[In my 26feb14 post on 'The Rights of Nature' I invited Ms Robin Milam of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature to respond. She has kindly submitted the following response to the points I raised, and expanded on a number of other issues that are salient to incorporating the rights of nature into our lives and how we are to be governed. I thank her for the following thoughtful and thorough essay, and hope that RR readers will gain greater insight to the structure, magnitude, and direction of this movement. gjr]
Preface and underlying assumptions
Our legal systems frame how we as a society relate to each other and to our planet. A predominant underlying assumption in legal systems of today's industrialized world is that humans are separate from nature and the natural systems that sustain life. Our legal systems treat natural ecosystems as property to be bought, sold and consumed. A second underlying assumption is that our planet has unlimited natural resources to feed an economic system that assumes and encourages a continuum of perpetual growth. The reality is we as a human race are part of a tightly interrelated, interdependent Earth community and our planet does have a finite carrying capacity to support life as we know it. Our legal structures and economic systems are designed for humans to dominate the natural world rather than encourage the natural balance inherent in our interconnectedness.
Since the Industrial Era began, human activity has had an increasing effect on pollution of fresh water sources, climate change, extinction of plant and animal species, acidity of the oceans, toxic waste contamination as well as other environmental impacts. We have instituted a plethora of Environmental Protection Laws – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and similar state laws to limit the negative impact of our society. Rather than preventing pollution and environmental destruction, these laws instead codify it by setting acceptable pollution limits. In addition, under commonly understood terms of preemption, once these activities are legalized by federal or state governments, local governments are prohibited from banning them. Thus in spite of the improvements afforded by these laws, our planet today is in worse condition than it was 40 plus years ago when the Environmental Protection Acts were first enacted. The system is not working.
The Rights of Nature movement proposes that to address the significant issues of our time including the condition of our planet, we need to re-examine the fundamental assumptions about our human relationship with the Earth Community and realign our legal and social systems accordingly. In pragmatic terms a growing number of US communities are asserting a community rights-based approach to addressing specific threats to the quality of life, health, safety and welfare of their communities. They are finding that recognizing rights of natural systems, in partnership with limiting the overreaching hand of a dominant corporate arm, has provided a legal tool for protecting the rights of their community and a stepping stone for realigning legal structures. Later in this document I provide examples of communities who have implemented rights-based ordinances. First let’s establish a common base for what we mean by rights and rights of nature.