Research suggests that humanity’s destruction of biodiversity creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, or the coronavirus, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise. According to disease ecologists viruses and other pathogens are also likely to be transmitted from animals to humans in the many informal meat markets that have sprung up in urban populations around the world. This article focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems. Additionally, it also argues that zoonotic diseases and viral infections are linked to environmental change caused by human behavior. Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health/AFP via Getty Images
In 2008, Ecuador re-thought its democracy and included “Rights of Nature” in its constitution. Following in these footsteps, Shannon Biggs (United States), Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Nation, United States), Pella Thiel (Sweden), Pablo Solón (Bolivia) and Henny Freitas (Brazil) have also started the process to incorporate the Rights of Nature into national legal frameworks. Mari Margil, associate director of the U.S. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, helped draft state-wide legislation, the first of its kind in the world. Pablo Solon, an environmental and social activist as well as former ambassador of the United Nations, acknowledges that nature helps humans be more humane. Similarly, Patricia Gualinga, former director of Sarayaku Kichwa Native People’s head of international relations, views nature as an actor in democracy rather as an outside subject. Photo Credit: Hugo Pavon/Universidad Andina
The author speaks about their experiences attending and speaking at the 2018 World Water Forum (FAMA) in Brazil. An event largely sponsored by Nestle and Coca-Cola, corporations pushing to privatize and control public water resources. Fearless indigenous women and activists used the event as platform to call-out and share their powerful stories of resistance. Their message to the world: water cannot be treated as a privately owned commodity; water is a human right and a common good of and for the people. Photo Credit: Guilherme Cavalli/Cimi
On International Women’s Day, in Puyo, the capital of Pastaza, Ecuador’s biggest Amazonian province, over 350 Indigenous women from across Amazonia marched to pressure the Ecuadorian government for failing to meet commitments to Indigenous communities. The march was followed by a 3-day gathering led by female Indigenous leaders from the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CPONFENAIE). With leaders from 7 Amazonian nations present (Andoa, Achuar, Kichua, Shuar, Shiwiar, Sapara and Waorani) attendees established the Assembly of Amazonian Women. During her long awaited speech Patricia Gualinga, the well-known Sarayaku leader, outlined her community’s proposal to protect the Amazon, Kawsak Sacha “Living Forest”. The proposal seeks to leave responsibility of forest protection to Indigenous communities who have a holistic relation to nature. Photo credit: Andrés Viera V. (March in Puyo on Women’s Day)
Indigenous land and rights defenders, Gloria Ushigua of Ecuador and Aura Tegria of Colombia, share the heart moving victories and struggles of their people against mega extraction projects on their land, weaving in significant moments from their personal stories. Gloria Ushigua is President of Sapara Women’s Association in Ecuador. She was publicly mocked on television by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa after protests in 2001 and violently persecuted after organizing significant mobilizations against oil drilling in 2015. Aura Tegria is an indigenous U’wa lawyer on the Legal Counsel to the U’wa people of Colombia. The childhood memories of her people organizing to protect their land inspired to become the U’Wa defender she is today. After intense protests, campaigns and legal action in 2014 and 2015, they successfully kicked out Occidental Petroleum followed by the successful dismantling of the large Magallanes gas well from their land. Part of the U’Wa resistance has also been against the Catholic and Evangelical church that historically promoted cultural extermination through their boarding schools for indigenous children and other oppressive practices. Both women share the history of their people’s resistance since colonization, their personal stories linked to that resistance, the recent struggles of their people and the inspiring victories.Photo Credit: Amazon Watch
