Legal Rights for Nature

By Madronna Holden

10/6/2012 update:

New Zealand grants river rights of personhood at the instigation of an indigenous people

“In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, officials in New Zealand recently granted the Whanganui, the nation’s third-longest river, legal personhood. The decision follows a long court battle for the river’s personhood initiated by the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.”
-Stephen Messenger

“Today’s agreement which recognises the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) and the inextricable relationship of iwi with the river is a major step towards the resolution of the historical grievances of Whanganui iwi and is important nationally.
Christopher Finlayson, quoted in “Agreement Entitles River to Legal Identity” by Kate Shuttleworth, in the New Zealand Herald.

1.27.2011 update:

Plants as Persons

The groundbreaking Plants as Persons, by botanist Matthew Hall, recently put out by SUNY press, explores the philosophical perception of plants, beginning with the ancient Greeks.  His conclusion: plants deserve moral standing for a number of solid scientific reasons, in spite of the fact that they have often been excluded from such consideration by Western dualisms that shape human-nature interactions in a way that excludes plants from community with us.

UPDATE : (4.22.10)

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia has passed a people’s agreement as a proposed part of the “Universal Declaration of  the Rights of Mother Earth” which include:

  • The right to live and to exist;
  • The right to be respected;
  • The right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue it’s vital cycles and processes free of human alteration;
  • The right to maintain their identity and integrity as differentiated beings, self-regulated and interrelated;
  • The right to water as the source of life;
  • The right to clean air;
  • The right to comprehensive health;
  • The right to be free of contamination and pollution, free of toxic and radioactive waste;
  • The right to be free of alterations or modifications of it’s genetic structure in a manner that threatens it’s integrity or vital and healthy functioning;
  • The right to prompt and full restoration for violations to the rights acknowledged in this Declaration caused by human activities.

(Thanks to Andy Sinats at the British Columbia Environmental Network for passing this news along to us. See the link above f0r more info on the peoples’ declaration).


Discussion:

“We talk about the state sovereignty and the tribal sovereignty, but those ant communities under the big fir trees are sovereign too.. some nights you can’t see the stars at all [because of city lights]. That’s wrong.  Those stars are sovereign. They have a right to be seen”.

Billy Frank, Jr., in Messages from Frank’s Landing


In order to respect the sovereignty of the natural world as expressed in this quote, we must treat “earth others” (as ecofeminist Val Plumwood has termed them) as agents. We must honor them as having a purpose and place in the natural order–a life of their own with all the rights attached to this. The partnership worldview expressed by Billy Frank’s Nisqually people sees all members of the natural community, human and more-than-human, as agents acting in reciprocal mutuality with one another. This is the perennial view of our human ancestors in indigenous societies.

Such peoples characteristically recognize the rights of self-determination of all natural life. As agents,  that is, “earth others” have the rights of subjects–and cannot be ethically treated as mere objects for human use.

In the modern industrial context which divides the world into active subjects and passive objects in hierarchical fashion, it is rare that even all humans are treated as agents.  To do so would make considerable inroads against racism, sexism, and classicism.

And  “deontological” (duty-based as opposed to risk-benefit based) standards of business ethics stress that others should never be treated as mere objects to be used for gaining profit. This idea is related to the current move to allocate legal responsibility of businesses to “stakeholders” (all those effected by their actions) as opposed merely to stockholders” (those who might profit from an action).

Legal suits redressing “chemical trespass” and upholding the “precautionary principle” (which prohibits harm to others both now and in the future and adds community decision-making into its process), are based on the premise that we have an obligation to respect all those whom our actions effect as subjects in their own right.

The Alliance for Democracy tracks such suits on its website. It alsogoes further, arguing that the extension of the rights of agency not only to all humans but to all natural life is an essential way of protecting the commons upon which earthly life depends.

Legal scholar Christopher Stone’s work is seminal in arguing for the rights of nature. Stone soundly critiques the agency legally allotted to that artificial human creation, the corporation, while asserting the agency of both of human and more-than-human life.  William O. Douglas’ dissenting Supreme Court decision asserting the rights of trees used Stone’s ideas.

Environmental philosopher Thomas Berry also emphasized the rights of natural life. Here is a summary of Berry’s stance on this point:

Berry stated that all earth others, including not only plants and animals but natural landscape features such as rivers, have three essential rights: the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community”.   Human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state. Indeed, human rights are limited in a community which recognizes the rights of all life.

Whereas Berry saw the rights of nature as enduring, he also noted that they are  limited to the unique identity of those involved:  rights of a river or a tree are specific to themselves.  It would mean little to a river, for instance, to have the rights of a tree—or a human or an insect. Thus these rights are not in competition with each other, but an expression of the interdependent cycle of life in which each plays a role. In this context humans also have a right to wonder, beauty and intimacy that only our connection with a vital earthly community can fulfill.

Recognizing agency in  “earth others” is also emphasized by Val Plumwood. She sees objectifying others and objectifying the natural world as resulting in multiple devastations–and a way to counter this  is  treating all earth others as subjects rather than objects.

After  Christopher Stone’s rush to get his article, “Should Trees Have Standing?” published in a law journal in 1972– so that it could weigh in on a Sierra Club suit, a flurry of suits were quickly filed in behalf of other natural “others” –including a polluted river, a marsh, a brook, a beach, a national monument, a town commons and an endangered Hawaiian bird.

Arguments against Stone’s theory on the legal standing of trees express the contemporary industrial worldview.  One writer railed against Stone’s idea on the basis of the fact that giving rights to nature would bring down the capitalist system of ownership–since it implied those who share the earth with us are not owned by humans but own themselves.

A persistent legal argument against those who filed suits on behalf of certain “earth others” was that those who brought such suits had no compelling self-interest in these cases.  In our modern system legal suits are supposed to express such self-interest.  This is in decided contrast to Takelma Siletz elder Agnes Baker’s emphasis on becoming a “voice for the voiceless”.

As a recent Boston Globe article notes,  the idea that humans must prove harm in order to bring suit on behalf of more than human life  leads to some convoluted legal argument.  In  bringing suit against the bludgeoning of baby seals for their fur, animal welfare advocates  first argued that this action harmed them by robbing them of their rights to view the seals in the wild.

Christopher’s Stone response: ” “Oh, for Pete’s sake, just sue in the name of the seals.”

Stone also points out that under our current legal arrangement, when suits  behalf of nature prove successful, it is human persons who are compensated,  rather than nature that is restored.

Meanwhile, the recognition of more than human agency has been put into law with striking success in the Pacific Northwest.  To remedy the devastation of the salmon runs resulting from dams on the Columbia River, the Pacific Northwest Power and Conservation Act of 1980 specifically designated migrating fish such as salmon as “co-equal partners” with human interests of energy production on the Columbia River. Not incidentally, this perspective came partially from the understanding of the billions of dollars lost in the careless devastation of the fish harvest to gain “cheap” electricity. The council that resulted from this law continues to be a powerful and progressive force in the Pacific Northwest today.

In another legal precedent, the Swiss Constitution guarantees three distinct rights to all natural lives (including those of plants):  the right to species protection, the protection of biodiversity, and the right for their natural “dignity” to be considered in their treatment by humans.

Since this provision was put into the Swiss Constitution three years ago, a few researchers have complained that it stymies their research projects, but others have argued that if research projects destroy biodiversity or species outright, they should not be carried out.

What the “dignity of natural creatures” means in the modern context is more complex.

The question as to whether genetic engineering violates this law resulted in a complex legal document which concluded that gmo research would only be legal  in Switzerland under two conditions. Firstly, it must not damage existing biodiversity. This is a serious issue, for instance, in the contamination of non-gmo seed–since genes from this seed migrate in ways that are not understand, much less controlled, by gmo users.  This the reason for the current contamination of organic yellow corn by gmo seeds.

Until such contamination can be contained, gmo research is illegal in Switzerland.

The second condition for the legality of gmo research under Swiss dignity of natural life” laws is that no “terminator genes” may be used.  These are genes that cause a plant– or anything fertilized with it– not to be able to reproduce. The Swiss legal decision finds  patent-protecting insertion of this gene not only dangerous in the context of uncontrolled gene migration, but going against the natural cycles in which plants partake.

Switzerland is not the only European nation to move to protect the rights of more than human lives.  Almost two years ago,  the Spanish Parliament granted great apes the same rights as humans.

Such modern laws indicate a profound change in the Western worldview, in which humans formerly held unquestionable rights to treat other nature life as objects in whatever way they saw fit.   Such laws indicate a growing awareness that respecting other natural life is part not only to the better aspects of our humanity, but our survival within vital ecosystems.

Altogether, the indigenous idea of agency in the more-than-human world touches the modern world in a number of ways—perhaps most strikingly in the new Ecuadoran constitution, influenced by the Pachamama, an activist group started at the initiation of indigenous elders. Pachamama is an indigenous term for the (sacred) personhood of nature, and in the Ecuadorian constitution, Pachamama and her natural cycles are given comparable legal standing to humans.

Here are words from the Constitution of Ecuador, overwhelming passed by Ecuadorians in fall of 2008:

Rights for Nature (translated from the Spanish)

  1. Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.   Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public bodies. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.
  2. Art. 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems. In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation of non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.
  3. Art. 3. The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.
  4. Art. 4. The State will apply precaution and restrictive measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles. The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.
  5. Art. 5. The persons, people,communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and from natural wealth that will allow well-being.  The environmental services cannot be appropriated;  their production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

A revised edition of Stone’s “Should Trees Have Standing?” is due out from Oxford University Press in 2010 and currently some dozen US communities have ordinances giving legal standing to nature.  In February of this year (2009), the town of Shapleigh, Maine passed into law an ordinance stating that “Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve within the Town of Shapleigh.”

A parallel move to give legal rights to natural systems  is underway in Europe, garnering  support for a UN Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights on  the model of the current Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Though some critics of allocating legal rights to nature raise the issue of how we know what nature wants, it appears fairly clear the above seals would prefer not to be bludgeoned to death.

Berry’s philosophy addresses this issue by  stating that aspects of nature have a right to fulfill their historic natural role in their ecological communities.

And perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to spend some time and energy trying to figure out what nature really does want–as did religious leaders of peoples on the Middle Columbia  or the Klamath Rivers, for instance, who acted as ambassadors between human and more than human spheres–and controlled the salmon runs accordingly.

Following such leadership resulted in practices on the mid-Columbia River that sustained salmon runs at seven times the modern take.

We could do worse– for both nature and ourselves.


A number of other philosophers speaking out for the rights of nature are represented in the Alliance for Democracy’s “Tapestry of the Commons” site.

284 Responses

  1. This idea of nature having rights is really a new concept for me. What an interesting twist on our legal system to sue in the courts for the seals right to not be bludgeoned instead of our right to be able to have those seals to enjoy.

    While the Ecuadorian constitution is interesting to read, I’m not sure how enforceable it will be from a practical standpoint. I’m thinking in particular of Article 4 where it states “The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.” Most of the time, we introduce something into the environment without being aware that it will have negative impacts (kudzu for example). I applaud their efforts, but I’m not sure how it will work. They say hindsight is 20/20 so time will give us the answer.

    • Thoughtful comment, Julie. Perhaps that section of the Ecuadoran Constitution speaks to remedying our carelessness in the instances you speak of– we might well be more careful introducing such things if we knew we would liable for this in some way later. However, this section also refers to genetically engineered organisms–which we have not yet figured out how to contain once they are in the fields, as they tend to cross-pollinate. Once might also speculate that this law indicates that it is the responsibility for each of us to know more about natural systems than most of us in the modern world do these days. This is something to watch in order to see its effects and consequences.

  2. One of the things I find most interesting in this article is the use of the term ‘more-than-human’ to refer to the natural world and Earth others. The use of specific words to describe something can (as seen in the legal cases described) be so critical to the outcome or view point/value of that thing. Changing the name of something can dramatically alter its value and the way in which people view it. What is in a name? LOTS! One good example I can think of is Mahi-mahi. Mahi-mahi is an extremely popular fish that is served in restaurants across America however, this was not always so. Its official/common name is dolphin-fish or dorado and it wasn’t a very popular fish (people generally associated it with Dolfins) until someone decided to use its Hawaiian name Mahi-mahi. Once the name changed it became an extremely commercially viable fish. This example just shows that the name you give something can have a huge affect on its worth. Thus, simply changing the term we use for nature to ‘more-than-human’ or ‘Pachamama’ can be extremely influential. It seems that ecologist must also be skilled at marketing in order to effectively manage natural resources and ecosystem services.

    Not only must we be marketing gurus we must be skilled in sociology and ethics. When Berry, in his rights of Earth others, states that all Earth others shall have a right to habitat, a feeling of uneasiness came over me. Not because I didn’t agree, but because I don’t think it is specific or qualitative enough. Everyone has a right to habitat but what quality of habitat? People can survive in a 200 sq. ft. apartment that has no natural daylight, no running water, or no bathroom … but is this ethical? Should we live like this? What quality of habitat/life should humans and Earth others have? If Berry had stated his belief that all organisms have the right to their ‘historic natural role in this ecological community’ I would have felt a little more comfortable, simply because he gave a somewhat quantifiable baseline. However, in the light of evolution and global climate change we need to be looking forward.

    • Very thoughtful point about naming, Chess. Those who look on these others who share our world as objects certainly don’t have a great deal of concern for them! Important consideration about what KIND of habitat more than human life has a right to. Berry’s other statement about their historic role, as you indicate, you intimate that they have a right to the habitat that allows them to carry out their historic role in an ecosystem. This concern for the habitat of others would certainly change the way we do development. I do think we have to be careful as we apply “in light of evolution”– WE are not the controllers of evolution–but the notion of evolution has sometimes been used to license our doing away with others. However, one thing we know about evolution is that it leads to diversity–and so any actions we carry out that lessen that diversity (such as making other species extinct) is actually fostering a backward evolutionary step.

  3. The key to ensuring that nature is allowed to be natural is in it’s history. By studying the ecology and histroy of the entity, its proper place can be found in relation to others. This will allow for the proper identification and understanding of it’s role and how to preserve it.

    • A thoughtful response, Ross. I do think this will take much thought and much listening to the more than human world on the part of humans–and while we are working on the basis of the best knowledge we have, we must always be accumulating more.

    • Your response, pertaining to studying and understanding the history of our natural environment while litigating rights for “earth others,” is rather thought provoking. My question to you is how do we get our governments on an international scale to pay attention to the mistakes they have made in the past, in respect to the environment?

      For instance, the gulf oil spill was very devestating for natural ecosystems, but companies are still drilling off shore. Also, some of these drills are deaper and more unstable than the one that had the spill recently. Why doesn’t our government do something about this? What can we do to help influence our government to learn from it’s mistakes?

      • It is a large question, Rose–and there is an essay on the BP oil spill that takes up this issue. On the scale of our own lives, we can make careful consumer choices and work for the best democracy possible. On the larger scale, that democracy needs to be a true one, in which one vote (rather than millions of lobby dollars) counts. When corporations (as they did last year) get a return of $200 for every one dollar spent on lobbying political officials, something is radically wrong with our system of checks and balances.
        It is my sense that we must absolutely move away from the idea of corporations as having the rights of human individuals (so that the court of appeals there two weeks ago found that Washington state, for instance, could not limit corporate campaign contributions because it would limit their right to “free speech”).
        We also need education such as that put forward by the Union of Concerned Scientists– and there are many other examples of solid activism on our links page here.
        On the other side of things, poll after poll has found that US citizens have strong environmental values– what we need is one vote/one person power and good information. There is much to be done!

  4. This emergence and continued growth of legal rights for our ‘earth others’ in nature is exciting and exactly what needs to be done. Supporting the cause that is sometimes at odds with our established societal systems through those very same systems (legal) is the correct path. It lends credibility to the messages for skeptics and helps to propagate the natural values for the future, as well as helping to bring about real change in the present. I did not know about all of these initiatives happening all around the globe, and I wonder how many people really do. At least in our American society, it seems that so many people will never be informed of anything that is not highlighted in the most apparent media spotlights. This is unfortunate, but the mounting legal progress is the kind of vessel that could take the message for partnership with ‘earth others’ to that level of exposure.

    The part of this article that struck me as most sad was the comment by critics of Stone’s work that protest against suits on behalf of nature because the people filing them did not have obvious self-interest. Why is it that empathy is so frowned upon in this system? This sets a terrible precedent and value in place, not just in the terms of suits for nature, but even for cases on behalf of other people.

    • Thanks for your perceptive comment, Michael. I too think this is a hopeful development which I wish more people knew about– and I agree with you about the negative aspects of a legal system that only allows us to defend our self-interest– and thus encourages the destructive aspects of the worldview that has brought us so many social and environmental crises.

  5. Dr. Holden states, “It is rare that even all humans are treated as agents. To do so would make considerable inroads against racism, sexism, and classicism.”

    I had to quote this. Great statement….how can people consider rights to nature when we can’t even consider rights to our own species? Heck, we view each other as as usable, depletable resource for the most part. Once a person is no good monetarily, that person is thrown away and we move on to another person that fits our own needs. Just think of criminals preying on the elderly for monetary gain….the elderly are at the end anyway…let’s get the last bit of resource out of them. Makes me sick!

    • Thanks for your comment, Patrick. Since the way we treat the natural world and the way we treat one another are so often interconnected, it seems that we can tackle treating both of these with justice at the same time. This would also help foster some environmental justice, so that the disadvantaged don’t get all the results of environmental degradation created by the privileged.

  6. The Constitution of Ecuador is interesting. It touches on some valid points. I’m glad that Ecuador wants to protect and regulate the misuse of nature. Something concerns me though. I don’t find it easy to understand the right that every living thing has to exist. We humans have the right to exist and therefore we strictly condemn murder and abuse. When one human harms another in any way, there are immediate and sometimes legal consequences. If we begin considering nature as equals with humans, shouldn’t nature also share in the same benefits and consequences that humans have? Nature should be on trial for harm to humans. For example, when a bull bucks off a bull-rider and steps on his head and kills him, the bull should be sentenced to life in “animal prison” or be immediately put down. Following the same logic, humans should be on trial for causing harm to nature. We would not be able to hunt anymore because we would be murdering animals. If that is the case, we would all need to become vegans, the meat business would go bankrupt, and our economy would once again tank.

    Even more, we as humans would never be able to wash ourselves. In the logic that all of nature has the right to exist, in washing ourselves we are killing living, reproducing bacteria and microscopic dust mites. If any human washed their face, they should be put on trial for murder of innocent life organisms. You cannot argue this logic if you believe that all living organisms have the right to exist.

    If this weren’t the case, and we were selective with the organisms that we could kill and not kill, what would be the deciding factor? My point is that we cannot just universally say that all life has the right to exist. It doesn’t work. There has to be something that deciphers between one life and another.

    Additionally, I think Article 1, in the Constitution of Ecuador, and Article 5 are contradictory. Again, how does every life form have the right to exist, but we can use nature for our benefit? What is the deciding factor in what we can and cannot use for our benefit?

    There has to be some sort of standard that sets apart one life from another. Something has to have higher priority over the other. We cannot be “partners.”

    • Thoughtful response, Chris. “Right to exist”, I think, should be interpreted according to Berry’s outline– as the right to fulfill its place in the natural cycle. My sense is that this refers to those plants and animals human action is making extinct. I think your issue of holding those culpable for their actions goes to whose responsibility it is. The bull in the rodeo was bred for this cantankerousness and the rider got up on his back of his own volition. We don’t hold a train operator culpable when a car full of teenagers decides to race the train with tragic results,as recently happened– since it is the teen’s responsibility for harm to themselves. The more responsibility we have, the more we must answer for the results of our actions– so if we think humans are the pinnacle of creation, we should definitely be answering for the effects of their actions. All in all, this constitution is one to make humans culpable for their destructive acts on ecosystems. I don’t see art. 1 and 5 as contradictory: natural systems have to be protected if we hope to gain anything from them. I think partly you may be laboring under difficulties in the Spanish translation. Thanks for your careful reading!

