FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Rights of Nature

“When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, women, indigenous peoples, and slaves were treated as property, without rights.”

This isn’t over yet. In the same vein of exploitative ignorance, we’re still treating a living, life-sustaining, crucial being as property: the ecosystem. And in the process, we’re choking our own habitat — that is to say, ourselves — to death.

But as Mari Margil, who is quoted above, points out: “. . . that is beginning to change, thanks to the Rights of Nature movement.”

It’s happening, literally, all around the world. It began more than a decade ago, in South America, when Ecuador and then Bolivia gave constitutional recognition to Pachamama — Mother Earth — declaring that she has the right to live. And the movement continues to bubble, at levels both national and local.

Sweden, for instance, has recently proposed a constitutional amendment giving nature the right to “exist, flourish, regenerate and evolve.” And tribespeople and municipalities all across the planet are demanding that legal personhood be recognized for imperiled natural resources: the Klamath River in California; the River Frome in England; the Whanganui River in New Zealand; even Lake Erie (the Great Lake whose waves caressed my childhood), long poisoned by toxic agricultural runoff, which has spurred voters in Toledo, Ohio, to pass a Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

This is just a sampling of the demands being made for governmental acknowledgement of the need for environmental sanity, which, of course, is only part of the global climate movement. Indeed, it’s more than just clenched fists and protests in the streets. These actions create specific and immediate changes, forcing the world’s legal systems to broaden the contexts in which they function. Yet the movement is also paradoxical almost to the point of absurdity: giving rivers, lakes, Mother Nature herself, the same sort of legal status that . . . corporations have?

This thrusts nature, as Margil writes, “into the murky realm of legal personhood.” The prime strangeness about all this is the implicit assumption that “the law” in some way has conceptual dominion over Lake Erie or the Klamath River or Pachamama and can choose (or choose not) to give a particular ecosystem, which sustains life itself, the right to exist.

In no way do I mean this observation as a criticism of the movement itself. There is no simple course of action when you are trying to open a cage while you’re locked inside of it. Demanding legal protection — legal credibility — for an ecosystem is both pragmatic in the short term and ingeniously subversive in the long term, because it yanks open both judicial and public awareness of the fact that maintaining a well-balanced, functioning global environment is a human responsibility, not to mention the only way we have a hope of surviving.

Matthew Green, writing at Reuters about the residents of the town of Frome, a hundred miles west of London, whose residents are petitioning the British government to grant “legal personhood” to the river that flows through it, put it this way:

In throwing down this gauntlet, the town has joined a global ‘rights of nature’ movement linking river basins in New Zealand to rainforests in South America and towns in the U.S. Midwest. In each case, communities are reimagining ways to harness the law to defend the Earth’s living tissues, and the places they call home. Some have dubbed it Mother Earth’s MeToo moment.

This is the essence of our perilous new times: the need to harness not nature but the law! We need to harness, in short, ourselves.

“This is much bigger than just wanting to punish people for doing something wrong,” said Peter Macfadyen, a leader in the struggle to gain legal recognition for the River Frome, as quoted by Reuters. “It’s about trying to change a mindset about the environment in which we live.”

Amen. The Rights of Nature movement, as it tinkers with governmental bureaucracies on every continent, is about ushering humanity back onto a living planet. This is where we used to live. This is where the indigenous people of the world still live.

A living planet! What does that even mean? Perhaps we can relearn.

“One way to rediscover the practices that helped Homo sapiens survive for over 200,000 years is to pay more attention to indigenous wisdom and traditional place-based knowledge (where it has not already been completely lost),” wrote Daniel Christian Wahl at Medium.com. “Indigenous human cultures are an expression of generations of co-evolution of humans within the ecosystems they inhabited.

. . . Indigenous worldviews around the planet share a common perspective: the world is alive and meaningful and our relationship with the rest of life is one of participation, communion and co-creation.”

Can the “civilized” — non-indigenous — branch of humanity step beyond its arrogance and learn from its own past, which it has been trying for several millennia to dismiss? Wahl believes it’s possible for the world to “re-indigenize.

