Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature | The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is a global network of organizations and individuals committed to the universal adoption and implementation of legal systems that recognize, respect and enforce “Rights of Nature.”
More on Rights of Nature:
- River Ouse May Become First in England to Gain Legal Rights | Lewes council passes a motion recognizing Sussex River’s rights to protection, amid growing concerns over pollution of waterways.
- Eduardo Mendúa, Ecuadorian Who Fought Oil Extraction on Indigenous Land, Is Shot to Death | The proposed expansion of petroleum operations on Amazon rainforest territory belonging to the A’i Cofan people has divided Indigenous locals.
- What Would Happen If the Environment Was Recognised as a Legal Person? | Giving nature and the environment the same legal rights as humans is gaining ground as a new strategy to protect them from disaster.
- ‘Rights of Nature’ Movement Gains Steam in Pacific Northwest. Can It Help Species on the Brink? | Tribes and environmental groups fight for the recognition of the Rights of Nature movement in the Pacific Northwest.