Writer, activist, social justice facilitator (and more) Adrienne Maree Brown shares how the ‘wow’ or wonder of observing nature’s patterns of emergence can inspire social justice activism. Through extracts from conversations, she relates how people have gained and been transformed by exposure to nature, and how these exchanges have influenced her learning process in emergent strategy. Adrienne explains that paying attention to the beauty, magic, miracles and patterns of the natural world teaches about emergence. She refers to liberation educator and organiser Adaku Utah and her lessons from Mycelium Mushrooms in cultivating trust as an organising strategy (the mycelium organism uses trust as a mechanism to build and sustain an interconnected and mutually sustainable underground network with tree and plant roots). Adrienne also quotes independent strategist Ashingi Maxton on the pace of water, and to community organizer Hannah Sassaman on the learning from the seasons as teachers of evolution. Photo Credit: Ashim D’Silva/Unsplash
Women across the world experience violence, exploitation, and objectification. The trauma our culture has inflicted upon women extends beyond us. Mother Earth is also facing similar abuse. This piece is an open letter to middle class women to stand for the rights of Mother Earth, just like as they do for themselves via online campaigns like #MeToo. The author argues that the same mentality that seeks to dominate women also seeks to dominate the Earth; thus, we should use the power and momentum of the #metoo movement to consciously link women’s sovereignty issues to ecological issues. Photo Credit: Big Stock Photo
Following the declaration of protection of the Whanganui river, which was granted legal personhood in early 2017, New Zealand has also granted legal rights to Mount Taranaki. Eight local Māori tribes and the government will be considered responsible guardians. Therefore, if someone violates the rights of the Mountain, it is equated with harming the tribe. The government has also committed apologizing to local Māori people for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. Photo-credit: David Frampton/AP
Maya van Rossum is leading the Green Amendment Movement to establish the constitutional right to a healthy environment at both the state and federal level. Currently, only two states—Pennsylvania and Montana—have similar provisions, but momentum for “environmental constitutionalism” is growing among policymakers and stakeholders, with the goal of mending the gaps in current environmental protection laws, and addressing increasing U.S. environmental degradation. In Pennsylvania, van Rossum and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network successfully invoked the constitutional provision against pro-drilling and fracking legislation in the state, despite a conservative Supreme Court, signaling a jumpstart to expanding this inalienable right across the nation and demanding government accountability.
In this article, Nikoletta Pikramenou highlights the need for the European Union (EU) to recognize Nature’s rights. She explains that current EU legal frameworks treat Nature as an object and not as a subject of law. Consequently, environmental damage is only regulated instead of being eradicated and this leads to the acceleration of climate change in the EU and globally. She proposes the drafting of a new EU Directive which will grant rights to Mother Earth. Photo credit: Earth Law Center
Raksha Bandhan, a hindu festival celebrating the bond between brother and sister has inspired women in Muturkham, Jharkhand to protect their forests. In 1998, when Jamuna Tudu, also known as ‘Lady Tarzan’, noticed large areas of clearcut forest she began to speak out. She managed to organize Van Suraksha Samiti, a band of 25 women fortified with bows and arrows, bamboo sticks and spears to tackle the enemies of their forest. After driving out the mafia cutting down their forests, the women began tying the ‘knot of protection’, around the trees. Stemming from the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan, the knot symbolizes the love between brothers and sisters, where a sister ties a rakhi (holy thread) on the wrist of her brother to ward off evil and in turn, he vows to protect her until death. The rakhi around the trees symbolizes that these women will protect their trees until death. Photo Credit: YouTube
In response to a history of abuses and a recent onslaught of years of intensive fracking development, the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma voted on October 20, 2017 to pass a statute recognizing the Rights of Nature, as a tool to legally block continued fracking, and resultant poisoning of land and water, health issues, earthquakes and other dangerous impacts. When enacted, the Ponca will be the first United States tribal nation to recognize the Rights of Nature in statutory law. Casey Camp Horinek, member of the Ponca Tribal Business Council, grandmother, and longtime leader and Indigenous rights and Earth protector - and her family, have been central to ensuring this forward motion. Allied climate justice organizations, such as Movement Rights, have also supported efforts. Photo credit: Movement Rights
