Out here on the iconoclastic fringes of political discourse in the U.S. you encounter references to The Rights of Nature on a fairly regular basis. That's a good thing, but not nearly good enough. The concept is not at all hard to grasp, it's just that vast numbers of people may not care to reflect on how they interact or are effected by such a meme.
Let's start with a definition. This from the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature
: "The Rights of Nature
is the recognition and honoring
that Nature has rights. It is the recognition that our ecosystems –
including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human
beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for
human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for
the planet as a world. It is the holistic recognition that all life,
all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles
. And we – the people – have the legal authority and responsibility to
enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can
be named as the defendant."
Try applying this concept to your own neighborhood. Ask yourself why trees must always make way for roads, for power lines, for buildings and parking lots. How is it that wounded animals found on the streets are most often "disposed of", while wounded people are rushed off to the hospital. Ask yourself if you think it fair that clean water is used as a medium to flush human waste "away". And what about this place, "away"? Just where is that? On a planet that functions as one living intertwined self-contained recirculating organism, there is no such place. And still, the land, the air, and the water on Earth is so often treated by humans as a depository for their excess. Where do we get the right to do this?
The nation of Ecuador was the first on planet Earth to recognize The Rights of Nature. Again, the Global Alliance for The Rights of Nature: "The Ecuadorian Constitution includes a Chapter: Rights for
Nature. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights
for Nature articles acknowledge that nature in all its life forms
has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles
And we – the people – have the legal authority to enforce these rights
on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the
You can imagine that here in Corporate America such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is almost unthinkable. This nation has operated on an economic model that treats the environment as a commodity, and as a dumping ground for alleged "externalities". That may have changed somewhat during the Nixon years of the 1970s when so much of our collective environmental awareness surfaced, but in reality we, as a nation, have actually regressed since that period. It should be noted that a good segment of the rest of the world views us as utterly negligent when it comes to our treatment of the natural world. Truth be known, many here in the States hold similar views. Many of us have lately taken to calling oil industry executives and their enablers in Congress as climate criminals. Unlike Ecuador however, we have little or no recourse to indict them for their crimes.
Then, of course, there is the matter of personal responsibility. Libertarians and other rightwingers often speak of personal responsibility when it comes to social issues like health care, unemployment, homelessness or retirement. For the most part, these same people are silent on our responsibility to the planet. Liberals, on the other hand, often blame themselves and their neighbors just as much as the government and industry for the state of the environment. This seems naive at best, given that we live in Corporate America where most choices are dictated to us by a marketplace that is out of our control. The old marketing chestnut about "giving people what they want" is, in reality, just as much of the sales pitch as the shoddy product itself.
The Rights of Nature instituted into the rule of human law would go a long ways toward correcting the dire situation we now find ourselves in with regard not only to the Climate Crisis but to other more localized ecological issues. Yet, this critical concept remains out on the fringes of our political discourse; even much of the Occupy movement seems oblivious to it. In case you haven't noticed, the clock is running out. The Climate that sustains us and the lifeforms we share the planet with is in upheaval, it is a big integral part on Nature. The Climate has Rights.