  7. This article gives interesting solution and interpretation to the statement “giving a voice to the voiceless.” Although many people may feel that giving nature rights to cohabite unharmed and remain as a protected class is absurd, giving representation may be the only key to protecting the environment from further deterioration. It is evident that rights for all of nature will not infringe on any human rights because all natural beings have the same right to equality. I like Berry’s statement: “Human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state. Indeed, human rights are limited in a community which recognizes the rights of all life.” Thus, one might ask why we as a society have been able for so long to dictate what rights other beings can or cannot receive? Certainly, giving rightful representation would benefit the earth and all its inhabitants, our relationship with nature, and our future generations from having to see a destroyed, trashed environment. Even we would eventually benefit since it would prevent us from practicing morally destructive behaviors such as selfishness, objectification, and dualism….behaviors that we were never meant to foster.
    One concern I do have with this representation theory is result of who benefits when a wrong is committed against nature, and legal action is taken. The article explains that “under our current legal arrangement, when suits on behalf of nature prove successful, it is human persons who are compensated, rather than nature that is restored.” If we are to enforce laws for nature’s representation, I feel we ought to protect its right to receive benefits when a wrong is committed against it. Thus, I am not sure how to protect against this result without the solution of allowing environmental organizations to use the money as they see fit, but I suppose that a certain degree of legislation is the most probable way to prevent imperfect humans from “cheating” nature out of its monetary gain.

    • Very thoughtful analysis in this response, Kristen. You picked out a point of concern that Christopher Stone has picked out as well: if we sue on behalf of nature, the restoration of nature, remedying harm done to it, should be the result. I like the way you gathered your points under the idea of giving voice to the voiceless. As I see it, it is about time we gave rights to those who have contributed their lives to ours– even if they don’t speak English–or any human language. Or can’t weigh in on the market.

  8. This definitely makes for an interesting concept and the opening line sets the stage well. The idea of protecting and respecting who ever it may be from our actions very much so is anti-NIMBY. I think this is a neat concept however I don’t know how realistic it seems, especially in today’s era. Part of me sees things as survivor of the fittest however I think that if alternative methods are possible which benefit everyone then those should be pursued first. I don’t think we do that in our society, I believe we walk over who or whatever we need to in order to get what we want, not even just what we need. I do think it was important to clarify how the rights of everything in nature aren’t competing with one-another but each have their own rights, which seems reasonable. I think the rights for nature from Ecuador are impressive but I really don’t see that happening in our country any time soon. We as a society are not educated enough, our government isn’t transparent enough, and we really don’t care enough to overwhelmingly put it in our constitution. Even though the Pacific Northwest has done some good, lets be honest, the rest of the country doesn’t all think alike….and there are plenty of examples.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Trevor. We have an upcoming essay on the concept of survival of the fittest that may interest you.
      Our worldview tends to look at our actions as a kind of “game” in which if we uphold ethical standards and others don’t, we lose out (they get the goods). But this overlooks not only the fact of interdependency, but the power some have to change others through leadership and modeling. And others may surprise us for the better given the right impetus–as in the example of Forrest Paint I gave in response to Chris’ comment on “the one that got away”…just today.
      In point of fact, nature-protection laws like these have been on the east coast and midwest — so the Pac NW can hardly take all the credit for environmental progressivism.

  9. Berry’s concept that human rights are limited in a community which recognizes the right of all life stood out to me the most in this reading. In the States we hear a lot about the various rights that we are “given” by our laws, our various religions, and by simply being human. Yet, it is very rare that we stop to consider the rights that nature has simply because we see ourselves as being better than nature. Also, it seems that when we do try to protect nature, it is more for our benefit than the individuals in nature. For example, our right to view baby seals in the wild or to have salmon that we can harvest for profit typically outweighs their right to simply be.
    However, I believe that Berry’s concept was more accurate since our rights truly are limited when we take into consideration the rights of nature and all of its parts. After all, if we continue to lose parts of nature, eventually nature will not be able to sustain itself. Despite the fact that we think we can fix everything with technology, without the services that nature provides, each species and individual within it playing a vital role, our human rights will no longer matter because there will be no humans.

    • Very nice analysis, Bekah. I also find Berry’s approach quite well thought out. Your last line is certainly well taken. If we keep trying to “fix” everything as if we are the only one with natural rights, we will undermine (as we are now doing) the sources of our own lives. Then the discussion of “Who’s on first” (to coin a phrase) is not going to matter much!

  10. As our lawmakers negotiate their way through the economic crisis, the war in the Middle East, sustainability, health care reform and gay marriage I can’t help but wonder why so few have so much power over everyone and everything. Why are people working so hard to block the fundamental rights that belong to all who share his planet? Why can’t we give trees and seals rights? We give corporations protection from undue harm and they are unable to speak for themselves. I think you make a good point when you talk about the fact that these rights are not in “competition” with each other but rather they are “interdependent”. It seems that so many are afraid they will lose what they have if they give others what naturally belongs to them.

    I am hopeful that as a nation that we are making inroads towards responsibility, whether that is within the realm of business ethics, sustainability or equality. As an individual I am grateful for others that have fought their way through the bureaucratic red tape to bring attention to the rights of all natural life. I am anxious to see how the “legal rights to natural systems” plays out in the UK.

    • Hi Anedra, thanks for a well-considered comment. Your point in the questions you ask is a good one. Rather than critiquing our giving rights to nature, we might say, “why not”? Perhaps we will move away from a culture of fear that clouds our decisions as you point out.

  11. The legal issue of identifying damages to the party bringing the claim is one of those quirky rules of the court. Expanding the courts to ajudicate the rights of nature wherein people argue on behalf of nature will be interesting to follow. At some point there will likely be supreme court challenges. Ecuador seems to be leading the way by modifying their constitution so the upholding of rights of nature cannot be thrown out of the courts.

  12. If a legal document regard the rights for nature is going to be created, the writers would have to be very careful and very specific about what those are. What I mean is that some corporation could be following the letter of the legal agreement but may be violating the *spirit* of it, meaning that they might still be harmful towards nature but offer no legal recourse against them. The Constitution of Ecuador had the right idea, but the wording seemed vague enough that it might not have enough power to stand up in a legal setting. For example, article 3 says that the state will motivate persons or collective to protect nature, but that could range anywhere from a police force specifically catching environmental offenders to putting up some posters to respect nature. The idea that anyone can bring claims for nature to court is a good one, but if the court itself is hostile then the case probably wouldn’t get very far.

    What about legal rights for harmful viruses and bacteria? Should we let them flourish in their natural environment and stop making medicines and vaccines?

    • Interesting point about legal interpretation here, Daniel. I would think the courts in Ecuador would be pretty sympathetic–given how overwhelmingly this law passed the populace there.
      As for viruses, etc. — I think the protections here either specify what they protect (e.g. a river) or refer to an ecological system– as in the Ecuadorian case. So one would have to evaluate whether those are important enough to the total natural system that they should stay. In a parallel, crops genetically engineered with herbicides legally have to grown with a certain percentage of non-gmo crops so that the “bad” weeds don’t lose total resistance.
      In order to enforce such laws we would obviously need to learn a good deal more about natural systems–and we might be used the precautionary principle a lot more. Thoughtful response!

  13. Wow this could definitely be onto something really ingenious. Nature should have rights. Who knows what will come of it exactly, but look at the Salmon population now in the Columbia River! This is a great way of relearning the respect we need to have for nature and our surroundings. I do not agree with the hurting of animals for fur. Would it be okay to use humans for use like that? No. So why would we expect it is okay for another living being? The laws listed from Equador are inspiring. I think this could give people a whole new outlook on the actions they do on a daily basis that are hurting nature. If something is destroyed in place of new building or growth, it needs to be equally allocated somewhere else.

  14. I agree with Thomas Berry’s ideas that earth others have natural rights. Human rights should never cancel out the rights of any other earth entity. It is assanine for any human to claim that they hold a higher level of regard over another being on this earth. Indigenous people have found ways to respect the world around them, including all animals, plants, and land areas without destruction for centuries. Because the advancement of human technology and the claim that people hold logic as a power over other bings, allows humans to dominate over other entities does not mean this is the role that people should play. Instead, they should act as the mediators, looking out for the greater good in every aspect of the world, not just their own species.

    • Hi Katie, I like your idea of humans as mediators, caring for all other species! Logic does not exactly live up to its name if it undercuts the means of our survival–and that of the others who share our earth with us.

  15. This article was full of very interesting points on how we should view our Earth. At the beginning it states that “we must threat “earth’s others” as agents, honor them as having a purpose and place in the natural order-a life of their own with all rights attached to this.” This was very well said, and I could not agree more. With all the natural disasters occuring around the world causes enough damage to our earth and creatures living in it. We should do as much as we can to protect it. I feel as though it is vital for humans to respect our earth and all the life that lives in it. Sadly, many people choose not to take nature having rights into consideration.
    An interesting point was brought up by Val Plumwood that we must “…treat all earth’s others as subjects rather than objects.” This was a very clever statement that many people should realize because we can learn a lot from our environment. Thomas Berry also brought up another important topic about how earth’s others having three rights. The right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to fullfill their role in the ever-renewing process of the Earth community. Very well said! In the end, we all represent living and growing creatures who share one thing in common, our earth, and we should all have equal rights to live in being a part of it!

    • Hi Jena, thanks for your comment. I appreciate the details you use to indicate that we are all, as you put it, “living and growing creatures who share one thing in common– our earth”, and thus we all have rights from being a part of this.
      Very nice way of summarizing the central point in honoring legal rights for nature.

  16. I have to admit I chuckled at Christopher Stone’s response to the animal welfare advocates arguing against the bludgeoning of seals on the platform that it robbed THEM (the human advocates) of some innate right. I’m sure the advocates true concern was for the suffering of the baby seals, but from a legal point of view, it was probably seen as easier to prove? That humans have rights is incontestable, even if they sound rather self-serving and petty, such as “the right to view baby seals in the wild,” whereas no hard fast rules are in place yet when it comes to the rights of non-humans. (though apparently that’s in the works? I followed the link to the “dozen US communities have ordinances giving legal standing to nature” to see which communities they were, but couldnt locate the precise locations on the page.) It still seems ridiculous though (arguing for the right to view seals and not seals rights.) Especially when, as Stone points out, in cases where non-humans actually are awarded damages, the spoils go to humans, rather than to the restoration of what was destroyed.

    • Which link did you follow here, Liz? There are several in the article. Are you referring to the link that leads to Chris Stone’s own book in which he discussed the response to his initial essay. There is a list there, though that book is dated at this point and many more “nature’s rights” ordinances have sprung up in the intervening years, according to a recent Boston Globe article. You will find a few more details here. http://www.celdf.org/ And there is also the fact that the Spanish Parliament gave great apes the same rights as humans a year and a half or so ago.
      It IS ridiculous that in order to argue the case for seals in US courts, we must assert self-interest because this is the way our legal system is set up. But did you miss the point of this example– which is that it IS self-serving arguing in this way precisely because the legal system demands we can only argue for our own rights only? What arguments against this stance are raised in this article? From your response, I am unclear of your own stance– are you also intimating that legislating for rights of nature is itself ridiculous?

  17. Some species have a voice. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/01/us/endangered-fly-stalls-some-california-projects.html outlines the lively hood of a fly with a two day life span that lives in 1200 acres of sand dune in CA. These unassuming flies have stalled development on their habitat. The Endangered Species Act helps protect those that would forever lose their voice. The problem with the law is that it only protects those that are in danger of extinction.

    A river should be able to exist because it does. However, giving the river the stature as another individual is impossible as when the river floods my house I can not sue the river for damages. A river and other objects can not be accountable for damage they cause so they can not own themselves or exist for existence because they can not represent themselves.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Patrick. The issue with legal rights for nature is to shift from an anthropocentric worldview to one that is eco-centered– that is, fitting human actions into the ecosystems that we need to survive–and honoring the rights to habitat, for instance, of other natural lives and elements. I wonder what you think of this line of reasoning proposed by some contemporary scientists (see the essay here on “Burning down the house”): most of what we term “natural disasters” are actually human-caused disasters– caused by things like developing land and building houses in flood plains. Also, by growing weather caused by global climate change: there are ten times the tornadoes in the midwest than there were twenty years ago, due to the fact that excess CO2 emissions are eroding the stability of our precious protective atmosphere that has given us a relatively stable climate since the last ice age.
      In our legal system we do, as you note, balance rights and responsibilities, but as Thomas Berry has noted, it is not the responsibilities of other natural creatures to shift their actions to accommodate humans, but to play their own role in those systems. And it should be the responsibility of humans to allow them to continue the roles that millions of years of evolution have determined for them– laws allocating rights to nature in this sense would alert humans as to the repercussions of their own actions: the sense that all nature is not out there to use unthinkingly for short term profit.
      More points in terms of the flooding example: in the last massive tsunami in Asia, those areas where development had not leveled the mangrove swamps experienced relatively little flooding, since this before it reached shore. Same for Katrina: the clearing of wetlands allowed the storm to gain force rather than be calmed down as it hit shore.
      So in this sense, protecting natural systems and habitat would have protected humans.
      It would of course, be a massive re-engineering project to re-engineer such human mistakes, but we could at least start by NOT allowing to make a buck and disappear with it by developing unsuitable land (see “erasing nature” on this site and the comments about those left with houses created by such “hit and run” development). I suggest that developers be obliged to take out an insurance bond that would protect those using the development from “natural” disasters in the future: if this were priced according to market values (e.g. there is not a private insurer in the country that will take on a nuclear power plant as client, and flood insurance is exorbitantly priced), it would inhibit some foolish private development.
      As for foolish publicly-financed development, we need to change our campaign financing and lobbying laws–and I think giving legal rights to more than human life is a first step in changing our awareness of what we should be doing.
      Thanks again for your comment!

  18. Reading this article got me thinking about animal rights activist groups such as PETA. How much of their money from lawsuits and funding actually goes to the animals? Do they use that money on the animals they say they care so much about or do they just pay themselves? I know that Ducks Unlimited spends about 90 cents every of every dollar it recieves to habitat protection and development. I found this website, and have done some other research and pita recieved nearly 29 million in donation last year but spent most of that money targeting groups that did eat animals. Why didnt they spend that money on habitat for animals? I’m not bashing PETA even though I do not agree with them, I am just wondering.

  19. What an interesting article. I am shocked I never heard of the Rights for Nature passed by Ecuadorians in fall of 2008 before. I attest that there should be such rights throughout the whole of the world, not merely in Ecuador, but such a thing would be impractical for the mere reason that people throughout the world would never allow for such rights to be passed. At least from the view-point I’m standing at they wouldn’t. That is, the rights that are generally passed are those merely of human rights. Rights which are above the people? Such rights don’t exist for a reason: People as a whole have one perspective of the world: their own, and any rights which do not benefit them and them alone, they do not like. I am not speaking for all people, all individuals… but people as a whole. For nature to have rights would be telling people that wild animals and other rudiments of the earth stand equally to human beings, and there are an enumerating amount of people who would disagree with that. I am not one of them obviously, but I LIVE with one of these people, and have read articles written by these types of domineering and egotistical individuals. Humans are superior and should have rights above all natural subjects, who were indeed here on earth before us human beings, save perhaps the domesticated dog and cat and other animals which were bred into existence by human’s need to control and manipulate the wild. This view of superiority is shared by too many people to be able to pass such rights for Nature. I am utterly shocked that such laws were passed elsewhere.

    Nevertheless, as much as I am pessimistic about such rights existing everywhere else as they very well should be, all we can do right now is practice these rights, like those passed in Ecuador, individually amidst our own human lives and hope that it catches on everywhere… and work to spread such ideas to places of higher power where they can then work to enforce them upon the rest of the world, for Nature does indeed have “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”, and the elements that form ecosystems do indeed deserve their respect, as does EVERY living creature on this earth we have been so blessed to inhabit.

    • Thanks for this very thoughtful comment, Cherisse. Note that those who support such rights do not conceive of them as rights “above” human rights– but shared rights, as Berry points out, these rights (if we saw them and behaved appropriately) should not be in competition with one another, since we are all interdependent in our ecosystems.
      I like your idea that we can honor these rights in our own lives while the large social issues we hope to move toward are being decided. And as for the person you live with– I hope there is enough balance that s/he gets to read some of your class material as well!

  20. I agree that nature should have a right to exist. I also think that we should treat it as equals to human beings. Just because nature isn’t able to talk and communicate like human beings, they can communicate in other ways. Such as, a dying forest is telling people that there is something wrong in the forest and that is why it is dying. Nature has a heart just like human beings.

    • Nice point about the lack of health of a part of the natural world (as in a dying forest) communicating with us– if we pay attention, Patricia. I think it is time we all resumed our place in the community of life. Thanks for your comment.

  21. I really liked reading this article about nature having its own rights. I had never fathomed this idea before, but I think it is great! Too many bad things happen to the nature that surrounds all of us and is should be protected. It should have its own rights. The example I have about this is my fiancé’s grandpa owns a logging company and this summer some person threw out a huge pile of their trash and an old microwave on the logging land, instead of taking it to the dump because they would have to pay for it. Well, that pile of trash and microwave combusted in the 100 degree weather and started a forest fire. The fire caused over 1 million dollars in damage, and it even burned up 2 pieces of large equipment and two vehicles on the land. That careless act by that person causes devastation to the land and the company. Because land doesn’t have “rights” the company just had to take the loss. If the land did have rights, then if the person was ever found they could be charged for the crime of destroying the land and the equipment belonging to the company.

    • Hi Jose, thanks for your comment. There have been many forest fires caused by carelessness lately– exaggerated by dry conditions linked to climate change. Interestingly enough, the one thing that could turn climate change itself around without any negative consequences is keeping the older forests that we have. Sustainable logging (which you have previously mentioned on this land) rather than clear cuts allow a forest to remain while some logs are periodically removed. The Menominee tribe in the Great Lakes area have been managed their hardwood forest in this way for several decades– and that forest now has more board feet of lumber in it (if you want to use business terms) or more carbon producing trees– OR more beings that share human life with us than it had when they started logging it…

  22. While reading this essay I could not help but think of an environmental policy course I recently took. In this course I read over and over again the positions of industries and their representatives as they “defended their right to have access to resources on public lands”. In my readings for this policy class there were also examples of towns collapsing economically and socially because once an industry was “done” with the resource of interest, they were also done with the community and its people, easily moving on. So when I read in this essay that one writer riled at Stone, stating that giving legal rights to nature would bring down capitalism, I couldn’t help but think if we let industry, people and others do as they wish and continue with past and current trends, there will be no resources on which to build any society including a capitalist one.

    If only one aspect from the Constitution of Ecuador, Rights of Nature, Article Four, is passed and observed I can think of so many issues that can start to be amended immediately: invasive species, pesticides in our water supplies, poisons on our foods, destruction of forests and wetlands just to name a few.

    • Wonderful comment, Yensi. Thank you for this telling story of the justifications for the policy decisions that lead to economic downfall and resource depletion. Great point about the alternative results in the constitution of Ecuador!

  23. Something else we must consider is the people who would ultimately be responsible for enforcing the rights of the natural world. The government is all too willing to give out rights and create protected wildlife, but to what extent? We give American Citizens the right to own land until the government claims imminent domain and then takes the land. Even if we managed to give rights to every single thing in the natural world, it is extremely likely these rights would be revoked when it became more profitable to do so. We must always remember that those making the laws ultimately decide what rights we have, and it is just as easy for them to take them away. After 9/11 we gave up many previously enjoyed civil liberties in the pursuit of “security”. Let’s remember that just because we have inherent natural rights, without anyone to enforce them in our favor they can very easily be taken away. If rights can be taken away, then can we really ever claim to have had them in the first place? Every single time I think I live in a free country, I think about the speed limit, property lines, money, and a million other things. We have the illusion of freedom. Those people living here long before we came here to be “free”, they were the ones who were truly free, and with their deaths, came the loss of protection of natural rights. We certainly aren’t slaves, but we are far from being “free”.