“Even in the so-called ‘developed world’ much of the traditional knowledge of how to meet needs within the limits of biologically regenerative resources of the region was still predominant only 150 years ago,” he writes. “That is only a few generations! If we re-value what that knowledge and indigenous wisdom holds for us, we can recover much of it and blend indigenous wisdom in creative ways with the best of modern technology and science.”

When we begin consciously and systematically doing this, we can, indeed we will have to, let go of the concept the Rights of Nature, because it implies that nature is something separate from human beings. This seems true only when we are caged in our ignorance. In reality, we’re all in this together, co-evolving.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 20, 2020
Katie Fite
How the Military is Raiding Public Lands and Civilian Spaces Across the Western Front
Nicholas Levis
Bloomberg is the Equal Evil
David Swanson
Shut Down Canada Until It Solves Its War, Oil, and Genocide Problem
Thomas Knapp
Freedom for $5.30…and This Time Mexico Really is Paying for It
Nick Pemberton
Mr. Sanders: Would You like Your Coffee Without Cream, or Without Milk?
Rachel M. Fazio
A Trillion Trees in Rep. Westerman’s Hands Means a Trillion Stumps
Jeff Mackler
Break With Two-Party Capitalist Duopoly!
Rebecca Gordon
Impunity Guaranteed for Torturers (and Presidents)
Jacob Hornberger
The CIA’s Role in Operation Condor
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Let Rome Burn
Jen Pelz
Reforming Expectations to Save Western Rivers
Maria Paez Victor
Canada Trapped By Its Own Folly
stclair
Pardoning Julian Assange: Trump, WikiLeaks and the DNC
Mel Gurtov
Poor Bill Barr
February 19, 2020
Ishmael Reed
Social Media: The New Grapevine Telegraph
David Schultz
Bernie Sanders and the Revenge of the Superdelegates
Kenneth Surin
Modi’s India
Chris Floyd
Which Side Are You On?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Hysteria Isn’t Killing Nuclear Power
Dave Lindorff
Truly Remaking Social Security is the Key to Having a Livable Society in the US
ANIS SHIVANI
Bloomberg on Bloomberg: The Selected Sayings of the Much-Awaited Establishment Messiah
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Occupations: The UN Business “Black List” and Israel’s Settlements
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s Extradition Case: Critical Moment for the Anti-war Movement
Howard Lisnoff
The Wealth That’s Killing Us Will Save Us: Politics Through the Looking-Glass
Yves Engler
Canada, Get Out of the Lima Group, Core Group and OAS
Nick Licata
The Rule of Law Under Trump
Sam Gordon
A Treatise on Trinities
Nino Pagliccia
Open Letter to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Lima Group Meeting
John Kendall Hawkins
Just Two Kings Talking
February 18, 2020
John Pilger
Julian Assange Must be Freed, Not Betrayed
Peter Harrison
Religion is a Repeating Chapter in the History of Politics
Norman Solomon
The Escalating Class War Against Bernie Sanders
Conn Hallinan
Irish Elections and Unification
Dean Baker
We Shouldn’t Have to Beg Mark Zuckerberg to Respect Democracy
Sam Pizzigati
A Silicon Valley Life Lesson: Money That ‘Clumps’ Crushes
Arshad Khan
Minority Abuse: A Slice of Life in Modi’s India
Walden Bello
China’s Economy: Powerful But Vulernable
Nicolas J S Davies
Afghan Troops say Taliban are Brothers and War is “Not Really Our Fight.”
Nyla Ali Khan
The BJP is Not India, and Every Indian is Not a Modi-Devotee
Binoy Kampmark
Buying Elections: The Bloomberg Meme Campaign
Jonah Raskin
Purgatory Under the Patriarchy
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Herakles in the Age of Climate Chaos
Bob Topper
The Conscience of a Conservative
John W. Whitehead
We’re All in This Together
Gala Pin
Bodies in Freedom: a Barcelona Story
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail