I first became aware of community rights through my training with and support of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. CELDF began as a public interest law firm almost 35 years ago to “build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature“. Rights of Nature, what a beautiful idea: natural resources and ecosystems have the right to exist outside any relationship to human beings.
Taken directly from CELDF’s website:
- In 1972, the Southern California Law Review published law professor Christopher Stone’s seminal article, “Should trees have standing – toward legal rights for natural objects.” Stone described how under the existing structure of law, nature was considered right-less, having no legally recognized rights to defend and enforce.
- In 1989, Professor Roderick Nash, published The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics. In it he explains how, throughout history, the right-less – slaves, women, others – have struggled to expand the body of legal rights to include themselves. Nash provides a context for how and why the body of rights is moving in the direction of expanding to include nature.
In 2006 Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania was the first town to pass a Rights of Nature ordinance in the U.S. Bolivia, India, Sweden, Columbia and New Zealand (among other countries) have been working to incorporate Rights of Nature into their legal systems. Ecuador has written Rights of Nature into its Constitution.
I recently watched a beautiful and moving short film called The River Is Me by director and cinematographer David Freid which documents the Maori People’s efforts to grant the the Whanganui River legal status as an ecosystem through New Zealand’s Te Awa Tupua Act. What I found so moving about this film is the evidence that Western governments are beginning to embrace the idea that ecosystems have rights, that rivers have rights. I hope you can take a moment to watch this film. It’s quite heartening.
You can follow the timeline for Rights of Nature here.