    • Thoughtful points, Damien. And in order to be “free” in community, we need to make reciprocal contracts with which we respect the rights of others. Though enforcement of such laws may be problematic for a Western nation, I think that law partly models the behavior we want to emulate (think of the civil rights laws) and well as stopping behavior we don’t want. Can you see that Thomas Berry’s notion of natural rights is such that no one has to give up their rights (as in the 911) because rights– at least between different species– are not in competition with one another?

  24. Giving nature “rights” is a wonderful step in the direction of appreciation, respect and understanding of how profound our connection with nature is. This is something that the indigenous peoples already understood, that the respectful treatment and personalization of nature resulted in not only a beautiful environment, but also in a reciprocal relationship where when nature is allowed to flourish humans gain in the process. An example in our Ph443 lecture of the revered boabab trees in Sudan that were allowed to grow unchecked, acted as natural cisterns holding 7.5 million gallons of water. The community of nature and humans can be a relationship that is mutually supportive. It seems that the treatment of nature and the rampant “classism” go hand in hand. When the world we live in separates humans with value (western, developed, rich, male) and humans without value (indigenous, poor, non-western, women), it follows that the natural world would be demoted to the level of value only as a commodity, not intrinsically, unless it is the nature that is the playground for the “valued persons” (NIMBY).

    When life (plant, animal, human alike) is viewed as intrinsically valuable, and when the drive to consume, to own and to make money off nature and each other is replaced with a symbiotic relationship where nature can flourish and humans can benefit, then we may have arrived at a place when nature has innate rights, as well as all humans, regardless of place, sex, creed or wealth.

  25. I had never really put much thought into it, but we have laws to protect human rights why not nature’s rights? Enforcement is a question though, how important is this to those who are charged with funding enforcement? The only way to ensure protection so we can enjoy these things long into the future is to have rules and order. We have lost so much already.

    • Thoughtful point, Bernadette. It will be interesting to see how those who have already enacted such laws manage their enforcement. The case against Chevron pressed by indigneous peoples in Ecuador is an important one in this respect.

  26. I couldn’t agree more with the idea that there should be legal rights for nature…a voice for the voiceless. We as a society forget to look out for what nature wants and needs. We must adopt a mentality that incorporates this into our relationship with the natural world. It needs to be a mutual partnership rather than a one way taking of the natural environment which is seen as a compilation of objects…free for the taking.

  27. Hi Madronna, hi all,

    you made an interesting point about the concerns of stockholders often taken into account for legal matters but really how stakeholders should be taken into consideration. Also that human rights should never cancel out the rights of other beings.

    I agree wholeheartedly than we should respect the rights of landscapes such as rivers, mountains and the like (have they not always been “personified” as glorious and unique). We must respect all facets of earth’s bountiful wonders including plants, animals and other people. We should not adhere the view of animate versus inanimate objects. Nor should we objectify animals as plants or plants as commodities. No we should not clone people as discussed above. Doing so objectifies all, to objectify one past of nature, that is.

    As in Ecuador, all nations should do. Nature should be given rights. Something of that idea is found in battles fought by the Sierra Club and the EPA (sometimes). I feverently hope the UN does draft such a document and implements it, for the good of All.

    • Hi Sky, I heartily agree that dividing the world according to hierarchies and objectifying anything in life as a mere “commodity” has some destructive results. I think it is time for a different tact.

  28. I can easily see the brotherhood of animal and man but I must truthfully admit I never considered others as including lakes, rivers, streams, trees, plants, etc. I don’t think they are of less value, it just never occurred to me that these others might have “feelings” or “feel pain” from abuse or neglect. I have been know to talk to my plants but that’s because I read in a magazine somewhere that when you talk to your plants they grow better. I don’t know if that is true or not but after reading this essay I can now see where that very will might be true. I like where Mr. Stone said what he did about the problem of making a suit for the baby seals. I agree, it seems pretty self evident than they would prefer not to be bludgeoned to death. I do have questions though: Does partnership worldview necessarily mean the downfall of capitalism? How will responsibilities be delegated between stakeholders and stockholders? Why are the three rights Mr Barry states for earth other so much less than those examples of the Swiss, Spain and Ecuador? and Isn’t the 5th article of the Ecuadorian constitution somewhat contradictory to the other articles?

    • Thoughtful questions, Cendi… since the idea of legal rights for nature is a new one in the industrialized world, there is much to be worked out. I am not sure that Berry’s three rights are “less” than the others– just a different way of stating them– more of a philosophical or value-oriented statement rather than a legal one. The question about capitalism is certainly pertinent: at the very least such rights for nature would necessitate a kind of capitalism whose markets express different values than our currently do. As for the relationship between stockholders and stakeholders, a number of current legal suits are deciding these issues on a case by case precedent-based context–especially in terms of the ways in which corporations have harmed those who are not stockholders– if only we could take a more proactive role, as do a handful of businesses such as those of Max de Pree and Paul Hawkens.

  29. “We must honor them as having a purpose and place in the natural order, a life of their own with all the rights attached to this. If we would treat humans as equals we could make considerable progress against racism, sexism and the classes would disappear.” (legal rights article”

    When are we going to understand that we have an obligation to respect all those whom our actions affect as subjects in their own right? We as humans feel like we have the right to dominate and dictate how other species bow to our demands. We feel like the others are below us and too often we do not consider how our actions could destroy their lives.

    “Extension of the rights of agency not only to all humans but to all natural life is an essential way of protecting the commons upon which earthly life depends.” As Berry states, “all earth others, including not only plants and animals but natural landscape features such as rivers, have three essential rights: the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfill their role in the ever renewing processes of the earth community.” (legal rights article)

    One of the big obstacles we are going to face is the idea of ownership. “One person railed against the idea on the basis of the fact that giving rights to nature would bring down the capitalist system of ownership since giving them rights would imply that we humans do not own them but they own themselves.” One could only wish that the purely European culture of ownership of our natural resources would go away and we could then return to the native people’s ideals of nature as itself.

    • I think you raise some key issues here, Jeff. When we finally understand that we have an obligation to respect all those whom our actions effect as actors in their own right, we will have addressed an essential justice concern in the social as well as environmental realms. Thanks for your comment.

    • I think it would great to turn the idea of “ownership” around just as we might turn “belonging” around in the sense of belonging to the land rather having it belong to us. This would mean to me that we really owned our actions–and took responsibility for their results. Thanks for your comments, Jeff.

  30. I have never taken different worldviews into much consideration in my life, yet Native American ideas of respect and almost personification of nature and the environment have always struck me as so intelligent. Not only should there be a respect for nature but moral standards as to how we regard our fellow living beings on earth. To parallel some of the Native American views of nature into our own “American” context/worldview today; I think the golden rule should be applied. While many people may not understand the deep metaphors and spirituality of native peoples, they might begin to understand these vital concepts with this way of thinking. I personally look at the environment and think about how I would feel if I was constantly being exploited, and, even though this is a silly and extreme example, – what if some advanced alien life form came and exploited us as we do the animals on this planet? That way of thinking always brings me to the classic thoughts of Native Americans respecting mother nature and how true and universally prevalent the golden rule really is.
    Thomas Berry makes some very interesting points regarding what the rights of earth others should look like. I am particularly fond of the legal and formal language used to describe these rights, which really could speak to people who may not be in touch with nature or understand the aforementioned Native American concepts and spirituality with the earth. If put into a language and format that they can understand, maybe there is some headway in gaining these rights.

    • I like your emphasis on bridging concepts and worldviews here, Cheyanne. This indicates how some of us cherish similar values (the golden rule) that might allow us to be more open-minded and caring both.
      The analogy of the advanced alien is not so far off– though I wonder about the advanced part.

  31. The concept that legal rights should exist for nature is a novel idea and a necessary idea in today’s world of huge demands on our planet. This can protect nature while protecting ourselves, including the indigenous people of the area in concern. It’s sad that it takes such a large and important document, such as a constitution or amendment, to get the public and states to protect and respect nature.
    I wonder what the countries, like Switzerland and Ecuador, tried before they did the constitution thing. What problems were they currently having that made it so important to put an ethos of protecting nature to be on the most powerful document of the land?
    I am disappointed in learning that the Pacific Northwest Power made such a statement as “co-equal powers” way back in 1980. To me it seems I would not want to be their partner because they have had 20 years to fulfill their promise, yet there has been no steady improvement in Salmon stocks of the Columbia River.
    All though I agree with the argument that there needs to be some sort of set and agreed upon rights for nature, I don’t like that to be the main selling point. It is abstract and will never fully be accepted, however understanding the consequence of not respecting these rights to oneself and others may have more weight to the public and the state. Instead of trying to change the capitalist system, let’s incorporate it and recognize the incentives and cost of not establishing rights for nature.

    • Thoughtful response, Zach. Ecuador has had substantial problems from oil spills in the Amazon carried out by large US oil corporations– which have substantially polluted habitat. They recently won a preliminary legal battle against a large corporation for the damage done there. But it is also true that the Ecuadorian case was grounded in local indigenous values. In the Swiss case, I think (though I don’t know for sure) it was a preventative measure with which to deal with modern technology– to make sure it was on track with natural systems.
      I agree that the work on protecting salmon stocks on the Columbia River could have been much better: however, the power commission did give some legal standing to folks like the Columbia River Intertribal Fishing Commission, which has been doing a pretty serious job of habitat recovery– extending partnership not only to the view of nature, but to plans developed in relationship to all parties in local communities–as in their rather sensational restoration of salmon runs in the formerly dry (from inappropriate development) Umatilla River. Even if the Commission has not done all we think it should, I would hate to see what our rivers would look like without it!

  32. It is a good idea to place limits and laws on people to protect nature. As Pilgrim says, nature is voiceless. Someone needs to speak for them. People who violate another living being should be held accountable, even if only to prevent more harm. Human nature seems to be self-serving, greed, and thoughtlessness, and if left unchecked, things will continue as they are going now. For years, the literary artists have been telling the story of mankind destroying, using, and wasting nature away into nothing that can be used and exploited any longer–something uninhabital. Then they need to go find a new planet to live on, but of course that is not reality. Reality is that we should stop and become less human, more thougthful and respectful. Think of “all others” as Berry refers to those we share the planet with, and change selfish behavior.

    • I agree Erin, that nature is voiceless in our own culture: though some traditions– like Grandma Aggie’s– make a concerted effort to listen to the land and its many lives. I agree that we need to be less self-centered, but I am not sure about becoming “less human”.
      There are traditions about mythtellers (the literary artists as you speak of in oral tradition) that indicate there is a way in which we can only become fully human by extending ourselves to the rest of life: that is, there is an essential way in which the natural world can teach us how to be human.

  33. While giving legal rights to “earth others” tugs at every part of me that is conservative, I believe that it is necessary to be this drastic. Without assigning legal rights to nature, it has no chance against the corporations of capitalist society, not to mention the conscience of the everyday person. At first I did not understand Berry’s distinction of nature’s right to exist as it was, a tree having different rights than a river. However, in a legal context this becomes clearly apparent. They must have, as Berry said, a legal right to fulfill their historical ecological functions.

    • I appreciate your rational and caring response here, Christopher. You bring out a very important point in regard to human lives fulfilling “historical ecological functions”– which functions also happen to support our lives on this gift of a planet.

  34. Deontological Business would without a doubt help us as a race to protect and respect our planet. The thing that bothers me about it is exactly the problem our society and culture has, it just doesn’t make business sense.

    This is not to say that I don’t support the idea, or even think it could work, because I do. What I am saying is that in our capitalist society, it doesn’t make sense to take a loss in any aspect if we don’t have to.

    Why protect the earth and respect nature as it’s own entity when it is cheaper to just continue on as we have since the industrial revolution? Obviously herein lies the problem. Until we can elevate ourselves above the here and now of our current world, we can not hope to change our behaviors for the benefit of tomorrow.

    Change needs to come from the top as well as the bottom. Not only do major corporations need to change, but the government needs to change in order to hold the companies to some standard. The people need to change in order to hold the government accountable. The children need to be taught that the balance of our ecosystem needs to take over our capitalist world view and make us responsible for the equalization of Man and Earth.

  35. Unfortunately, there are few people standing up for the natural world. I do believe that there are more people in tune to the ecological needs of our planet though. I really enjoyed Thomas Berry’s three essential rights, “the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfill their role in the ever renewing processes of the Earth community.” Humankind impacts every one of these rights in one way or another. Take rivers for example, how many in the United States are free flowing? Very few. We alter so many natural processes and take away their right to exist in a natural state. We dam them, we build around them, and we pollute them. We forever alter the normal patterns of flow; they no longer are able to allow salmon to run up stream, or cleanse themselves due to man-made controls, or overcome the damaging effects of toxins. Changing the way we look at and interact with these dynamic processes of nature could allow them to maintain their free flowing qualities if we just became more cognizant of how our actions affect them.

    When the legal system gets involved and the outcome is in favor of nature we can only hope that humans make the wise choice to restore what was lost. The legal aspects of environmental degradation can be a long battle with many legal fees. When it really comes down to the end, how much can go to restoration? I am glad there are those individuals out there willing to take on the fight. It is interesting that there are a “dozen communities that have ordinances giving legal standing to nature.” On one hand I think only twelve? And then I think well that is a start. The environmental movement is in full swing and we can only hope that the world will understand that all things are connected. We cannot continue treating the natural world the way we have been for ever. Natural resources are finite. If it has to happen legally, that might just be the way it has to be.

    I deal with the legal side of nature on a daily basis; I am an environmental protection specialist in Yosemite National Park. I apply numerous laws to over a hundred of the smaller projects going on in Yosemite on an annual basis. There are two wild and scenic rivers in the park; a few organizations sued for the legal rights of the Merced River to flow freely and won the suit over what constitutes an outstandingly remarkable value. Legal battles and watchdogs are essential to the process of evaluating what is wrong and right. No one person or agency should decide the outcome of any natural entity; we need a multitude of ideas, values and morals to make the best decision.

  36. I think this kinda hit me in an unusual way, as former military. When we wage war on others, it isnt just the humans who are affected by the weapons of war. And I am not saying this to say we dont have good reasons for war, nor discussing where war is good or bad, but merely the impact of the weapons we choose to use on the planet and the animals and other life in the area. When a bomb goes off in Afghanistan, there are mountains and hills destroyed. When nuclear weapons were used in Japan, it was not just the people themselves affected, but the area, the very land they worked on and ate from affected as well. Heck, the nuclear testing program wiped out an entire atoll, that had been inhabited by an indigenous Pacific tribe. The weapons of war are not designed to just target a human. They have further reaching consequences to the vegetation, to the wildlife, to the face of the land itself. Not only are we punishing those we have chosen to go to war with, but the landscape and the biological life as well, which has truly harmed no one but being the wrong place at the wrong time. I wonder how future wars might be affected if such legal rights were to be put in place for nature itself. Would the US become a war criminal for bombing in Afghanistan?

  37. (PHL 443 Student Reply) To me, this article brought up a good question… Is it worthwhile if the ends justify the means? According to the opinion expressed by the author, the answer would be “No.” If biodiversity, or the environment as a whole, receives harm from our actions, then perhaps we should find another approach to meet that same “ends.” I utilize this mind set on a daily basis in my job as an Industrial Hygiene technician. If a process uses carcinogens or harms the worker in the process, the first thing we should do is attempt to replace that harmful chemical with another that is safe for our worker. This same thought process should occur before we make any action towards our environment or resources. So, I would say that the ends definitely do no justify the means. We have a unique opportunity to prove ourselves to our future generations by showing that the means is what can make humankind so extraordinary, with compassion and intent.

  38. How can a country like Ecuador adopt these laws in their constitution, and a country like ours cannot? Ecuadorians are not confused by greed. The notion that the capitalistic system of ownership would crumble due to giving rights to nature is absolutely insane. We have taken so much from nature due to the capitalistic system of ownership; the environment can’t give back what we have taken. Giving nature rights is a good way to make up for nature lost. We would also receive much more from nature if we were able to establish rights for them. When nature in turn gives back, the only thing we need to do is to use nature in a sustainable manner. We need not only laws for nature, but laws to restore it. It would be a huge benefit for all of us in nature.

  39. The idea of natural rights is interesting. I had not considered taking legal action for nature. Perhaps because the practice of law is a human science versus the typical cause and effect process seen in nature. I found the part about humans being compensated for natural devastation intriguing. It is quite ironic that a person can represent nature in a legal proceeding and, upon winning, nature is not restored. Again this shows western “value” of nature as being monetary. It is easier to compensate whoever is deemed to be the assest holder for the market value of the loss instead of providing restoration.

  40. From reading the article, “earth others” are all inhabitants of earth besides humans. Being that they are coinhabitants of earth thatt would lead me to believe that they should have equal opportunity to survive and flourish on the earth. I agree with the idea that if we were to realize the rights of these earth others it would definitely help us to make advancements in overcoming racism, sexism and classicism. But humans cannot manage to treat each other as equals so I truly cannot imagine us being able to assume this attitude towards anything that is nonhuman. Even if we look past the holier than thou attitude of Americans towards the rest of the world we are still faced with the prejudices within our own society. Even though Switzerland, Spain and Equador have passed laws granting rights to the earth others I wonder if they have been equally successful in controlling or alleviating the differences among their human citizens. It would probably be easier to grant the rights to the earth others due to the fact that most of our societies are based on a have and have not philosophy where there is a competition to be the one that has the most. The earth others would not be a part of this competition so therefore earsier to grant these rights to.

  41. Hi,
    progress on the rights of mother earth: http://www.ecobc.org/covenant_of_ecologic/

    from:
    World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth
    April 22nd, Cochabamba, Bolivia

    Andy

  42. I agree with the worldview expressed that all beings have an inherent right to exist and that to place value on nonhuman creatures according to their human benefit is wrong. We absolutely should defend trees, rivers, meadows, mountains, creatures, flowers,…and the oceans- regardless of their perceived value to human uses. Giving them ‘legal’ rights will force people to perceive things differently. It can change a ‘conquer and dominate’ worldview, to more of a ‘let’s live in respect, harmony and balance together’ worldview. It makes perfect sense to place the rights of Mother Earth before the rights of human beings. (a great example of this is the current man made oil spill crisis) Living ecosystems and species all have an inherent value apart from whatever worth they have for…humans Putting the planet before our own self interests, protecting life, and defending the earth-legally, is the completely moral thing to do.

  43. The binary that exists among humans and “earth others” is such a patriarchal concept. “Others” are different, sure, but they need not be treated as anything less than ourselves. But I sincerely believe that we have adapted that view to justify our lifestyles. After all, we like things fast, cheap and easy, and this is usually not good for the environment or any of the “earth others.” We can then live with our decisions to exploit Earth for our own convenience by CONVENIENTLY forgetting that nature has a right to go undisturbed and that all species have a place in this world. I am heartened by the idea of legal rights for nature. As is, the destruction of nature is all too often tolerated and frequently encouraged. We view companies as “moral” and “commendable” when they buck this trend, but really, all companies should be forced to do business in this way. In our society, however, governments frequently acquiesce to corporations and do not hold them liable for their actions, no matter how horrible the consequences. The current oil spill (although I don’t really call it a SPILL so much as a catastrophe) comes to mind. It was reported that BP said that they were prepared to handle the worst-case scenario. Well, obviously they were not, because we now have the single worst man-made natural disaster on our hands. And, show of hands, who believes that BP will ever have to pay as much as will be lost? Anyone? Anyone? And who thinks that the irreparable damage to the ecosystem can be made right with any amount of money? As Madronna writes, humans are compensated, but nature cannot be restored. It is certain. Nature needs legal rights now more than ever. It is the only way to keep our system from imploding.