On September 26, the Colorado River sued the State of Colorado in a first-in-the-nation lawsuit requesting that the United States District Court in Denver recognize the river’s Rights of Nature. Currently, most legal systems treat Nature as “property” allowing and encouraging environmental destruction. By recognising rights to the ecosystem, such as the rights to exist, flourish and evolve, Deep Green Resistance and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund are urging the American legal system to move to a holistic approach which protects both humans, animals and Nature. Photo credit: Alex Proimos/Flickr/CC-BY-NC-2.0
Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager at the Earth Law Center writes on the importance of the oceans - which cover over seventy percent of our planet, regulates climate and provides food and jobs for hundreds of millions of people. Current changes to its systems have generated concerns for the future. Despite international laws and agreements designed for its protection, the health of our oceans is at risk. This is because current ocean law and policy largely focus on the impacts to humans, rather than the impacts on natural ecosystems. Implementing Rights of Nature legislation allows for such a basis, by recognizing that rights originate from existence and that humans are a part of the Earth, not above it. By adopting the Rights of Nature, and in this case the ocean, we ensure that our activities do not violate the oceans’ rights to life, to health, to be free of pollution and to continue its vital cycles. It is a vital step to not only ensure that we restore the health of the ocean, but protect our future. Photo credit: The Ecologist
Indigenous rights activist, and advocate for women and the Earth, Winona LaDuke, addressed a crowd at Johns Hopkins University as part of the JHU Forums on Race in America, “Time to move on”. LaDuke is part of the Ojibwe or Chippewa Tribe in Minnesota, the founder of the Indigenous Women’s Network, White Earth Land Recovery Project, and Executive Director of Honor the Earth. Sharing stories from her life, LaDuke emphasizes the importance of Indigenous knowledge and the need for society to move from an economy based on exploitation and the rights of corporations, to one based on life and the rights of nature. Photo credit: Will Kirk/ Homewood Photography
The destruction of the environment continues despite the efforts made by governments, stakeholders and legislators to prevent it, argues the Earth Law Center. The goal of the Rights of Nature is to expand justice until all beings on Earth are efficiently protected by the law. In a Rights of Nature legal system, people have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. Many argue that ecosystems are not humans and therefore they cannot have rights. However, rights for non-humans exist already, for instance, corporations have rights. Photo credit: public-domain-image.com
On the podcast Mrs. Green World, Nicole Miller discusses the concept of biomimicry, which is emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies in order to find sustainable ways to approach human challenges. Nicole is the Managing Director of Biomimicry 3.8, the leading organization in the world in biomimicry innovation consulting and professional training. Biomimicry 3.8, so-named due to the natural intelligence accumulated on Earth in 3.8 billion years of evolution, was founded by two women, Janine Benyus and Dr. Dayana Baumeister. Photo credit: mrsgreenworld.come
In March, the Whanganui River in New Zealand was the first river in the world to be granted the same legal rights as a human being. Following New Zealand’s steps, India attributed to the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers the status of human living entities. It is clear that humanity is realising that Mother Earth is the source of human existence and her needs must be acknowledged and prioritised. The current modern systems of law focus only on the protection of humans and corporations without considering that human existence depends on the well-being of Mother Earth. New Zealand’s action represents the beginning of a new era that questions the foundations of modern legal systems. The goal now is to restore a symbiotic relationship with Mother Earth. Photo credit: Yes! Magazine
In New Zealand, the collaboration between the Maori people and national government has resulted in the legal recognition and protection of the Rights of Nature and legal personhood of the former Te Urewera national park and its river system. According to the statute, Te Urewera is now considered as a legal entity with all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person. Photo credit: Antonio de Luca and Google Earth
Beatrice Hunter is many things at once: mother, grandmother and unapologetic land protector from the Indigenous Inuit community of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Canada. Last fall, Hunter joined dozens of local land protectors in occupying the construction site of a highly controversial dam on Muskrat Falls, which holds immense cultural, economic and spiritual value for her people. Hunter now faces one criminal charge and two civil charges, and has defiantly refused to stay away from the Falls despite law enforcement's demands. In speaking out about the series of events, Hunter emphasizes that her people’s identities and livelihoods are deeply interconnected with the Falls, as well as the injustice of continued exploitation by settler-colonialism. Photo credit: Facebook
