We keep extending the concept of “rights”–from human rights to animal rights and now to nature rights. The concept that nature itself and natural entities–such as rivers, oceans, trees, mountains–have rights is becoming more and more prominent in the environmental movement. This is not just as an ideology but as a strategy for lawmaking, since whatever has rights is entitled to legal protection.
Two years ago we blogged about this idea. It may seem strange to think that trees and rivers have rights, just as human beings do. But the idea is making inroads around the world. Among other examples, the entire nation of Ecuador has officially embraced the concept, and Sweden is considering enshrining the rights of nature in its constitution. In the United States, some 40 jurisdictions have written the rights of nature into law, including cities such as Pittsburg and Toledo and various county governments.
Now the Florida Democratic Party has made the rights of nature part of its platform, which calls for “recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of nature, as we have done for corporations.”
So what are the rights of nature? The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature explains:
Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights. It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world. It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.
Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.
And we – the people – have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the injured party, with its own legal standing rights, in cases alleging rights violations.
Here is how that would apply to rivers, according to a proposal to revise the charter of Florida’s Orange County:
“The Wekiva River Ecosystem and the Econlockhatchee River Ecosystem possess rights, including but not limited to, rights to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve and restoration; the right to carry out their natural function; the right to abundant, pure, unpolluted water, the right to natural groundwater recharge and surface water recharge; the right to natural water flow; the right to a healthy, natural, biodiverse environment; and the right to be free of activities or practices, as well as obstructions, that interfere with or infringe upon these rights.”
Furthermore, giving teeth to the provision, “Any government entity or nonnatural person that violates any provision of this section shall be liable for any damages caused to an ecosystem named in this section as a result of the violation.”
Wesley J. Smith believes these principles will make their way into the national Democratic platform and warns about their legal ramifications:
Make no mistake: “Nature rights” isn’t about stopping pollution. Rather, it allows anyone to sue to protect nature’s supposed right to ” exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” That’s akin to a right to life. (Apparently, human fetuses aren’t considered part of nature.) That means any use of the natural world that disturbs what would otherwise exist in the wild is subject to legal attack.