    • The convenience that we gain from forgetting or ignoring that we depend on other lives with a long history of working together in ecosystems brings us many of the problems we face today. I too am heartened by the idea of rights for nature–it seems the next logical step in terms of growing consciousness–not to mention, survival ethics– on the part of humans in a society that has too often forgotten how it relies on the natural world as its source of life. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Amanda. And as for that show of hands– I sincerely hope this is a wake up call in terms of laxity of regulation for corporations– but I think we we will have to watch carefully and act where we see the opportunity to make this so.

  44. I think recognizing the intrinsic value and having a respect for all life is significant component of changing current environmental, economic and socially unjust practices within society. Additionally as a global community, I think we need to revaluate economic practices based off of continuous growth and consumption that perpetuate inequalities (both social and environmental) and essentially objectify and devalue life and nature. I was impressed with the Ecuadorian Constitution and the responsibility it places on individuals and the state to protect nature’s right to exist and to regenerate. But I was wondering how this is enforced, especially in light of global economic policies that often perpetuate unsustainable land use practices? Lastly, it is good to see that some communities within the United States are also giving legal standing to nature and I hope that more communities follow this same path.

    • Thanks for the comment, Natalie. Your raise an important issue–we will see how Ecuador handles this, but giving the natural world constitutional standing is certainly a step in protecting the commons that sustains us all. I know that Ecuador is currently fighting a lawsuit against Chevron for wretched pollution of the local rainforest– including the lands where indigenous peoples need to survive. That will be one to watch as a large multinational goes up against this country with its laws protecting nature.
      However difficult it is to pursue this, I don’t think we can invent and pursue too many legal ways to protect the natural world.

  45. After reading the “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth” I couldn’t help but see how these rights could belong to all of humanity as well. Neither of these rights are currently being upheld. The theme of this post is that humans need to acknowledge the sovereignty of nature and to follow these rules with respect and humility. Since humans have hardly conquered treating one another with love and respect, it is not surprising that the circle of compassion is not wider. “Human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state. Indeed, human rights are limited in a community which recognizes the rights of all life.” It is important that each entity has rights that are specific to its own needs. Like the post states, it would not do any good for a river to have the same rights as a tree. Currently technology and biomedical advances threaten the rights of many species. I find it difficult to believe that the idea of advocating for the rights of nature is meeting opposition. I feel that most of this must stem from the issue of money. It should occur to people instinctively that we need to be aware of our earth and the way that we treat it because we have no other options. Clearly, we will not find an easy fix, I do not believe that one exists, therefore small steps need to be taken. The first would be to recognize that the air has a right to be clean and that having clean air benefits every living thing that depends upon it for survival. Hurting it only hurts ourselves as well.

    • You are absolutely right, Ashley– as Christopher just pointed out before you in a comment on partnership, that the ways in which we treat the natural world reflects the ways in which we treat one another. You also have a very good point in your note about the appropriate allocation of rights– a different and balanced perspective from that deriving from a competitive worldview that assumes there is one pool of rights, and if I take mine from that pool, it will diminish yours.
      Another important point about small steps (steps, that is, each of us can do even while we carefully watch the system that governs us): it is indeed important to remember that “hurting the air” (or the water or the land) hurts us all.

  46. Before reading this article, I had never thought of nature not having or needing rights. But, now the entire concept of nature NOT having rights seems completely unfair. Humans are senfish, we believe that all things are put here on earth to profit us. But, their not the trees were put on earth for other reasons then to provide us with wood and shade, etc.
    By fighting for nature to have rights we are standing up for something that should have never been taken advantage of in the first place. There shouldn’t be a need to ‘fight” for nature. If it wants to be looked at as “profiting ourselves” by fighting to save the seals that are being killed than fine, it can be seen that way. Either way the battle is one that needs to begin.
    GMO’s scare me. The fact that someone can patent grain is absolutely ridiculous! That grain eventually travels into other peoples organic grain and then the GMO company owns their grain too…just because the wind blew it there… Someday the entire earth will be owned!

    • Thoughtful perspective, Briana. I agree that in a better and fairer (and smarter) world, we would not need such a thing as legal protect for the natural world. We would simply act with respect and care for it since, after all, it sustains us.
      I also agree with you about “patents on life”–and the dangers of gmos to our seed supply– which is a basis of Shiva’s “no patents on life” campaign. Many things happening today ARE scary: but if take our fears and turn them into energy for change, we have great potential. Time for each of us to keep our minds, eyes and hearts open and act accordingly. Thanks for your comment.

  47. I like the idea of nature having rights, but having to go through court processes to protect those rights seems like a step backward. Court fees are high and as it mentions in the essay, most of the money won in court battles goes back to humans, not to the species that the battle was over. It’s sad that only companies making billions of dollars off of nature (renewable power, oil drilling, etc) are the only ones putting money back into nature as an attempt to fix the problems they’ve caused. I wish there was a way to fix our legal system and to actually put into action the rights passed at the World People’s Conference last April.

    • You have a good point, Megan. Right now folks in South America are embroiled in court suits against Chevron because of the tragic oil spills and dumping in the Amazon. Let’s hope it is not always the case that money wins. Your comment brings up an important point: we need a political democracy in all its aspects, including equity in the court system.
      And beyond that, protecting the rights of nature should be an essential part of our society. However, it is also true of many things like Civil Rights, which have been a struggle to enforce, but also brought about social change. There is that saying of the Earthjustice organization that the earth needs a good lawyer– given our current environmental crises, I don’t want to imagine what things would be like without the cases they have won.

  48. By giving these legal rights for nature, us as humans are trying to lessen the damage we are doing to the Earth. This shows the right progression towards preserving nature in its purest form, but realistically it may never be this ideal. For instance, it is said, “it is rare that even all humans are treated as agents. To do so would make considerable inroads against racism, sexism, and classicism.” This demonstrates that if us as a human race cannot treat each other as agents, how can we treat our natural environment with this respect?
    We may be moving towards this respect however. In the article, it mentions that nowadays, business ethics stress that others should never be treated as mere objects for gaining profit, but rather it focuses on all those who are effected by the business’s strategy. This goes along with the philosophy of Kantianism, treating others as an end, rather than treating others as a means to the end. Eventually I believe this is how us as human agents will view nature, hopefully before there has been major permanent damage to our natural environments.

    • It is an important issue to assess how far we may be from the respect with which we might treat both the natural world and one another, Kyle. It seems to me, the more we deviate from this respect, the more we need to work toward restoring it.
      Treating others as an “end” rather than a means to our ends is an essential point. I hope with you that a change toward this view happens as quickly and thoroughly as we need it. Such change begins with consciousness– such as you express here.

  49. This essay was very eye-opening for me. It shows how ignorant and self-centered the human race can be. We are just one species out of billions on this planet, and yet we seem to forget. We use and abuse nature for our benefit, and ignore, or are unaware of the consequences. This blatant ignorance is now becoming a huge issue, and i’m glad to see that there are acts set in place to give every other species on this planet some equal rights to living on this planet. We as humans must realize this planet is not for us, but we coexist with billions of other species.

    • As your comment indicates, Brandon, human ignorance is intertwined with human arrogance. We not only co-exist with so many other species, we depend on them for our survival. Thanks for your comment.

  50. I agree not enough people in this world care about nature’s rights. They feel that it was put onto earth to help out humans and so we (humans) can take whatever fits to our needs best. Humans need to start honoring nature and see it does have a purpose and place in this world, and nature does have a life with rights attached to it. I like how this article talks about legal suits for nature like “chemical trespass”. I like Stone’s theory that trees express the contemporary industrial worldview. GMOs cause a big issue all round the world with whether they should be allowed and if so where and under what conditions. Switzerland has a good policy for GMOs for them to be grown they have to meet two conditions. One the GMOs cannot damage the existing biodiversity. And two, any plant that is a GMO may not be able to reproduced. Switzerland seems to have figured out that nature has rights of its own and is one of the few European countries that protect the rights of more than just humans. I really like how this article talks about how some countries are stepping up and starting to protect nature and see that nature has legal rights just like humans do.

    • It is an odd (and dangerous) idea that humans somehow have a right to ravage the rest of the world in order to survive– indeed, this is self-destructive, since we depend on natural life for our sustenance. I like the details that you bring out here, Ayla. I would like to see the US step and exert the kind of leadership that Switzerland has on this issue.

  51. Legal rights for nature is a concept that we incorporate a great deal into our work at my environmental nonprofit organization. We work to protect the seas and rivers of Israel which have been neglected for decades. One of the main issues for Israel’s rivers is the lack of water. 90% is pumped from the rivers’ source and used for irrigation and drinking water and the remaining 10% is not enough to sustain a healthy ecosystem. Our organization believes that nature has a right to water and that the plants and animals in and along the rivers should be given enough water to sustain them, just as the residents of the country deserve enough water to sustain them as well. It is a hard argument to make in a country that is continuously in a water shortage, but we believe that over time people will come to realize that they benefit just as much from healthy rivers as the fish and birds do.

    • It is great that have a chance to work on putting this value into effect, Hannah. This is a difficult sell in a water shortage– but some predict that the entire globe will soon be there, and the thing is that in the long run, water for other parts of nature in an ecosystem helps protect the water that cycles through it– and thus in the long run is good for all.

  52. I am excited to hear about the rights being set up for “natural others.” It is great that people are starting to see the natural world as equal and that we are a part of it, not the leaders of it. Will these rights really be put into practice fully though? Our legal system is all about what is good and right for humans. While we are starting to see many consquences of human interference in natural processes that are affecting human life, are the masses (including our legal system) going to pick natural rights over human rights if that’s what it comes down to?

    • Thoughtful comment, Jessika. These rights won’t be put into effect unless those of us who feel they should stand with them…I am hoping more of us will realize that natural life sustains us. We are all in this together, and protecting natural life protects us in the long run, as well.

  53. This article got me thinking about two different angles, one practical, one philosophical.
    First, who decides who gets to be the voice for nature? In the right hands, this would be a great tool, but I worry that when nature is given legal standing, people will be able to manipulate the legal process for their own gain by using “nature” as basically a buzzword. Like the article mentioned, many of these suits are resolved by compensating the humans involved, not restoring natural areas. The people who care the most about an issue are probably not those with the money to fund an expensive legal campaign.
    The other thought that passed through my mind was prompted by the discussion of animals being able to live out their natural role. I’ve always been fascinated with the small insects (although I can’t think of an example right now) who spend so much time as a larvae, or in a cocoon, and then emerge only to mate and die. What does two or three days of life feel like to them? Do they have any sort of awareness, or just biological fear and pleasure responses? It’s so mindblowing to think about all the different types of organisms in the world.

    • Thoughtful point, Tivey: it is a stretch to think that those with a worldview that stresses self-interest would willingly and compassionately care for other lives– though there are many who do do this. The criteria set up for the ways in which humans should not legally disrupt natural systems is, I think, a good start. In the US I think of the work of the Environmental Defense Fund, “because the earth needs a good lawyer”- I would hate to think of our environment without them (we have enough problems already).
      The variety of natural life is amazing indeed: we don’t need to go to outer space to find vastly different consciousness–and in this case, creatures that have essential roles in the cycle of life that supports us all. Thanks for your comment.

  54. The idea of creating lawsuits and litigation on the behalf of Nature is something I had no idea actually went on. I think the article is right in pointing out, there is little to no benefit for the actual species/plants is there? I mean, do these lawsuits stop land from being developed or species from being hunted? Did the seal lawsuit stop the seals from being clubbed? It might bring the problem to the attention of people, but what does it actually accomplish? I suppose if protective laws were passed as a result, this would be a useful and practical system, but where does the money come from, and who are they suing?

    • Thanks for your comment, Kamran. I hope I did not give the impression that there “is little to no benefit for the species involved” in the move toward giving legal rights to nature, Kamran. I would say that the Endangered Species Act is an example of rights for nature that has made a substantial difference, as has the work of Earthjustice (see my response to Tivey here). The “money” for such suits currently comes from contributors who believe in this cause–and the suits have been to restrain actions that harm other species or pollute air, land and water.
      It is true that giving legal rights to nature is based on a radical values change from current Western culture (and thus “idealistic” from the point of view of that worldview). Nonetheless, small communities in the US have used this idea to protect forests and watersheds–and stop corporations from violating them. To me giving legal rights to nature makes more sense that applying the Bill of Rights to corporations as if they were legal “persons”–which we have been doing.

  55. First of all, I wish I had heard the term ‘Earth Others’ before reading this article as it expresses something complex and expansive in a very succinct way.

    This article gave a great deal of insight into how individuals have trouble trouble finding effective, well thought out, and fair rules for treating earth others; and that, in addition, because of the complexity of human constructs like law and corporate status within the law we have to address systemic differences of opinion which are unequally expressed in the international arena.

    “…perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to spend some time and energy trying to figure out what nature really does want…” I am not sure how we would even go about this without a comprehensive scientific account of the ways different forces within nature, if it is even fair to call them different, interact to form the whole. Certainly it is fair to say that baby seals would prefer not to be clubbed to death just as various forest dwelling creatures would prefer if their homes were not destroyed.

    What this all seems to come down to is, what I would consider to be, a widely held belief that ‘humans come first’, even if these humans happen to be construed corporations or their hardly responsible, or accountable, puppeteers.

    • “Earth Others” is Val Plumwood’s term-and I think it does do what you credit it for doing. Thoughtful assessment here in terms of shifting the view that puts humans as the first and foremost in priority among living creatures– and the idea of corporations as “persons” certainly expresses a myriad of problems in itself. Some tragic results flow from depersonalizing the natural world at the same time that we personalize this human money-making mechanism.
      I do think this tells us something about our bottom line of valuation: that is, we personalize what we value– and we have an unfortunate priority in the current US legal standards.
      Thanks for your comment, Thomas.

  56. Hello!

    You mentioned toward the end of your discussion that some critics argue that we cannot give legal rights to nature because we do not know what nature wants. I think that this is an interesting mind-set for critics to hold. To me, it just seems silly. And like you said about the seals, I’m sure that other natural things within this world would rather not be destroyed if given a choice. Who would rather die than live, especially without a voice to explain: “why or why not.” Nature has existed infinitely, much longer than Humans. And before Humans, it has been researched and proven that Nature has flourished and continued in it’s natural cycle. It just seems so abnormal and wrong to break this cycle (especially if in harmful ways) which Nature has continued on with for longer than we exist. Who are we to break the cycle?

    I think what Switzerland has done within their constitution is great. I think that it is also the right move to have GMOs illegal until there is a safe, healthy, and more natural way to go about it. Which, may be never, because genetically modifying something is not natural. I also agree with those who argue that certain research projects that jeopardize biodiversity and speciation or endangerment should not be carried out. To me, it seems like a concept that should be second nature. Yes, we have created things that have been very helpful and have even saved lives. But when do we stop? There has to be a tipping point where people realize that it has gone too far. There has to be a point where people get scared for their own health and well-being. I know that it scares me, maybe nature is scared as well? But what is sad, is that some people aren’t scared at all (or even realize) that things are being created that should not and would not ever be created if Humans didn’t mess with them in the first place.

    • Thanks for the perspective on knowing what nature wants, Hana. Thomas berry has a take on this as well, listing three of these: the right to exist, the right to habitat and the right to fulfill their natural purpose.
      I also like the Swiss approach in giving dignity to all living things by way of their constitution. I think you are absolutely right that we should never create or research things in any way we wish just because we can: we need to do something more responsible with our power. Your response is one deriving from facing the facts– which I think many are not doing. Thanks again for your comment.

    • Hana,

      It is scary that some people do not see nature as a living being that needs protection, but rather a thing to be exploited. We cut down trees at alarming rates, pollute the air and water, decimate entire populations of wildlife, and never bat an eye. These ideas no longer shock me, but they always sadden me. I have been raised my entire life to respect all living things, no matter how small. It is discouraging to me when people do not possess a desire to protect nature and only seek to exploit it.

      • Thanks for holding to the values you were raised with in terms of respecting all living things, Jamie. If more of us did that, we would live in a different world–and we could yet measure up to that vision.

  57. I have never thought of giving nature rights like humans do. After thinking about it, I already practice this belief. Many insects that are trapped inside my house I normally just pick them up with a tissue or paper and let them on their way outside. I was taught and raised like this so it’s kind of interesting to actually think about it.
    As humans, we are invading these animals habitats and destroying their homes. We shouldn’t be punishing them for coming into our homes.
    Western thinking is geared to expansion and control nowadays that we should take a step back and really understand that nature around us has her rights. She was here before we were and we should respect that.
    What Switzerland has done is amazing. If something like that were to pass in the US, so much of the beauty of this country would be preserved.
    The quote by Billy Frank Jr. was the thing that stood out most in this article for me since it gave me a rude awakening that animals, trees, and rivers all breathe air and live the same way I do. In the same way we have to co exist with people we like and don’t like, we have to respect the rights these non-humans have also.

    • Thanks for sharing your own family teaching in expressing consideration for more than human life, Will. Good perspective about habitat: that we have come into theirs rather than vice versa. This is what impressed me about the
      rancher’s quote on the grizzly bear in our “quote of the week sidebar”. “Expansion and control” is a lose-lose game in the end. I very much like the Swiss legal idea as well– though some folks in the US might find it pretty radical, laws can lead the way in establishing ethical standards. Though in order for this to happen, I think we need to get the lobbyists out of our Congress and return to a one-person one vote democracy. Nice point about existing with people “we like and don’t like”. I find a strong connection between our ability to relate in this way to human others and to more than human others.

    • Prior to the start of this class, I never really thought about preserving all of nature like you do in saving even the smallest insect that gets into your home. Hopefully after further study and understanding, I can learn to be much like you and take time to do my part even in the smallest ways like this. Good job, and thanks for highlighting this for me.

  58. This is truly great news. This is a huge step in the right direction to acknowledge rights exist at all is quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately though, there is no way to enforce these rights on a universal basis. The mere acknowledgement of rights does not guarantee that they will be respected or even accepted by some. Hopefully with this acknowledgement also comes a new era of understanding and sympathy for nature on a world-wide basis.

    • There is indeed another step to be made in turning acknowledge into enforcement, Andrew. But an “era of understanding”, as you put it, is certainly an important step in the right direction.

    • I think this is a very important point. Without a means to enforce these rights, how can we expect big money driven industries, such as fishing, lumber and oil companies, (whose adherence to these laws would be most beneficial) to respect these newly appointed rights to Nature.

    • Sadly, I have to agree with you, Andrew. I think respect for our environment starts with our children, though. If we start teaching this kind of compassion and respect, reciprocity, then attitudes for the environment are bound to improve.

  59. I love the idea of a bill of rights for nature. This idea should not be a new one and seems like common sense, but logically I know many people do not see it this way. The statement in this article describing how proof needed to be shown that bludgeoning baby seals was harmful, is utterly ridiculous. Sometimes I am truly shocked with how little regard humans have for other living things. It is reassuring that people are out there looking out for nature and working tirelessly to protect all living things. This is a great article.

    • Thanks, Jamie. I appreciate your response. If we step for a minute outside the worldview that puts humans at the top and above all other lives (and some humans above others), it does indeed seem like common sense– not to mention, ethical sense.

  60. I found it very surprising that some nations have already taken action and passed laws to protect Nature, such as in the Swedish and Equadorian Constitutions. I find it even more impressive that communities in the U.S. are participating in creating rights for “more than humans.” I think that involving one’s communities in these issues is key to making progress in the fight for gaining rights for Nature. The examples presented in this essay, such as the Spanish Parliament granting great apes the same rights as humans, are very inspiring.

    • It is actually the Swiss constitution, Emily. =) Nice point about community involvement: I think these models of ones who have done it tell us it not only should but can be done. Thanks for your comment.

  61. What I don’t understand is why something more powerful isn’t done for animals within the United States. Animal cruelty laws do not punish the offender as much as they should, nor do the deter the offender.

    Extreme animal cruelty (i.e., torturing and killing) are crimes that escalate as the offender gets older. Ted Bundy was a prolific animal abuser, his crimes against humans might have been preventable if stronger laws existed for the protection of our animals. That is, if he had tortured a dog and the case was examined thoroughly enough, the law enforcement psychologists, etc. might have figured that he was a sociopathic sadist much sooner and saved the lives of his human victims.