The Constitutional Court of Colombia has declared the Atrato River a rights-bearing subject, creating a commission of government representatives and community members to restore and protect the river. Xiména Gonzalez, an advocate, lawyer and spokeswoman for the Center for Studies for Social Justice Tierra Digna, explains how illegal gold mining and mercury have polluted Colombia’s third-most important river and threatened the livelihoods of people in the Chocó region. In granting rights to the Atrato River, the Court also curbed the use of toxic substances for the extraction of minerals, promoting sustainability and health for the communities that depend upon the Atrato’s waters. Photo credit: Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
In 2012 Judy Wanchisn (74) and her eldest daughter Stacy Long learned that the Environmental Protection Agency was planning to allow Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE), an oil-and-gas exploration company, to maintain a fracking wastewater well beneath their small township. In response, the women founded the East Run Hellbenders Society to help propel their community to the frontline of an emerging movement to establish laws that establish the legal right for nature to defend itself. Both the women and their rural community are continuing to fight the establishment of PGE’s injection-well site. Photo credit: Mike Belleme for Rolling Stone
The Pacific Ocean is the most populated ocean on the planet, and the Pacific states are culturally and economically dependent upon the sustainability of their marine environment. One of the voluntary commitments undertaken at the 2017 United Nations Ocean Conference was to accord the Pacific Ocean the same protective legal rights as individuals now enjoy. Granting legal rights to the Pacific Ocean allows lawsuits to be filed on behalf of ecosystems. Practically, this would, by 2020, allow the filing of lawsuits on behalf of ecosystems and this means that there will no longer be a requirement to demonstrate personal human injury to protect and restore the ecosystems' health. Scientific communities and NGOs are expected to advocate the initiative. Photo credit: Panos
An Indian court has recognized Himalayan glaciers, lakes and forests as "legal persons," weeks after it granted similar status to the country's two most sacred rivers, Ganga and Yamuna. The decision aims to strengthen environmental protection by granting rights equivalent to the rights of human beings so that any injury or harm caused to the glaciers will be treated as injury or harm caused to human beings. The court also extended the status of "living entity" to swathes of the Himalayan environment, including waterfalls, meadows, lakes and forests. Photo credit: Phys.org
Last March, New Zealand passed the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill, and the river became the first water system in the world to hold legal “personhood” status. Then, five days later, the High Court of Uttarakhand at Naintal, in northern India, issued a ruling declaring that both the Ganga and Yumana rivers are also “legal persons/living persons.” In this article, Shannon Biggs, Executive Director of Movement Rights and cofounder of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, explains the high significance of these laws which challenge the status of Nature as property and provide a legal framework for a true relationship to Mother Earth. She argues that recognizing the rights of the Whanganui River means that no matter who the actor, the law treats a harm to the river the same way as it would a harm to the tribe or a person. On the other hand, in India, it’s not yet that clear what legal personhood means for the Ganges and Yumana rivers. Lastly, Shannon explains that the Rights of Nature movement can shift the paradigm that modern Earth is available for human use and moves toward the understanding that the Earth is a living entity and should therefore be protected. Photo credit: Kathrin & Stefan Marks
The high court in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand gave the Ganges and Yamuna rivers the status of living human entities and argued that this will contribute to the preservation and conservation of the highly polluted rivers. From now on, polluting the rivers will amount to harming a human being. The rivers provide water to half of India’s population, but they had become polluted due to industrialisation and rapid urbanisation. Moreover, two top state officials have been appointed as the legal guardians of the rivers and will represent their rights. Photo credit: Getty Images
