Rights of Nature is a rapidly growing global movement designed to protect our environment. The ideas that would become this movement began in 1972, when University of Southern California law professor Christopher Stone’s article, Should Trees Have Standing – Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects was published.
Rights of Nature Law allows rivers, mountains, and ecosystems to have legal rights. The law addresses our dysfunctional economic system and the legal, social and political frameworks that are destroying people and planet. This movement changes our worldview from Nature as property to be owned to the right of Nature to be protected.
In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to create a Rights of Nature law in their constitution. Rights of Nature is now recognized in Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Mexico, and even in some communities in our country. National, state, regional and community governments and Indigenous communities are discussing Rights of Nature laws. Law schools in the United States and internationally have courses on ecocentric law.
Despite the passage of thousands of environmental laws in recent decades, environmental health continues to decline as a result of biodiversity loss, deforestation, destruction of rivers and watersheds, climate change impacts, fossil fuel use, and pollution. Instead of protecting the environment, current laws legalize harm to Nature by regulating how much pollution or destruction can occur within the law. Under these laws, Nature has no standing.
Our economic system treats Nature as a commodity and exploits it extensively for short-term profits. This exploitation has led to Nature’s global degradation. Current environmental laws treat Nature as human property. They reduce but don’t halt or reverse environmental degradation by permitting resource extraction, waste discharge, habitat destruction, and species extinction to continue.
To stop climate crisis and start living sustainably, our worldview has to change from thinking Earth’s living systems are commodities to recognizing Nature’s rights. We cannot escape being impacted by climate crisis and the degradation of our environment. What we do to Nature, we do to ourselves.
Given the gravity and speed of climate change, we need to immediately adopt transformative ideas like Rights of Nature laws. The prevailing belief we are separate from Nature only furthers a destructive relationship to the natural world. It’s time for a new way of thinking about and relating to Nature.
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