    We live in a country where a beloved dog is as valuable in a legal trial as your desk lamp, and that breaks my heart. I recently read an article about a couple who was divorcing and there was contention about who the dog would live with (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/19803536). In the eyes of the court, the dog has a monetary value and that is it. It is not a loving, kind, sweet, fun creature who eats, drinks, and breathes just like you and I.

    Or how about Milton, our kitten who someone stuck in a mailbox at just three weeks old. If that had been a human, people would have been outraged, but because he’s a furball, people are indifferent and continue to reply “well, at least he has a good home now.” That’s not the point. Something like that will happen again, and when it does, maybe that kitten won’t be so lucky.

    I am a big fan of an organization called “In Defense of Animals” which fights to give animals just a fraction of the freedoms and protections afforded to human beings.

    While I do appreciate the efforts being made to protect our environment and its inhabitants better, I simply do not understand why it took so long for us to get here. I grew up in the country, where cats are thought of rodents by a great deal of ranching young men. However, my grandma and my dad taught me to love animals and to care for them and rescue them, because without us they have no hope.

    This article from MSNBC is just another to remind me that Stormie Mae (my beloved canine companion) has a soul the same as I do — http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/39574733/ns/today-tech_and_science.

    “Animals belong to themselves, not to us. They should not suffer in our systems of food, science, entertainment and fashion. Instead, they should live free of the tyranny we put upon them. But they cannot claim this freedom alone” (Let Live Foundation: http://www.letlivefoundation.org/)

    • Thanks for this link on animals “having spiritual experiences” (a neurologist’s point of view), Crystal. Powerful quote in your last paragraph. It is surely an important part of our moral being to care for those who have less power than we do in our current system. Perhaps some day we will get beyond that and have a truly egalitarian system which recognizes our interdependence with all life–and how much we have to learn about being human from our more than human companions on this earth. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts as well as your passion and care, Crystal.

  62. In order for people to understand the legal rights of nature they have to understand it. What we are learning here is the value of nature and how we appreciate it, and how it has its right to exist yet does everyone appreciate it? no. yet, they do have the right to do so. but- that does not mean they will. You make great points- people have rights- why don’t trees? why don’t plants? why don’t flowers? I relate to this very much because I am very much with the respecting of nature and I don’t think people appreciate it as much as they should. The legal rights for nature don’t mean anything to anyone anymore- and I believe that should change. People are way to greedy about other things, and do not appreciate the beauty in life.

    • Excellent point about understanding nature in order to protect its “rights”, Tayler– isn’t it true that in order to care for anything, we need to learn about it in a humble and caring way?
      The greed that ignores this is too often expressed –and I those taken up with such greed not only harm others but shorten (and certainly shrink the quality) of their own lives as well.

      • I agree as well that you brought up a great point. I know that a couple people have already mentioned the article on the commons. In it, the author referred to the fact that people who are more connected with their environment tend to hold more intimate views regarding its preservation. Perhaps if everyone realized how dependent we are on the environment for our social/economical/healthful well-being, everyone would hold a different standpoint on the Earth’s rights.

        • Nice points, Jennifer: I think we cannot emphasize enough that we are interdependent with all of nature, rely on it for our survival–and the closest we become to realizing this, the wiser our choices.
          A few years ago, there was quite a bit of publicity about the book Last Child in the Woods that argued the benefits of children being bonded with the natural world at an early age.

  63. Great article/essay. I had no idea that nature had rights, as if it is being talked about as it’s own person or something. Hasn’t nature always had rights though or did people just make these rights up? For example, having only certain times of the year to go hunting. Why come up with ideas like that? I read a lot of the comments to this one as not everyone cares about nature and usually walk all over it with their money driven minds.

    • You are right in that it takes a particular worldview– or perhaps, certain changes in the one we have– to honor the fact that nature might have rights rather than being subject to our whims. Thanks for your comment, Jenn.

  64. This is a really deep subject for me. The rights of things in nature to exist, to be respected, and to continue its natural cycle is understandable. But as a human it is hard for me to see things in nature as equal. I can understand these rights. I can even see things in nature having a state sovereignty, as Frank discusses. Some say living things, but that about the non living things that are apart of nature and influence the lives of living things. I guess Constitution of Ecuador, and the Rights for Nature within it, explains it the best. It was written with the indigenous peoples influence. The only problem with Ecuador’s Rights of Nature is it is up to the State to regulate. To me that means two things enforcement and regulations. We have seen in the past that governments might do what is right for their interests and not natures.

    • Thoughtful response, Bob. This brings up two points for me. Firstly, even though we might think we are doing things in our interest rather than nature’s (out of a competitive worldview that one or the other must be “prior”), we are such an intimate part of the natural world that we depend on for survival, that hurting it hurts ourselves– in the long term if not the short term. Enforcement is an issue–as is enforcement of the clean air and water acts in the US, which some argue have not been adequately enforced because of monied interests. Perhaps if we had another worldview, we would be motivated to place ecosystem health over short term profit for a few.
      Secondly, I am not quite sure that all parts of nature need to looked at equally for nature to have rights. That implies some sort of measure on a hierarchical scale perhaps. Berry’s perspective gives us a sense that everything has rights in its own place-and that these are not competitive in the sense that a tree would ever benefit from the same rights as a human, for instance. The issue of restraint for humans comes in when the things we do destroy the rights of these others to fulfill their place in ecological systems.

      • Professor, but how would a hierarchical scale work? Like many faults in human nature… it would be up to us to decide which part of the natural world is most crucial? Such as the beaver in the essay “Partnering with the natural world?” I am in much conflict as to hold this either to myself or another to decide.

        • Do you mean a NON-hierachical scale? Thoughtful point: I would trust someone like Siletz elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim who works to be a “voice for the voiceless”, on both the grounds of knowledge and integrity in her battle for clean water. And the Swiss have a model which they worked out for deciding the rights of nature with respect to genetic engineering which I think is quite well done. And that community in Pennsylvania who passed an ordinance on the rights of trees and water to inhibit development that would ravage their resources.
          And the Wintu who protect their river (they are still fighting) against a non-US bottling plant who are trying to “buy” the water. And then there is the case of Lake Erie which has a growing dead zone (it was getting better before the Bush adminstration’s weakening of the clean water act. Or the acts of Chevron in devastating the environment of particular indigenous peoples in the Amazon.
          I think Berry’s criteria provides a guidelines, but that on a case by case basis all these are examples I think most of us would be able to come together on.
          The idea that the beaver needs more protection than others (or that one of us might decide over others) goes back into hierarchy in which the rights of some trump the rights of others. But as Berry points out, ecological systems are interdependent: thus supporting the beaver supports the humans and the plant and…

  65. I found it very ironic, that the essay mentions a common legal argument against those who have filed suits on behalf of “earth others”, is that they had no compelling “self-interest” in the cases. This is ironic, because in the essay regarding the “Tragedy of the Commons”, Garret Hardin states that it is that “self-interest” which inevitably destroys sustainability.
    That said, “self-interest” might have somewhat come in to play, when the Spanish parliament passed the “great apes” resolution. They might have seen the resolution as compelling, because how close the link is between the apes and humans. If only humans would realize that we are all linked to all of “earths others” in some way or another, then perhaps equal rights can be granted to all species.

    • Indeed, Leah, it is ironic that we do not recognize that lives of all species are interdependent and thus caring for/protecting earth others is definitely in our self-interest. And for a different take on Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons”, see attending to the whole here. Thanks for your comment.

  66. I think that it is nonsense that nature needs to have rights. Ok, it is a good thing that there are rights but are they really necessary? I feel like we should be past this and already understand and acknowledge that nature is an integral part of our existence. It is infuriating to have to be a protector of the thing that keeps us alive. I don’t understand why people can’t appreciate the natural world as the life-giving source of everything we need. No rights should exist simply because we shouldn’t need them, it is sad that many people need a law to prevent harm to nature.

    • Hi Samantha, you have a good point that it seems a bit foolish that we should need to protect and defend that which keeps us alive. On the other hand, the commons is being ravaged at an unbelievable rate and if we do not protect that which sustains us, we will lose things like clean water, clean air, and habitat for those lives with share (and sustain) ours.
      It is sad that people need a law to prevent them from harming other people, as well…
      Thanks for your comment. I hope we someday get to the point where such laws would be superfluous because we all understand the intrinsic value of the natural world.

    • I agree with you, we shouldn’t have to impose laws to protect nature. I can’t say whether its necessary or not, but I think that we would be better off with the laws than without them.

    • Nature needs protection because people refuse to respect it. There is no way around it if nothing is done to protect the Earth’s Natural resources it would have been mined and used up, dumped on and abused in every sense of the word long ago. This is a more modern problem too with the rise of manufacturing technology and what is done with the waste. Not everyone can live in harmony and respect nature. Maybe its ignorance maybe its greed either way without regulations on what people can put out there much worse things then oil spills and incidents like the Love Canal would exist.

      • Ignorance and greed combined lead to some tragic results, some of which we have not seen yet, as you indicate. I think you have a solid point that we must protect the natural systems that sustain our lives–and make this a priority for all.

  67. I have never thought about the legal rights of nature. It seems appropriate to write policy that clearly states what we can and cannot do to our natural systems. If the laws were not defined for human behavior we would have chaos. Chaos is a symptom of having our natural systems in an ongoing “wild west” state. That is to say, take what you want without repercussion.

    I had no idea that Ecuador already implemented such a system in their government. Even though we are going through the beginning stages of a green movement worldwide there are still a good portion of people who view environmentalists as quacks. If we imposed environmental laws in our own country I think the opinions of the environment and environmentalists would change. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I think the disconnect may come from the listener interpreting the news on climate change (or other environmental stories) as opinion and not fact. If there were laws to protect the environment I would bet money that the people who resist environmentalism would take it more seriously.

    • I think you brought up a great point regarding chaos and rules and regulations. I think that we have been guided as a society to strictly believe in what we have been told or taught what is or isn’t good for us. If laws like those enacted in Switzerland or Ecuador were enacted in the United States regarding the environment, I too believe that people would be forced to contemplate their actions and those of researchers/government officials.

  68. I have to say that this article helped to put into perspective the idea that all interaction with nature doesn’t have to be destructive, and we have an obligation to take care of and respect what we have been given. After reading the Yale Forums regarding ecological standpoints from Judaism, Islam and Christianity, I couldn’t shake the statement that we are merely guests at God’s table. If you are invited into someone’s home and are told to enjoy yourself, do you spurn your host and start taking everything in their house that you can get your hands on? Although you were invited into their house, there are still certain guidelines that you are not only expected to maintain, but should want to maintain in order to assure your genuine gratefulness of being offered an opportunity into someone’s home and to share in their generosity. The host isn’t inviting you to strip them of their rights in their own home, just as God or the Earth doesn’t expect us to strip them of their natural rights because they invited us to share in their natural wealth.
    With all of that being said, I find it incredibly refreshing that countries like Switzerland and Spain have made such bold legal statements regarding plants and animals natural rights. I found the fact that “terminator genes” were not allowed to be used in gmo research especially groundbreaking. Often times, people find a socially acceptable excuse to violate something’s rights (in the case of gmo crops, society often states that as hunger and expensive crop prices are prevalent, gmo crops are necessary). With this restriction, I feel as though they were expressing their compassion towards researcher’s goals, while still maintaining an unbiased opinion in order to uphold true law and order.

    • Hi Jennifer, it is a very important point that you cite here: that our relationship with the natural world does not have to be destructive: though it takes care to keep it from being that way. Good point about human’s being guests on this earth: would be great if we acted more like decent ones.
      I am also heartened by some of these responses of other countries: it seems to me that when we treat those who share our ecosystem with respect, we also come out with pragmatic actions that benefit humans as well. Good balance in the assessment that we can be both compassionate toward research goals AND toward our environment.

    • I know your right Jennifer. This essay reminded me of this class I took on contemporary and moral ethics. In the class, the professor showed us a video that featured an immigrant family and a narrator describing their day to day, trials and tribulations. This being said, they are talking about the slums, hard hours, and finally.. the dangerous time that they have being immigrant workers. The final scene of the news report shows the Mexicans grabbing chickens in a huge butchery, by their necks and slinging them into a metal holding container through a small slat, no bigger than a couple of inches. Watching the film; however, you are hearing the audio that describes the horror of the workers, but the video you see however is depicting the horror of those chickens. I felt sick everytime I watched the chicken get slung around and its neck broken. It was horrible. This is why you are totally right. Often times people/humans forget the feelings and rights of others. Instead of being compassionate for the needs of Earths others, we are self centered and only focused on human suffering. It is very sad indeed!

      • I think that history shows us that the ways in which we treat other humans (and others are treated) is linked to the ways in which we treat other lives of all species. Thus you saw the workers passing on their own oppression to the chickens.
        This is the same dynamic that causes domestic violence to spiral upward when the “head of household” becomes unemployed.
        One benefit of such legal rights would be establishing a framework in which we understand we are all in this together, rather than passing on someone’s oppressive use of power to those relatively powerless to us.

  69. My first thought when presented with the idea of nature having legal rights, was that it seemed somewhat odd. However, upon further thought and reading this essay, I am fully in support of such legislation. I have long been a supporter of animal rights, so it is not difficult for me to expand this view to all of nature. I think Switzerland and Ecuador are on the right track and I hope that all countries will soon follow suit!

    • Giving nature legal rights does indeed seem “odd” from the perspective of our worldview. Thoughtful analogy in terms of animal rights– since laws against particular forms of animal cruelty already exist, and few disagree with them.
      I love it when nations such as Ecuador and Switzerland think proactively and creatively about such issues. We are capable of doing the same– if we make the decision to do it.

  70. I have thought fir a very long time that nature deserved rights. It is a living entity just as we are. It is actually hard for me to drive behind a log truck because I feel the pain of the trees. Should we as humans hold ourselves higher than all living forms? It makes no sense to do so. We cannot survive. We need a healthy, thriving planet. We shouldn’t have to enforce laws to protect nature, we should be smart enough to know it is for our survival but hey, all you have to do is look around to know this isn’t the case.

    • Thank you for your compassionate response, Debbie. I agree with you both that we should be wiser (and more present to our own situation?)
      I very much like the native approach of “asking permission” of those natural lives which we utilize for our survival. I like to think of the lives/stories of the trees that hold my house upright.

      • I agree that this is an interesting point. I believe that it is unfortunate, but humans do need regulation. I am a very optimistic person, and I hate to think that Thomas Hobbes and the “short brutish life” are all we have to look forward to. I see and meet so many people that believe the same way I do, and for the life of my I cannot understand why if everyone feels the same way I do, and has disgust over the same types of issues, I don’t know how there isn’t a movement. It makes me sad when I think of my responsibilities to protect my life source, and the absolute rhetorically battles that destroy it. The Earth does need rights. Even if rights aren’t the right word. “Inalienable rights” might be better. The funny thing about trying to lay this type of language and paradigm on the concept of nature, is that it completely contradicts a western worldview. People with a western perspective divide humans into an, “alive” category and EVERYTHING else into a dead one. Immediately this lends itself as an obstruction for viewing the Earth as anything besides a resource to be used. This being the case, of course it would seem intrinsically odd to place “rights”, a thing reserved for “alive” items, and place them with inanimate objects that have no capacity for consciousness. Therefore I was not surprised when I read most of the comments made from our class and I heard a lot of, “weird” and… “I never thought about that”.
        Regardless of whether the movement will happen, perhaps the application of a western termed benefit of “rights”, will bring about small, but necessary protections. So in other words, are “rights” the right term? No, probably not, but because it is the best that can happen in conjunction with our current worldview, it is better than nothing.

        • At least some cultures set the stage for humans’ needing regulation– or perhaps, we might say, there are all types of regulation, including personal conscience/compassion.
          Thoughtful discussion about the definition of “rights”: we need somehow to see this in a context of mutuality and interdependence, rather than “I need to protect myself from others.”

  71. It’s inspiring that some places are changing the matrix for which they manage society. Just like changing the framework for technology, people are realizing that it’s time to change the framework for other systems, in this case the legal system.

    It seems to be a sort of chain reaction: Christopher Stone’s work, the Swiss Constitution guaranteeing “three distinct rights to all natural lives”, Spanish Parliament granting “rights to great apes”, Ecuador giving legal standing to “Pachamama and her natural cycles”, an indigenous President in Bolivia. These are all things that that show that people are realizing that the Earth must survive and hopefully soon we will realize that not only must it survive, but it must also thrive.

    Switzerland in particular is changing the “framework” for technological advances in refusing to allow gmo research until it does not pose a threat to all other living species. To add on to the note of “terminator genes” not allowing plants to reproduce: this sounds like a corporate scheme to take control of agricultural crops. Let’s hope that more political leaders jump on the same band wagon as Switzerland and look beyond gaining power and money.

    A very important point was made in that “it is rare that even humans are treated as agents.” This reminded of the massacre of indigenous populations in Sudan which ties into the greed mentioned in the previous paragraph. One illustrates that Sudan, along with its neighboring countries, lies above an important transboundary aquifer where capitalist powers are looking to place massive genetically modified agricultural crops.

    I’m going for a minor in Resource Economics and I enjoyed how this paper mentioned changing the framework for business ethics “allocating legal responsibility to ‘stakeholders’”.

    • Hi Emily, nice analogy between need to change the framework for technology and parallel need to change the legal system. I hope this is a chain reaction– always nice when that chain reaction goes in a needed direction (at least from my perspective).
      It is unfortunate indeed when money and power obscure fundamental values by emphasizing things like greed.
      The Swiss example is so very rational: I would love to see the US get on board with such philosophical consideration of a major technological choice of our time.
      We need more sound analysis of economics, Emily. I am glad you are going there. You might be interesting in looking into the work of the folks at csrwire.

  72. The Christian bible states that “The root of all evil is the love of money.” I am not a person to quote the bible very often but this essay brought that to mind.
    The statement that “giving rights to nature would bring down teh capitalist system of ownership” shows where some people’s heart really is.
    I also find it interesting that when suits regarding nature are compensated, the money goes to people and not to nature being restored.
    There needs to be a clause in such suites that mandates the money won goes to fixing the issue that brought the suite forward in the first place.
    I also found the questions of the critics of allocating legal rights to nature kind of silly. Watch nature and she will show you what she wants. And I am in complete agreeance with the idea that “seals would prefer not to be bludgeoned to death.”

    • Thoughtful assessments here, Loni. I like the idea of enforcing the “rights of nature” in such a way that compensation entails fixing a problem in the natural world– rather than compensating one or another group of humans.
      Good observation about “what is in people’s hearts”– I would respond that if it brings down the capitalist economic system to care for the sources of our lives, that is an argument against the capitalistic economic system–not against caring for the natural systems we need to sustain us.

    • That is a very powerful quote from the Christian bible. People seem to be holding on to the capital system without allowing for change. Early philosphers that influenced the government imagined a utopia about 220 years ago, but it has proven to be far from that. Bringing down the capitalist system isn’t such a bad idea although it’s not something I see in the near future. All the while, we can at least change the framework towards goals of protecting the environment.

      Compensating people instead of nature moves us away from the goals we are trying to reach. Hopefully those people compensated will use that money to promote restoration, but it is a good idea that there be a mandate for these situations.

      It is time that we start listening to everyone in our habitats and advocating for those who cannot advocate for them selves.

  73. The potential of GMO research going wrong is scary. Although I understand the benefits that GMO research can have, there are some outrageous things done to organisms. It is completely unnatural for humans to be manipulating the genetics of a plant to introduce a terminator gene, and render it unable to reproduce. It is stripping the plant of its very biological function! I am happy to hear that Switzerland has made it illegal, and not only because of the dangerous potential it could have on other crops – but also to protect the dignity and rights of the plant.

    I am also happy to hear that Spain has given rights to non-human primates. This is a great step towards creating rights for more forms of life, though I would suspect that the protection of great apes and not other animals (or even other “lower” primates) is an anthropomorphic decision. I don’t expect this type of idea to be expanded to apply to rats, for example, since we don’t identify as easily with such a species.

    It is encouraging to read about steps taken in Switzerland, Spain, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These actions are steps towards treating other living things with respect and protecting their rights to exist.

    • I agree with you about the dangerous potential of gmos, Isabel. My perspective is that it is never okay to create any form of technology whose potentials for disaster we cannot control– nuclear waste storage is another issue that comes to mind.
      This brings up an important point: if we assessed the “dignity” of plants as a legal and moral good, as does Switzerland, would we also not be safeguarding ourselves by not wandering so far outside natural systems and models?
      Pointed note about giving rights to those creatures that seem closest to us– although I also think in this case, these animals may have been most in need for protection because they are experimented upon in torturous ways precisely because they are most like us.
      I am with you on finding these national examples of granting rights to the natural world as heartening.

    • I agree with your point about the distinction of which primates are protected. I also want to add how difficult enforcing the given rights must be. After all, we can only take so much on as humans to “give a voice to the voiceless.” I definitely believe that humans should be restricted from violating the natural world, but I’m also afraid that this concept can be taken too far. At what point do we begin interrupting animal social systems to protect forms of life? I’m reminded here of the idea of survival of the fittest. If we aren’t careful, we may begin changing more than we bargained for, as is often shown with the precautionary principle.

      • Thoughtful response, Jenni. It seems to me that the precautionary principle (as well as the partnership idea) supports the idea of rights of other lives– since it inhibits us from harming them carelessly.
        How we do (or even notice) this is not automatic, as you note– and takes some careful consideration. For one thing, I think we must begin with the idea that we are all in this together and interconnected with one another– such that the rights of one creature support rather than undermine that of another. That means shifting the idea of survival of the fittest away from the idea of domination and obliteration of others.

      • I can see your point. While I was reading this article I had some conflict with that same idea of when is our involvement to much. Do we take away from the fittest animal and give to the one that is going extinct but happens to be at the lowest point on the food chain? Or do we help? These are difficult question that are being asked of us because of how we unbalanced the Earth. We might be trying to overcompensate, so I feel we should let nature take its course with a watchful eye.

        • I think we may need a serious consideration of the definition of “fittest” here, Desiree. Is the “fit” animal the one that obliterates others or fits into its ecological niche well– sustaining the biodiversity of that niche? The idea of “survival of the fittest” needs some consideration on this point– see the essay on “misusing Darwin” that we will take up a bit later in this class.
          One criteria we could use here is that of non-disturbance of ecological systems–and when we humans have created an imbalance or done harm, we might assume responsibility for repairing it.
          Thanks for bringing up these points for consideration.

  74. Once again I am struck by how closely humans are related to all other aspects of the natural world. Each of the rights listed at the beginning of this article can be translated into something that humans deserve, as well. There shouldn’t be a disconnect. For example, the right to clean air and the right to water as a source of life reminds me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I am a human development major, and I have spent many hours studying the basic needs for human survival. In all of my studying, until now I have not noticed the connection. I feel like I am more prepared to respect the world around me having been exposed to so many amazing stories and opinions. This article is no different; again I am amazed at the relationship between humans and nature.

    • Great, Jenni. I am sure you will put stories depicting such connections in good use in your teaching! Thanks for reminding us of this connection between the ways in which we treat other humans and the ways in which we treat the natural world.

    • Jenni I agree that it is astounding how close humans and the natural world are related. You are right that there should not be a disconnect between the two. Unfortunately in much of the world, the US included, there is a glaring disconnect between humans and nature.

  75. I think this article again illustrates the difficulties society has in protecting and the challenges that it faces. Take the baby seal example given above, do we really have to argue that beating them is wrong because we won’t be able to enjoy seeing them wild in nature, not that beating any animal for any reason is wrong whether or not we will ever view them in nature? Or take the writer who argued against Stone’s idea saying that it “would bring down the capitalist system of ownership,” just because it means we may have to change things, even economic systems, does not mean that the justification is wrong.

    I LOVED the declaration at the beginning of this article. It reminds me of the Declaration of Independence. In sorts that is what it is instead of withdrawing from British control, nature is withdrawing from human control.

    • Some great points, Amanda. It is hardly a legitimate ethical argument that we must keep doing unethical things because otherwise we would have to change things!
      I very much liked your connection to the Declaration of Independence here.
      Thanks for your comment.

  76. Reading those rights and realizing how we have already taken away the majority of them from mother nature strongly reminds me of how white americans used to treat african americans during slavery. now that we have the civil rights act and equal status, we have had to go back and attempt to fix the damager we did so many decades ago. that is exactly what we are going to have to do with the natural world. just like we cannot change the lives of those people who were slaves and never got to experience freedom, we cannot change the damage we have already done to our earth. we must start now and prevent further damage and hopefully try to repair some of the past damage already done.

  77. I agree with the idea that nature and “earth others” should have rights. My biggesst issue with the current plan or ideas is, like stated in the article, “how do we know what nature wants?” Obviously species don’t want to be killed and plants want to grow on their natural cycle. I am concerned though that people in charge of these laws or if all humans are responsibile, won’t actaully step in and act as a voice for nature when it comes to legal issues that arise. Would it not be easy enough for people to say that nature has not verbally brought any problems to our attention so this is what she wants? Or that there is no issue at all? That problem may be solved if boards were set up that monitored nature, species, plants in certain areas.

    Another issue that arose in the article and that I agree with is that humans are compenstated for legal suits in the name of nature. If an estuary is ruined, a river diverted or a forest burned, these pieces of nature or not often replaced. Apart from the destruction of these, the damage done is much more wide reaching than just the disapperance of the features, animals lose their homes, plant cycles change and whole ecosystems are ruined. Humans gain monetary compensation for the small problems the change may have caused them but nature does not recieve much in return.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Carly. These are issues to consider: native peoples in the Pacific Northwest learned “what nature wanted” by observing the natural order as it was developed in its thousands of years of connected lives in particular landscapes. Compensation is an important issue: obviously, suits on behalf of nature should compensate nature by restoring what has been damaged –and protecting ecological systems in the future– as much as possible.

  78. I agree with you Carly. Nature does not have a voice, and can only show signs when it is being abused. More often than not land is damaged to the point where it takes generations to be restored. This is not fair, as nature has no voice to stand up for itself. Compensation may be given back by humans by planting or restoring land, but it will take a long time to be fully restored.

  79. In regards to the statement about lawsuits for earth others and a lack of being able to support the suit due to a lack of demonstrating a self interest, I would have to disagree. By bringing the suit forward could one not argue that the self interest is the loss of the earth other and my interest is preserving it? That I am being harmed by the loss of the river, trees, clean water, clean air and open spaces?

    I also like the comment to just sue for the seals as I agree that all living creatures should be afford the same rights and treated as such.

    • I absolutely agree with you, Brandie. I think one of the most dangerous fallacies of the current industrial worldview is the denial of the inter-dependency of all natural life– such that what serves us must ultimately serve others as well.

  80. One of my favorite television shows right now is Whale Wars on Animal Planet. I’m sure many people know what the show entails but in case you don’t, the show follows the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to stop what they (and many sovereign nations) consider to be illegal whale harvesting by the Japanese fishing fleet. This show, in my opinion, is a perfect analogy for the discussion that is taking place with Dr. Holden’s article. The Sea Shepherd crew considers whales to be legally protected, they consider them to have legal status. Of course, on the other hand, in this case, the Japanese consider their harvest to be perfectly legal and moral. They have traditionally hunted whales, they claim they are doing research and probably most important, their rights as humans trump that of the animals. The point I am trying to make with this example is that no matter what type of legal status for nature is adopted, it will still be a matter of differing “human” opinions about how best to protect nature’s interests. Switzerland legislating against forms of genetic modification, Spain granting human rights to great apes and even the UN eventually adopting a declaration on planetary rights are all steps on the road towards a stronger “partnership” world view in relation to nature. The fact is, however, any rights people wish to grant nature will have to be weighed against the rights and interests of individuals. The Japanese fishermen probably aren’t out hunting whales because of a thirst for blood, they are fishing to provide a life for themselves and their families. Who should be the judge to decide who’s legal status trumps the other? Does a whale’s life trump that of a fisherman’s livelihood?

    I know that there are also other points to be made about conserving a species and preventing extinction, and that perhaps a partnership view would help ensure that over-fishing does not occur. But then.. at what point after granting legal status to nature turn fishing into murder?

    Just some thoughts.. Also.. I wish the Sea Shepherd crew wasn’t quite so mechanically incompetent. They would be a lot more effective if their ships would stop breaking down.

    • Thanks for the thoughts to ponder, Dale. I think that one issue here is that when certain animals become extinct, they are gone forever, whereas there are plenty of us humans around. I very much appreciate the organizations listed in the essay on Indigenous Peoples who are working to conserve wildlife and protect the lifeways and economic well being of humans, as well.

    • I agree completely, at what point does one legal status supersede another legal status? How would these rights be protected in international waters like where the whales are found? If the Japanese fisherman were not hunting whales then it would most likely be some other fish or sea creature. Does a whale have more rights than others in the sea? Would the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society go after a shark that murdered a whale for food? At some point the rights of nature can not work because nature itself has an eco-system that is dependent on subjects of nature to provide sources of food for other subjects of nature.

      • The problem is not so much one inherent in natural systems — where, as Thomas Berry notes, each creature should have the right to its natural life, but in a part-view or dualistic view that fails to see the vast and complex inter-working of natural systems. A shark doing what a shark naturally does (and as far as I know, they don’t hunt whales, though someone can correct me if I am wrong) would not violate any rights– any more than does the lion who sometimes takes a human prey in the answer I just gave. Though that type of radical equality is a little hard on those with such a worldview as ours, Inez Talamandez, Apache elder, stated that she would be grateful for the change to give back to the natural lives that had sustained hers at her own death.
        The industrial worldview is rather unique in thinking that the rights of some cancel the rights of others: that is individualism for you.

  81. I found this to be a very interesting and intriguing article because I agree that the natural world has rights and should be protected. However, how do we, as humans, know what those rights are and what nature would want? We can observe natural systems and get an idea as to what would be ideal for nature, but I think it is difficult to truly know what a species, which cannot communicate in our language, would want.

    I would assume nature would desire much of the same basic needs humans have such as food, habitat, and communities. I believe this is a difficult task, but you have to start somewhere and it appears that observation of nature may provide the best answer as to what nature’s rights may be.

    • I completely agree. I was headed to the same conclusion as you were. I feel the best way is to watch nature and see how it reacts to different things such as weather, natural disasters and even human/animal contact.

    • You raise an important point to consider, Brandt. Your conclusion of what nature “wants” is very much like what those such as indigenous who value both the agency and rights of nature see it.

  82. What caught my interest about this article is how do we know as humans, what is best for nature? I agree that we need to spend a lot more energy on nature so we can really and truly understand what is best for our Earth. I fell a way to do this is to speak to the natives who used to harvest and live in these lands. We need to understand what we are doing to the land and how it will effect Earth. Not all controlled areas of nature can result in the positive effect as the salmon run. For example, the Swiss Constitution started new laws because their experiments were destroying biodiversity. Because we know so little about genetic engineering, we need to be aware of what these experiments can do to nature.

    • Your comment indicates how important the stance of humility is, Desiree–as in genetic engineering, we might heartily reconsider creating that about which we understand so little of the repercussions (except to gain a few monetary profit).
      The word “controlling” is not quite the right one for the actions of native peoples with respect to salmon runs, as they felt they acted in partnership with the salmon– thus it was their own actions they were controlling out of respect for the salmon.

  83. Interesting essay. I found it interesting that many were associating rights to nature in our legal system. What would be difficult is to not only understand what nature wants but where to draw the line of how nature is still needed for a human and animal food source. We could not possibly give nature the same rights as humans in that if a human takes the life of a piece of corn then they would face trial for murder. I feel that there should be some regulation in the sense that nature should not be destroyed haphazardly, however, to completely give nature rights is asking for disaster and an increased number of needless suits in our legal system. How would the rights of nature be protected against each other in the wild? Would we have a legal suit brought on by a pack of gazelles that feel threatened by a lion? Surely there needs to be more legal protection for nature in defense of US Property rights, however, there should be a more conservative method to address the issue.

    • Thoughtful points, though some native peoples would not agree with you on the point that we cannot give animals the same rights as humans– in fact, if you count their place in the ecosystems and the agency allotted them by indigenous peoples, they did have the same rights. You will see a great example in upcoming quotes from
      African elders, who state that sometimes a lion offers to share its kill with the people, but on the other, sometimes a person is lost to a hungry lion– both are appropriate in ecosystem cycles-and in the understanding of this elder.
      I think this also answers your question about the gazelle– at least it is an approach that our ancestors took in the past– I say “our ancestors”, since the south Africans contain genetic markers that the whole world’s population carries.
      Thanks for your comment, Jon.

  84. To some I think it is silly that the Earth should have laws or rules protecting it but to anyone who loves the planet and sees that a change must occur soon, knows that these laws need to put into action immediately to ensure the planet stays alive and thriving. The thought that there is ‘chemical trespassing’ is almost silly to say but it is true. We have invaded mother earth’s territory and she cannot do anything about it but take it-she is defenseless; therefore someone needs to stand up for her and by enacting laws she now has a voice. Because we (and animals and plants) live on this planet these laws regard us as well and will inevitably help us as they do the earth.

    • Thoughtful consideration here, Cyria. I like the implication that the avoidance of “chemical trespass” should apply not only to other humans but to other lives and natural systems. We do indeed need the”help” of all other lives to sustain us in interdependent natural systems.

    • I really like your last statement Cyria. How we treat Mother Earth is a reflection of our character as the human race. Maybe if we took more time caring for ourselves rather then trying to obtain things that will eventually “make us happy”, the earth would be in better shape as a result.

      • Very thoughtful point about caring for ourselves as a priority, Sage– as members of interdependent natural systems, as you indicate, what makes us authentically happy also results in care for the land.

  85. I think this article again illustrates the difficulties society has in protecting and the challenges that it faces. Take the baby seal example given above, do we really have to argue that beating them is wrong because we won’t be able to enjoy seeing them wild in nature, not that beating any animal for any reason is wrong whether or not we will ever view them in nature? Or take the writer who argued against Stone’s idea saying that it “would bring down the capitalist system of ownership,” just because it means we may have to change things, even economic systems, does not mean that the justification is wrong.

    I LOVED the declaration at the beginning of this article. It reminds me of the Declaration of Independence. In sorts that is what it is instead of withdrawing from British control, nature is withdrawing from human control.

  86. I agree that there should be legal rights for nature. It is nice to have such federal parks such as yosemite and yellowstone, but why can’t they declare more forests a federal park. Is it because our backyard here in Oregon does not have any revenue coming in? We as humans sometimes forget what nature needs and wants. To not take it for granted and appreciate what it has to offer.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ryan. Perhaps we can also serve nature’s needs in our urban areas as well (by not using dangerous pesticides and by caring for urban gardens and other green spaces, for instance).

  87. While the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and the Rights of Nature from the Constitution of Ecuador give (or propose to give) the earth its own Bill of Rights in very specific terms, I find that the rights spoken by Thomas Berry underscore both of these legal documents. Where the Ecuadoran Constitution states its first article of the Rights for Nature as “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution,” we can hear an acho of Berry’s simple “right to existence.” Where the Universal Declaration asserts the Earth’s right to “regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue it’s vital cycles and processes free of human alteration,” we see that Berry declared the right to habitat.
    The first two of Berry’s laws are the easiest to follow, although that is not to say that we have been following them. When we assert that nature has the right to exist, then it also has the right to its habitat and to fulfill its own destiny within our natural structure. I believe that the issue, the reason why we feel it necessary to create laws for Mother Earth, is because humans, as part of nature, have ignored Berry’s third right. Western society sees nature through a dominant lens and thus our right to “fulfill our role” takes precedence over all others. If we allowed ourselves our role, as caretaker and peacemaker for natural systems, instead of forcing the idea that our role was to dominate the earth, then these laws would be silly pieces of common sense. It’s sad to think that we have to make it illegal to hurt our earth, but there is no other way to change our view of the last Berry law.

    • Thanks for your profound and deep thinking response, Lily. I very much like the sophisticated way in which you brought the “Declaration” under Berry’s philosophical outline. Your ideas lead to a pondering of how differently we need to conceive of our role in nature–and our right to fulfill it. Natural systems have modeled cooperation to indigenous peoples for thousands of years: if only we in industrial society could also learn from that model that our “rights” in an interdependent system are grounded on our assuming the role of as “caretaker and peacemaker”, as you so aptly put it.

  88. I really, really liked one particular statement from this article made by Thomas Berry, ” all earth others, including not only plants and animals but natural landscape features such as rivers, have three essential rights: the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community.” These three rights really display the type of relationship that should naturally exist between humans and nature. They also sum up the proposed “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth” mentioned at the beginning of this article.

  89. I really like what this article is saying. We need people to acknowledge the earth and that everything living on it has a right to Existence, Habitat and lastly the right to fulfill their role on earth. People would be crazy to not agree that all living things should have rights. As we all know humans have the ability to move, destroy or alter living things. Let’s take a tree for example it doesn’t have the same capabilities as humans, then why do human’s feel we have the right to move, destroy or alter the way that tree lives its life. That example is the same when thinking about plants, animals and any other living object on this earth. Just because humans have a different set of skills then other living things does not mean we should control how when or where everything in nature lives. I don’t see the tree that I previously referenced trying to push humans out of its forest. The tree is willing to live in harmony with humans and people should be willing to live in harmony with the tree.

    The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and the Constitution of Ecuador are on the precise track when it comes to implementing rights for Nature. Humans and Nature might not be able to communicate on the same level. But they both deserve a right to live however they want as long as they do not impede on the others way of life.

    • You have an essential question in asking where and how we feel we get the license to destroy other lives– of all species, Chris. Your ethical stance seems to come close to a democracy that is applied to all species. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • I completely agree that people would be crazy to not agree that all living things should have rights. It is nice to see countries coming out with such laws and indoctrinations as the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and Ecuador’s Constitution. I feel that laws like these are small steps to help bring the world’s ecosystems back to a more sustainable and natural system.

  90. I like what Patrick quoted from Dr. Holden on 7/28/09, “It is rare that all humans are treated as agents. To do so would make considerable inroads against racism, sexism, and classism.” And Dr, Holden’s reply, “treating both of these with justice at the same time.”Economic, environmental, and social justice has to become a mindset. A mindset that begins by looking inward, setting priorities and making adjustments that can be feasibly improved day by day. It is easy to see what needs to be corrected, but it is hard to take the first step.

    One aspect I am having trouble grasping is the difficulty in legally proving what “nature wants” when it comes to rivers, streams, lakes, and land, due to the amount of influences, not only human, but in global weather changes. How much landscape has naturally changed in recent history?

    • This is a central question in protecting the “rights” of nature, Michael. I like Berry’s idea of what natural lives have a right to– to life, habitat and to its place in the natural world. I think (as you rightly indicate) it is difficult if not impossible to return to some “set point” of landscape in the past. What we can do is manage our own behavior in such a way that we honor and care for the resilience of natural lives–and yours is a profound vision that we can continue to learn those things from the world around us that you list in your last post- -“such as trust, appreciation, respect, compassion, conservation, and love; learning from observing animal interactions or admiring beauty and contrast in our landscape.”

  91. It is my wish to use the education that I am receiving to benefit the planet and the others of this planet that I share space with. We should make declarations with ourselves to do all we can to contribute to and understand the natural processes of the Earth.

    When we allow statements from people like Christopher Stone to become the general consensus of the majority of humans, we have revealed our legacy of ignorance. Consumerism is the modern religion. A new religion or spirituality must take its place.

    We do a lot of talking and protesting, but very few people actually make things happen. Every day in our lives we have the opportunity to learn, educate and spread the positive news of communal living with Nature. Even little things like taking an insect outside instead of killing it to saying hello to a tree can make a difference. That difference occurs within your mind. If you change your mind you can change the world.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dwayne. Can you think of any concrete examples of “making things happen”- or any particular experiences from your own life where you can show how the difference you speak of “occurred in your own mind” and this helped “change the world”?

      • Absolutely!

        A recent experience reshaped my way of thinking about other people, and inevitably, about the world. On a bright sunny Sunday afternoon in San Diego, I was walking home from seeing a movie. I was just about ready to turn down the street a few blocks from my house when I felt an impact on the back of my head. I turned around to find a young man with a hammer in his hand and yelling for me to throw down my backpack. I was being mugged and robbed. I did as the attacker said and he ran off with the belongings I had in the backpack.

        I was taken to a nearby hospital where I stayed overnight while they monitored the damage to my head. During my stay in the hospital, I went through waves of emotion. Anger, fear, aggression, sadness, and depression were very strong. But a change came over me as I lie there on the bed. I began to realize that the feelings I was having were directly related to those of my attacker. I was stunned by this revelation. In essence, I was perpetuating the same energy that was used to commit violence against another person. I cried myself to sleep, but over the next several weeks, this realization reshaped my thoughts about the attack.

        I allowed myself to see that I was victimizing myself. I overcame the feelings of anger, and began to find compassion and forgiveness. My entire view on the event that afternoon, as well as on hundreds of other events in my life, began to change. In my mind was the power to change the world because I changed my perception of it. I did not have to be victimized or manipulated by my emotions or by the outside world. I had complete control over the situation. I used this wisdom to begin a catharsis that led to healing.

        In the same way, I continue to use this strength from within to change my perceived ideas about the world. I no longer allow myself to be manipulated by media or politics. My thinking has become more critical and I have gained an intelligence regarding emotion. I see that the natural world does this as well.

        The Earth does allow victimization, but it is quick to heal and forgive. It can be terrible in retribution, but it is also nurturing in its ability to sustain so much diversity of life. In order for me to work with the planet, as well as all other humans, I needed to end the state of conditioning I was in, and “turn a new leaf.” The changes that took place within my psyche immediately began to manifest. People recognized a difference in my worldview.

        The practical things that I began to do in regards to my relationship with the Earth and nature were directly rooted in this new perspective. Little acts of compassion like recycling, reusing and reducing were more important to me. They hold intrinsic value that cannot be evaluated on a monetary level. I started to see that consumerism was a false god created by people who place greed above all other things. So I changed my spending habits. I’ve continued learning about society and how it is built in order to affect change within it. I have a deeper love and affinity for animals and plants that began as a seed in my youth. I no longer objectify animals and plants. On the contrary, I consider them my brothers and sisters. I view them as partners with me on the same planet.

        In summary, it took a violent event to reshape my understanding of the world, but it was worth it. I would do it all over again knowing the value it had. Humanity must be reshaped as well. I believe that a paradigm shift is the way. This movement of collective mindsets has started. There are hundreds of acts we can do in our lives to contribute to this change, but it is also vital that we educate future generations in the art of introspective psychology. We can start by looking at ourselves and asking “how will my actions affect me and the world.”

    • Dwayne, your thoughts are very intriguing. It is cool that you have dedicated your life toward making this planet better. I agree that consumerism is taking over and this needs to stop. I do think that if more people change how their mind operates and begin to think with a more worldly view, then positive change will occur.

  92. The main way for nature to be allowed to stay natural is too look to its past. It is in a piece of flora or fauna’s history that we can find its natural state and how we should manage it for the future. With studying the history of the area or animals that live on it, we can find the relationship that it has with the ecosystem. With the understanding of this relationship we can properly identify and understand the role of these entities and how to properly preserve and manage them.

    • Good point Justin, we can learn so much from the interactions of the natural world. Unfortunately that interaction of nature is reduced on a daily basis and is further and further complicated from the influences of man. Hopefuly there is enough left to study in order to improve the rest!

      • And hopefully, as well, we teach our children and give ourselves time and means to connect with the natural world. I find the urban gardens movement especially powerful in this regard.

  93. There is so much promise in giving nature legal standing. The examples above from Ecuador, Bolivia, parts of Europe, and even in communities of the United States are an eye opener! It is especially interesting and hopeful in western culture because of the dominating capitalistic worldview that holds sway over the majority. Christopher Stone is a true champion and trail-blazer in the environmental ethics of our generation. Leopold would be proud! True intrinsic value is starting to come to reality in a form that can pass in the type of society we live in. That form, is the LAW.

    • Thank you for your perspective, Nicholas. I very much like your emphasis on the links between seeing intrinsic worth in all lives in an ecosystem and laws that protect natural rights. To take this stance only honors the ideas of “natural law” as a standard for human moral behavior in philosophies ranging from Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas to native peoples on the Columbia River.

  94. The fact that nations are actually starting to make human laws to protect and respect nature is hopeful. It is awesome to see that we are finally taking into account what nature needs. The fact that the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia passed the rights of Mother Nature. My only concern is, is how are we going to enact some of these rights? I agree with them completely but I am puzzled as to how these would be upheld. I am also concern by this because I can see how those who have little to no regard for nature might use this. I could see some saying that this is just a way to take our sovereign rights away and how this would mean the end of our industrial development. I worry that this might push some people in away because it infringes on their rights as a nation, or town, or individual.

    I do agree with everything that was passed and I hope that in the future we can meet these needs, and that we can give mother nature what she wants and needs. I also really like the quote from Billy Frank Jr. and his saying that the stars also have their rights and they need to be respected as well. It made me think of light pollution in a whole new way. I know that in Arizona there is a town that doesn’t have street lights for the sole reason that they want the night sky to be seen. I hope that this becomes a more common practice. I have also wondered why some businesses that aren’t open 24/7 don’t turn off there inside lights once they close up for the night. I know some worry about burglary and such but I’m sure there are ways around that while also turning off you lights, or at least the signs on the outside off. I just think that Billy Frank Jr. is right and they do have a right, and we should find ways in our modern society to try and give them those rights.

    • You raise an important issue in the enactment of such “rights of nature” laws, Laura–important not only on the level of general legal enforcement, but in our everyday choices such as turning those lights off as you mention.

  95. While I understand the need to protect the remaining natural environment and its inhabitants, I do not understand the concept of giving rights to them. If we give them rights, how far would these rights extend? The rights put in place in Ecuador are vague and seem open to interpretation. This can lead to exploitation and misuse of the laws.

    • The need for focus in the application of any law is important, Aaron–and part of this lies int he issue of precedent, which focuses laws as they are implemented. So these kinds of laws evolve in a two way process: they help model community behavior (as in civil rights laws) and community mores help shape them (as they are put into action). These are different laws, for instance, than the law against speeding, but even that has its enforcement variations.
      Interestingly, some of the laws mentioned here (from Ecuador and Pennsylvania) have been created and/or implemented to address particular situations. The laws in Latin America have been used to sue oil companies ravaging the Amazon Basin in suits brought by indigenous peoples (and in one case won already– those the peoples see this only as a second best remedy in retrospect: they would rather have their lands back in tact– I am speaking of the recent case in which Chevron was fined 8 billion dollars). In Pennsylvania, the rights of the trees laws protected them from a corporate development scheme.

  96. Nature having rights is tough for me to completely understand, but this point made some valid statements. First off, I thought the term “earth others” was very clever and I liked that. Secondly, I was also pleased to read that Bolivia joined the Declaration of the rights to Mother Earth. These rights may seem odd for nature, but they basically all apply to humans, so why not nature? I thought Thomas Berry put it well with his three essential rights, the right to existence, habitat, and to fulfill their role. I truly believe that all living species deserve these three rights. This is all summed up by Agnes Baker’s famous quote that someone needs to stand up and be “the voice of the voiceless.”

    • I appreciate your deep thinking in grappling with this issue, David. This is a different way for many of us to see the world–and it is also concrete and even logical in the ways you express.

  97. I really enjoy the idea of nature having rights, I feel that it has been long overdue for a governing organization to come up with a list of basic rights for nature. I really like Thomas Berrys three basic rights, the right to existence, habitat and to fufill their role. I think that if more people and organizations took these basic rights to heart the world might just be a little better place.

  98. By establishing the legal rights of nature, we also protect our rights as humans to live in an optimum natural environment. For instance, we’d be protecting ourselves from pollution, genetic mutations, our right to live in a biodiverse World, and the rights of future generations as well.
    We have a symbiotic relationship with nature. What we do to our natural world affects us directly.

    There should be no reason why we can’t grant nature rights. I understand that the current predominant western worldview doesn’t tend to agree, because of all the money it gains from exploiting our environment. However, it is due time for evolutionary thinking. Us as individuals can make a difference, and local communities can grow in consciousness and voice, by action, teaching, and example. Together we can make a difference. Picking up litter, re-using materials, sharing, volunteering, supporting local farmers and mom/pop shops, artists, composting, buying only what is necessary, limiting our use of natural gasses, and by boy-cotting corporations we can make a difference. Gradually our voice as “the people” will return, if our actions compliment our words.

    • It is important to remember as you point out, Rose, that the health of the environment is intimately linked to our own well being. Our economic does have some unfortunate disincentives with regard to doing the right thing for the environment– this is in need of change– if this is what you mean by “evolutionary thinking”, I am with you.

    • I agree with you Rose. It will take time to change the way people think about how they are affecting the planet. Whispers are quiet alone, but seven billion people whispering will be heard.

    • Very well put Rose and I agree with you, it is definitely time that we start thinking AND acting differently in regards to how we use and ultimately preserve our natural world. In my opinion, the biggest hold up is how involved big business is in our policies. If we can get past that I think we would be on the fast track to living in a very productive and sustainable world.

      • I think that the disincentives for good behavior (profiting through pollution) are indeed a large part of the problem. Lobbying as business investment for profit alone does not help either.

    • Your sentence on humans “symbiotic relationship with nature” is spot on. The more I read and the more I traipse through nature and educate myself on issues, I have become aware of just how symbiotic our relationship is. But my understanding has come with years of working to listen and align myself to nature’s voice, and is always a work in progress. I find myself to be unusual when compared to most people, (you and other classmates aside) I find that most people have not yet come to the realization of this symbiotic relationship. People have sunk deeper into their worldview’s and have become cynics. But like you, I believe through teaching, through art, through getting the individuals out there, that eventually they will have to awaken to something new.

      On a side note, I have always wondered what our society would be like if we did away with money and went back to the bartering system (the “I will give you a chicken if you can fix my broken leg” system). I can not help but think that if we took money out of the equation and the need to obtain it, then maybe we wouldn’t exploit the environment so and give it its rights and form a partnership. Just something I have always wondered about….

      • I hope that you will find that your commitment to finding knowledge may be distinctive, but you are not alone in your values– nor in the commitment to care for the planet upon which our future depends.
        I think we are all teachers– in every action we do, we model something for someone.
        Actually, there is a movement toward bartering in some places– setting up labor exchange networks over money.

  99. The ideals of Capitalism praised in this country for its ideal views in business and society in general is seen around the world as a system destined to fail. Capitalist thinking tends to be on the short term for the maximum profits. The ideals of capitalism is ownership before respect, that whatever is yours you can do with what you want. In the days of the industrial revolution up till the 1970s and the start of the EPA the respect for nature in general was only how much profit could be taken from it. Logging practices were out of control, mining was hazardous to both human and natures health, and the regulation on chemical disposal was non-existent causing many places like the Love Chanel to become precautionary tales of how things were. These are all good things, regulating the practices of companies in order to benefit the Earth and its residence, but when does these helpful regulations stop and become overly cumbersome? Don’t misunderstand I think there should be more regulations and respect from companies in order to benefit the world but if trees have rights does that mean we can’t use them at all?
    I do agree with Stone’s critique on how the legal systems define and categorize nature. They put everything into a tight box of definitions and keep to that. There are so many legal loop holes around this that companies can beat the system by simply stating things a different way. There needs to be a broader term for the rights of nature and how they can be legally protected.

    • I can give an analogy of basketmakers from Northern California who spoke with the reeds, etc. they harvested for baskets, asking permission to use them and acknowledging their gifts. If we did this with the trees with which we build houses, I can imagine our craft would be of a higher quality, in addition to using less trees. I think that there is a difference between sees trees as having intrinsic worth and seeing them as something put there for humans to exploit in whatever way they wish. If trees have a right, as Thomas Berry puts it, to exist according to their natural state, perhaps that would limit human consumption to sustainable logging of the kind that would not disrupt the community of the forest ecosystem in which trees have right to live?
      There has to be some way, as you note at the beginning of this essay, to intertwine other values than profit for profit’s sake in our decision-making.

  100. There are too many legal aspects of nature to count, though one thing that puzzles me is why we as humans even think that we have any right to pass judgment on matters of nature if we are supposed to have no dominion over it. Other than property rights, which I think are quite justified as a society needs them to allocate manmade resources and to maintain social order, I do not really see how we as humans can or should have any control over what happens to nature legally. I think that through being overly legalistic we are ironically asserting our dominance over nature. Would it not be better to refrain from over-regulating everything and just leave nature in its original pristine condition?

    Nevertheless, the legality of nature is an interesting topic. Perhaps legislatures would have it that humans should exercise some control over the environment, much as the Swiss Constitution tried to do with the production of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Granted, I think it is acceptable to “regulate nature” where humans are concerned. GMOs are a rather serious problem because they have been shown to cause adverse effects in the human body when consumed.

    Also I must say that I agree with the deontological view of environmental protection via the law. As I have mentioned in previous posts to this website, we cannot respect our environment if we do not respect ourselves first, and self-respect eventually culminates in a sense of duty towards oneself and others.

    • I think you have answered your own puzzle here, Lara. That is, it is when we think we have dominion over the natural world that we also think we can judge it (and that judgment, under these circumstances, is linked to how convenient natural processes are for us).
      There is a question as to what is meant by the “pristine condition” of nature– given that many landscapes co-evolved with human influence for thousands of years. It is an artifact of the dualistic (black/white, right/wrong, all or nothing) worldview that sees nature only as pristine without humans or polluted with them. Humans are, after all, a part of nature–and the issue is rather are our actions in line with resilient models ecosystems enact and do they care for or erode those?
      The Swiss “regulation of gmos” is a very different thing from the regulation of nature– what the Swiss Constitution regulates is the extent to which humans are allowed to tinker with natural systems– that is, it regulates human behavior. Indeed, that is all any law can regulate.

  101. I think that having to go as far as making laws and giving rights to anything is ridiculous. I guess common sense is a dying art form. It should be understood that any living thing, even the Earth itself has a right to do what it does naturally. I totally get that in order to progress as a species humans need to do certain things, but by destroying biodiversity and having to alter DNA of plants is not a natural way of doing this. The “terminator” gene explains why I cannot grow fruits and vegetables I get from the grocery store and have them produce.
    Going as far as making laws to give rights to anything living just shows how primitive man really is. They only way that people can progress is by coming together and having the understanding that this rock that we are riding on is a home to everything, not just what you see in front of you. In order to change the way people think, it is going to take a lot of time and patents by us all to change the world view of the race.

    • I can see your point and at the same time, we also have a history of progressive laws (like Civil Rights and certain environmental regulations — and I would say, Eugene’s Right to Know initiative as well) leading into better ways of both thinking and acting. I would also like to see some regulation about lobbying that currently seemed to have such a divisive effect on our communities.
      And I find the “terminator gene” exceedingly scary– an occasion that would incite regulation, as far as I am concerned.

    • Stephen I agree it is like we can’t think for ourselves and don’t really care about our world. It is sad that we have to make laws to protect the natural world that has been living and taking care of itself for a very long time. We have been here for such a short time and look at all the things we have done to alter the natural world. We have all this technology but yet we have such a primitive mind on basic things.

      • It does indeed show both ignorance and hubris– what, after all, makes us think our short time on earth has given us the knowledge to radically alter complex and long-lived natural systems. WE are indeed upstarts in this respect.

    • Hi Stephen, I think I understand where you are coming from with the dying art of common sense. I’m not so sure that the decisions are up to the average human anymore (short of acts of civil disobedience and collective march to draw national attention– although I’m not so sure I agree with the occupy movements of late) . Dr. Holden’s lecture notes made a great comment about placing blame for current environmental problems is easy, yet yields little understanding of options. That said, I feel inclined to point my finger at global conglomerate businesses questing for huge financial profits for themselves and shareholders at the expense of our planet. After all, everything we consume, buy, sell or trade comes from our earth’s resources and there simply is a finite amount of everything. I sense that there are positive options on the table for Earth and our resources yet greed affects us all. So yes, I agree with you that common sense is lacking and just doesn’t carry the weight that it should.

      • It is certainly distinctly foolish to undermine the well-being of the sources of our existence. And I think we only do this because we remain, consciously or unconsciously, separate from the consequences of our actions.
        One way we can fight this is becoming conscious of how we are “voting” with our dollar.
        We are indeed immersed in a worldview in which greed affects us all-and once we know that, and something of its consequences, we can choose to act differently.

    • Indeed common sense is dying, this isn’t more evident than on coffee cups needing “HOT!” labels plastered all over them. Compared to other species inhabiting the earth, humans are extremely primitive and this also is dangerous. We think we can control the world in which we are a part of but this is illogical. Replacing what once was common sense is written rules and laws, but I suppose we can only hope this will help people become more aware of nature’s plight and thus share the same views.

      For me the most scary thing about “terminator” genes is that since it has been created to not-reproduce I wonder what effect this is having to our bodies. Are we going to become sterile from their consumption? GMO’s, chemicals, and other toxins do not belong in our bodies and will only produce ill effects. This does not serve foods purpose of sustenance and nourishment, but the exact opposite.

      • Power and ignorance IS a dangerous combination indeed– and I certainly agree with you about the dangers of “terminator genes”.
        Getting back to producing food that serves the “purpose of sustenance and nourishment” is indeed an important thing!

  102. Hello Professor Holden,

    Yes, I know that conundrum rather presented itself throughout the argument, and I think you are right when you say that the laws can only regulate human behavior. After all, I suppose there is nothing else that can be regulated, since nature itself cannot (and should not, I think) be regulated.

    Lara

  103. In regards to the statement about lawsuits for earth others and a lack of being able to support the suit due to a lack of demonstrating a self interest, I would have to disagree. By bringing the suit forward could one not argue that the self interest is the loss of the earth other and my interest is preserving it? That I am being harmed by the loss of the river, trees, clean water, clean air and open spaces?

    I also like the comment to just sue for the seals as I agree that all living creatures should be afford the same rights and treated as such.

  104. I agree that nature should have rights and we should do our best to protect those rights. By protecting the rights of nature we will ensure the survival of nature and humans. We are a part of nature not separate from it if we think of it that way we will benefit from what the natural world will produce. I think it is wonderful that in Europe there is already the start of legal rights for nature and its systems. I think we are starting to realize the importance of biodiversity in our world. I love the rights for nature that is stated in the Constitution of Ecuador. This demonstrates that people are becoming more aware that nature is alive and cannot be treated as objects. Because we have treated nature as objects species of plants and animals have been lost forever. I hate how the states have to make so many laws to have to protect the natural world. If we would have learned from the indigenous people then maybe the government would not have to make so many laws today. I am hoping that by setting up these rights for nature this will change the mindsets of a lot of people today and in turn the natural cycles will become healthier. If we are not polluting the natural world then we won’t be polluting ourselves and the water we drink. I really like the idea of finding out what nature really wants instead of what we want to take from nature. If we found out what nature wanted we could solve some of the issues that we have today.

    • Good points, Christi. Brandie has made the same point in terms of self-interest: our self-interest is nature’s well being.
      It would be hopeful to me indeed if we are beginning to understand the importance of biodiversity. In Ecuador, of course, the Constitution harkens back to indigenous views, which had a great deal of influence on it.
      I agree that objectification of natural life has done us only harm.
      I too think it would encourage much creativity as well as practical results to find out “what nature really wants”!

    • Hello Christi:
      Excellent reflection, I too found this to be an interesting article that stirred up a lot of thought on the matter. We should not view ourselves as separate from nature, for one of the aspects of nature that has always amazed me is just how diversely, interconnected everything is with one another. One of my favorite quotes of all times is from a Native American, Chief Seattle, “We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it; what we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” We definitely both agree that it all boils down to changing our mindsets, if we had a different mindset about how we live our lives; your right, there would be no need for all these laws to protect what we should already want to protect.

      Sincerely,
      Ryan McGarrity
      Fisheries and Wildlife Major

      • It is my sense that we need to work on all fronts for the change that will address our current environmental crises: on the level of values, of education and worldview change–and of appropriate regulations.
        I understand, for instance, that the Bush Administration’s backsliding on the Clean Water Act Enforcement has led to the increased size of the “dead zone” in Lake Erie that we were formerly making headway on cleaning up. We cannot let this continue to happen.

  105. What an interesting topic to consider; the rights of everything else. I suppose humans have evolved enough to have organizations like PETA and farmers with a consciences that provide humane (ana-mane ?) conditions yet this can get pretty sticky to debate but at least there are now powerful voices for those that don’t speak in the languages of man.
    I would like to comment on genetic engineering on all levels be it animal, mineral or plant. Although it is awesome to know how exactly something works and can be made; just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. Historically when there is an abundance of food, populations increase and then eventually there have been climatic changes, drought, floods, etcetera leading to starvation and decline (Anasazi, Mayan, and Easter Island), and now we are attempting to control food availability by changing the very genetic makeup of food to feed the masses. What makes us think that history will not repeat itself with “us”?
    Back to the voice and rights of nature, I would certainly favor and support a “global voice” for nature and who better to sit the board than representatives from indigenous peoples from around the globe. Dr. Holden’s lesson notes made an important statement (fact) that it is impossible to return to a pre-technological state and whether or not we like it; the technological tools we humans employ today are powerful, rapidly distributed and quickly adopted. We need to be forward thinking to change our destructive practices and protect our natural environment before it becomes too late and always keep in mind that nature doesn’t need us, we need nature.

    • It is true that humans have made some disastrous mistakes such as the examples you list, but populations do not always increase as a result of good times. In fact, sometimes in the modern world they increase because of hard times, since many children seem like future insurance for a family– one of the reasons that women automatically limit their family size as they are given more political power and economic security as many UN studies have shown.
      What is interesting (along with the rights of other natural lives) as you point out, is also those societies that did NOT collapse– Jared Diamond, for instance, looks at a few of these, such as the agriculturists of New Guinea, whose societies did not collapse over thousands of years. And there was considerable surplus on the Northwest Coast, which was redistributed in potlatches rather than accumulated–and these societies did not collapse either.
      A global voice for nature is a great idea: that is something elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim is working on with her mission of becoming a “voice for the voiceless” (see our links page). We indeed need nature and therefore, as your indicate, need all the ways of listening to her creatures that we can muster.
      Thoughtful comment!

  106. Recognizing the important, integral role all forms of natural abiotic material and biotic life play in human existence and health as a species is critical. To stop at recognition alone would be a devastating mistake that futures generations would be forced to suffer from. As mankind is a law abiding civilization; mother nature too, needs the law on her side. I feel providing wildlife and the environment with legal rights is an excellent concept as long it is done in a noble format (which I will go into later).

    The agents or “earth others” philosophy sets a very noble intention, “that natural resources cannot ethically be treated as mere objects for human use.” Unfortunately this ground rule would probably conflict with a large percentage of businesses operating today. Which tells us that this will need to be a lengthy transitional change (maybe over a ten year period); for we cannot change the worlds economy over night (which is why I’m glad to see we have already started in some countries). The writer who bashes Stone’s idea of giving rights to nature, saying that; “It would bring down the capitalist system of ownership, since nature would not be owned by humans but know own themselves.” Sounds like a radical statement by an individual who does not spend a great deal of time trying to predict the future of man.

    Several Governmental bodies have already taken action to provide mother nature with legal rights, which I am all for as long as they are conducted honorably and with mother natures and mankind’s best interest in mind. The Swiss constitution provides three distinct rights to all life; species protection, protection of biodiversity and to be treated with dignity by humans. Several years ago, the Spanish Parliament granted great apes the same rights as humans. I can see were this would cause a great deal of controversy. I love mother nature, and respect her with all my heart but I am also a firm believer that to be ethical, humans must be first. This is not to say that we should continue down the same road and prosper at the cost of our ecosystem but that we must continue to strive and achieve that delicate balance between nature and man (were neither side suffers).

    Finally the Ecuadorian constitution has given legal rights to their ecosystem and her natural cycles. Providing individual citizens power to speak up on behalf of an act committed against mother nature. This too is a delicate subject, as the general idea is excellent (in my opinion), we must be thorough in making sure it is not abused or that the Governing body is given so much power by this particular piece of legislation that they are somehow able to alter it to their personal benefit. I feel these are all wonderful concepts (if done correctly) and love reading all about the new direction that mankind is starting to take with respect for our natural resources. As conservationists and scientists we must always continue to be vigilant, for mother natures greatest adversary may not appear as her enemy… but as her ally.

    Sincerely,
    Ryan McGarrity
    Fisheries and Wildlife Major

    • Thoughtful overview of many of the examples of this trend, Ryan. Your concept of “honor” in granting these rights is something to ponder. Giving rights to other forms of life seems to me less susceptible to use for personal gain (or other “dishonorable” acts) than allowing humans to use resources according to the whims of their individual owners. You might be interested in something I might well add here, which is the idea of natural “law” of native Pacific Northwesterners, who saw natural models as something that provided us with overriding ethical mandates. Not incidentally, early Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas saw natural law as modeling the law of God that gave humans their own ethical standards.

  107. At first thought, giving legal rights to nature sounds like a novel idea, but then you wonder why this is needed in the first place and doesn’t nature already have rights? Well, in our society of needing written and binding rules and laws, no. It is sad indeed that we would need to institute such things in order to protect them, but this is the reality in which we presently live. We face an uphill battle in completing this task, but essentially we are protecting ourselves from ourselves. We are disregarding nature and using for our own personal gain and this in turn is have negative effects on our lives, not to mention obviously the negative impacts to the environment.

    This essay is eye-opening to everything that is incorrect with our world: The risk-benefit business model is flawed because it cares only about monetary profit and the effects to stockholders versus considering the effects to all involved parties, i.e. stakeholders. The legal system is flawed that in order to sue for protection of environment and “earth-others” we must first show how we are personally harmed from it, not how earth-others or nature themselves are intrinsically harmed. And after reading through some comments, of course our “democratic” political system is flawed when lobbyists and dollars become more influentially powerful than constituents.

    Even though our modern industrial hierarchical system has reaped so much damage in which we haven’t even provided ethical and legal rights to earth’s human-others, I am heartened by the changes that are taking place and being enacted. It seems like things are coming full circle, in which our ancestors used to have a much more balanced and reciprocal relationship with nature that we are only now starting to appreciate and acknowledge. Albeit grudgingly for many, our nature conscience is being raised.

    • You are right that this novel idea isn’t in that many indigenous peoples respected the intrinsic rights and values of other natural life and of natural systems, even using the natural law they perceived as expressed by ecosystems to guide their actions.
      One vote one person is not the same as a vote with millions of dollars behind and thus a subversion of our democracy, as you note. I hope with you that our “nature conscience is being raised”.

  108. The idea of nature having rights is a bit hard to grasp. Not because I don’t think that nature should be protected but rights are viewed as something humans have, not rivers and trees. These things are viewed as a resource and to be used by humans for the greater good. This idea poses some issues such as who enforces these rights and who pays for it? When we can’t fund our public service workers who is going to vote to get rights for nature? Also who decides which rights are given? Should oil or coal have these same rights? I think people as a whole would have a hard time agreeing with these ideas.

    • If you were to change your statement, “humans are viewed” to the active voice, who would you say is doing the viewing? Is this true for all cultures. Would you think rights might be given only to living things, and/or to living systems upon which humans depend?

    • I think even though we take legal action for the nature the nature will not restore. Humans are selfish and most of the people only care about their own profit, so I think we need to think the nature’s right. But there is something we need to do before we start considering the nature’s right…….

  109. Ethics: How must one determine what is ethical? While some understand that what we take from nature we must replenish it, those that do not are the reason people have gone the route to establish rights for those without a voice. I will admit that I am conflicted about my belief in such success in this system but I will also say that the point stands. As being a person with a major hearing loss, having a voice is the gift I was given in return. However, an earlier post talked about the hierarchical scale that may be established for these rights but I only wonder how we could choose one plant, or one animal over the next. It is truly up to our discretion, our responsibility to establish these guidelines? And if we did, to what degree should we govern ourselves to them? How could we establish these rights so that it does not become systematic as our current justice system?

    Justice for the voiceless is often overlooked due to lack of advanced understanding of the issue at hand, will these rights, should they be established have the same outcome? In one scenario, will these rights for nature be a mirror of our own system, when the system works we are satisfied, but more often than not, the guilty defendant beat us to the finish line? In another scenario, will the rights include specific species to protect more only to find out years later that it was the other who had an equal or greater impact upon the sustainability of the world?

    • thoughtful. How would you link this new comment on the essay to my previous response to you? Perhaps it is better to respond to the main essay before you respond to a comment on it?
      Look again, it is avoidance of a hierachical scale that Berry aiming for. I think that will change much of your perception here.

  110. I can’t say that I’m in total agreement with the movements that have taken place. I’m incredibly supportive of people making public their statements of supporting the environment by formally issuing a declaration. I believe nature should be stood up for. However, I feel that in many instances, these groups or committees pledge protection on moral grounds instead of sound arguments. When a declaration says nature has the “right to live and exist” or “the right to be respected,” these vague terms instantly put holes in their legal arguments.

    Passing laws prohibiting genetic manipulation is a tangible move against bad practices. Environmental regulations and the rules enforcing them are productive measures are headed in the right direction. Saying the state will provide “adequate measures” to protect the environment is broad and undefined. These statements are all for show and really have no impact on the environment other than showing Mother Nature has a cheerleading section.

    I would like to believe that every living organism has a soul and should be protected as such. However, it is naive of me to think I’m committing murder every time I cut down a tree or squish a bug. I think our time would be better spent educating the public on proper management techniques and passing laws which keep us from further harming the environment. Even the indigenous peoples who believed that every living thing had a soul would still harvest game or chop down trees for their homes. By furthering the idea of partnership, we can come closer to living the way we were meant to.

    • I am not sure this is all for show in the Swiss case, since they are attempted to prohibit importation of genetically engineered goods. The problem is that the WTO found against this stance on the part of the EU as a whole and is forcing them to take ge products imported by the US. A serious abuse of power, I think.
      I like your concluding vision: I have recently addressed the idea of harvesting in response to another comment on this essay.

  111. I agree that many people do not care about nature’s rights and many people think we can take whatever we need. I think people should start considering about the nature more carefully because the nature should have their own rights…People are selfish. We think that all things in the earth are used for making our profit. The idea of nature’s rights was really interesting. However, I wonder that even though we take legal action and win for the nature, nature will not restore as we think. I guess we need to do something before we take action.

    • Thoughtful point, Tomoshiro. I would say that many feel they can not only take what they need but anything they want. We have no guarantees that our actions will restore the resiliency of the natural world, but making environmentally conscious decisions (or at least stopping harmful actions) certainly has a better change of doing it than continuing as we are.
      Do you think people are by nature selfish or that particular worldviews and cultural values encourage this human behavior more than others?

      • I don’t believe that people are selfish by nature. Particular worldviews and cultures teach the people in their society to be that way. People that are raised in a dualistic and domination culture tend to have selfish ways. On the other hand people raised in cultures that support reciprocity and interdependence worldviews do not have the same tendency towards being selfish. These people embrace sharing and supporting each other to give each other life. To me, this says that selfishness is a learned trait not one that humanity is born with.

  112. Maybe I am extreme, but since most other living, sentient beings have existed on this planet without nearly killing all of its inhabitants, they should have MORE rights than humans. Humans are like a plaque, or serial killers that need to be constrained (or contained) so as to stop destroying everything of beauty and meaning on this planet. I think one of the main reasons our government is so critical of South America is the progress many of these countries are making in the realms of the environment and natural resoruce protection, social justice, indigenous rights, anti-corporatism (opposing capitalization of water for instance). Granted, there are still some problems – probably inflamed by covert intervention that citizens of the US know nothing about.

    • Thanks for sharing this food for thought, Mary. I am not sure I would say this about all humans, but about many Western industrialists. Environmental architect Ian McHarg (see our quote of the week) was some fifty years ago invited to address a meeting of the Fortune 500 corporations, in which he pointed out that it was about time such corporations became “toilet trained” so as to stop spewing toxic wastes into the environment.

    • That isn’t the most extreme point I’ve ever heard Mary, and you do have solid logic behind it. Humans are a relatively new organism to the planet; we’ve just evolved very well. We are adaptable to ensure our own survival but at the cost of those earth-others, whereas earth-others typically adapt in a way that also ensures the survival of fellow earth-others. As the elder and wiser compared to us, those earth-others that have existed longer than us should have more rights and if nothing else definitely equal to us. However, for most of us our dominating adaptability overrides this notion simply because we are egocentric and see ourselves as stronger. Some just can’t wrap their mind around the idea that neither physical strength nor intelligence determines the hierarchical head, nor further that hierarchy need not exist at all really.

  113. There are many issues addressed in this essay that interest me in so many ways. Of particular interest is that humans feel the need to prove harm in order to bring suit. It is so true that we often feel that in order to justify protecting plants and/or wildlife we have to tie it directly to how humans are affected. I believe this is the case because in action, if an issue does not directly affect humans, there is a large population that would not care to be bothered. But why is this? I have seen both sides of the coin, and seen how people respect their domestic pets as family or how they stand in awe of an enormous bear or moose. So why shouldn’t we be able to bring suit or to call attention to a problem solely to protect the rights of that plant or wildlife? Why don’t we consider them to have rights too? The answer to this lies in the contrasting worldviews. That the predominant Western worldview is one of domination and that “we” are greater than the flora and fauna. As opposed to the indigenous worldview of a partnership; that plants and animals are our equals and they have every same right to be here as humans do. The truth of the matter might be that until we experience a shift in this worldview, it will be necessary to link the rights of plants and animals to the human condition so that progress can be made to protect and conserve species for future generations.

    • Thoughtful consideration and balance in this addition to our discussion, Jillian. I certainly agree on the point of the importance of worldview and you have added the key point that until we have such a worldview shift it may be necessary to connect the well being of other species to the “human condition” in order to impel us to treat them ethically.
      Perhaps we may someday act the ethical precept that argues that the way in which we treat the most vulnerable among us is the greatest sign of our moral fiber.

    • Hi Jillian,
      I appreciate your closing comments. I sometimes wonder if, as humans, we are “predisposed” to evolve in this way. Being a relatively new species, I imagine that mistakes have to be made in order to understand what is needed for our world’s ecosystem to persist in a manner that protects and preserves it for our sake as well as its. Or, should our ability to drastically alter our environment (with technological advances) have been used as more of a tool to live even more sustainably with the natural world from the start.

      • Hi Latifa, I for one don’t think we are “predisposed to evolve in this way”. We are not only a new but an adaptable species– a serious problem for us today is that when the results of our actions are separated from our consciousness so that we are not aware of them, we cannot adapt wisely.

  114. This article does a good job of bringing awareness to an important issue. While this awareness is growing, I wonder if advancement will be made fast enough. I found it interesting that a major roadblock for those who filed suit for earth others would be that they have “no compelling self-interest in these cases”. I don’t understand enough about the political nature of the American judicial system to comprehend what this accomplishes, but the fact that there are several cities in the US that recognize the rights of the natural world does instill hope. However, I’m not sure how I feel about needing to spell out such conditions. On the one hand, I understand that (for the most part) in modern Western society we need rules and regulations to maintain order, and so that a population knows what is and isn’t acceptable. But, on the other hand, I find it scary that we are so far removed from the natural world as to not recognize these things as inherently necessary. Either way, I suppose progress is progress.

    • You have some thoughtful considerations here, Latifa. Wouldn’t it be great if we all shared such ethical values that laws were not necessary? Conventions and traditions did this for intimate communities with shared ethics– but that doesn’t work for complex societies such as our own.
      During the period of World War II, many European philosophers wrote that the reliance on law as contrary to ethics (those in Hitler’s regime argued they were just following the law,f or instance)– since bad law could easily supplant human conscience.
      On the other side, good law (Civil Rights legislation, for instance), can model and lead us into more ethical behavior as a society. I see the laws defending the rights of nature in this way. Another example is the Right to Know Initiative passed in Eugene, Oregon. At first a number of business interests fought this law, but today it is widely accepted as a beneficial law for both business and the public.
      Thanks for your comment.

  115. The plant and animal nations represent a group with no legislative weight, they do not have constitutions or bills of rights that they understand and can easily defend. These simply exist, in tandem with ecosystems and people. They rely on the actions of those key-players that represent them in defending their rights.

    I am so proud of Shapleigh, Maine for taking a firm stand in providing due rights to natural ecosystems, in addition to those cities mentioned in DefendingWater.net. This type of lead-the-way approach is absolutely necessary in order to ensure coast-to-coast protection of all naturally-occurring things in the United States. While countries like Switzerland, Spain, and Ecuador have enacted very progressive laws which grant ethical protection of natural resources, the United States is less likely to readily enact policies in the same manner without precedence or a popular majority first taking action which proves that an environmental movement requires efforts in the form of policies. The United States has a unique history of not being the first to take action on environmental issues due to the vast web of interconnected players, each having unique motivations. Ultimately, any federally based policy would be far too dichotomous to protect the uniqueness of each natural entity. On the other hand, the environment has been overwhelmingly objectified by the private commercial sector–so possible change is not as likely here. This leaves the moral obligation of change in the hands of community action groups and local governments which have a more recognized relationship with the plants, animals, and other natural wonders of an area. Local initiative has great potential to create and execute policies which are appropriately tailored to the natural agents of a specific area. Federal regulation should be designed as to not thwart locally initiated acts of environmental stewardship.

  116. I really think that the quote “human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state” hit the nail on the head when it comes to nature’s rights. I’ve also had a very hard time comprehending why a person gets compensated for the injustices done to nature. Shouldn’t these funds be put into a trust for restoration or something?While I recognize that there will probably never be a constitution for nature, I also feel that we could all benefit from taking the time to think about what nature would want.These types of brainstorms could really lead to meaningful environmental legislation.

    • Thanks for presenting us with some important considerations here, Aaron. Contemplating what nature might want does indeed have the potential to move us out of our human-centered worldview–and one that is not only caring but pragmatic as it opens us to more creative decisions.

  117. Interesting article; rights for non-human life is usually seen only for animals so this is really the first time I’ve read of organized rights for plant life. It is no surprise to see that these statutes belong to South American countries where there is an abundance of plant life but it would be nice to see them emulated in North America where the discipline is most needed. It is vital that human’s provide a voice for the voiceless as the Colombian laws mention that they are parallel to those of a Constitution; if people don’t act as they mediums for these rules there will be no way to ensure that they are enforced. As mentioned in the article, “As agents, that is, “earth others” have the rights of subjects–and cannot be ethically treated as mere objects for human use” – when viewed as objects, plants just become another thing that we will take for granted.

    • I had not thought of the rights of plants being linked to places where there is an abundance of plant life, Peter. An interesting point, thought not all of South America has abundant plant life and parts of the US do– might we not see this as more connected to the worldviews of particular peoples and their representative governments?
      As you point out, when we see the living world as consisting of agents, we remove them from the status of “just another thing we take for granted”.

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