A river in New Zealand is now the first in the world to be granted the same legal rights as a person. The new bill recognizes that the Whanganui River, in North Island, is a living entity. The Maori people fought for over 160 years to get this recognition for their river and now the river's interests will be represented by two people: one member from the Maori tribes, known as iwi, and one from the Crown. The recognition allows it to be represented in court proceedings. The settlement also included $80m (£65m) in financial redress and $30m (£25m) to a fund to improve the river's health. Photo credit: Getty images
Mari Margil, Associate Director of the Community Environmental Defense Fund shares a video presentation on her organization's work to uplift Rights of Nature and the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Nature of Mother Earth. Mari has assisted organizations and governments around the world in understanding and implementing Rights of Nature law, including working with Ecuador’s Constituent Assembly; working in Nepal, India, Australia, and other countries to advance Rights of Nature framework; assisting members of the Ho-Chunk Nation in drafting the first US tribal constitutional amendment on the Rights of Nature; and even consulted with members of the Green Party of England and Wales in developing a party platform inclusive of the the Rights of Nature. Photo credit: National Community Rights Network
Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Provincial Court recently handed down its decision on the world’s first constitutionally-based Rights of Nature lawsuit. The Afro-descendant community of La Chiquita and the Awá community of Guadualito asked the court for repairs and suspension of all harmful plantation activities performed by Los Andes and Palesema Oil Palm Companies. However, according to the court’s decision, the responsibilities for remediating damages were assigned to the state and not oil palm companies. Unfortunately, even after the Court’s decision, the companies continue violating the Rights of Nature by dumping chemicals and wastewater into the river and extracting palm oil from plantation fruit. Photo credit: Hazlewood
Every August 1st, Indigenous people in South America pay tribute to Pachamama (World Mother). To that aim, Indigenous people in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru celebrate Pachamama Day with different ceremonies and rituals to honor Mother Earth. At the Pachamama Raymi (feast), people develop a strong bond with Nature and perform a ritual to return to Mother Earth what she has offered to them. The water, the earth, the sun, and the moon are deeply connected to Pachamama and this has inspired organizations to advocate and educate people on the importance of natural balance to sustain life. Photo credit: EFE
The recognition of the Rights of Nature in Ecuador, Bolivia and New Zealand is proof that Indigenous activism has significantly contributed to create a new legal phenomenon: the idea that nature itself can have rights. In 2008, Ecuador was the first country to establish Rights of Nature in its Constitution. Bolivia followed Ecuador’s steps with Evo Morales, the first Indigenous head of state in Latin America, who called for a constitutional reform that established rights of nature in 2009. However, unlike Ecuador and Bolivia, New Zealand’s rights of nature are not embedded in its constitutional law, but rather protect specific natural entities. The legal concept of rights of nature signals the influence of Indigenous peoples as political actors in state-making and shows us the way to preserve the earth for future generations.
Mari Margil, Associate Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, writes for Intercontinental Cry on why, despite the repeated alarms and calls from various scientist about environmental degradation, intensive exploitation of the environment continues. Mari frames the limitations of current environmental laws, which regulate the use and exploitation of environment instead of actually protecting the Earth because under the law, nature is considered as property. To counter this, many communities are coming together to take action, from Ecuador to Wisconsin, from India to Pennsylvania.
When the Governor and state legislature of Oklahoma passed two bills restricting residents from banning or limiting oil and gas operations, the Ponca Indigenous people began experiencing huge increases in intensive and dangerous fracking. Pennie Opal Plant and Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights co-founders, visited the City of Ponca, which is home to 26,000 people including 3,500 members of the Ponca Nation, visiting leaders including Council woman and Indigenous rights and Earth advocate, Casey Camp Horinek. The authors highlight that what is happening in Ponca and at Standing Rock reminds us that it is time to rise and stand for the protection of Mother Earth. These violations concern us all, as they are not only threatening Indigenous peoples but also our very own system of life. Photo credit: Movement Rights
A group of Indigenous women from Latin America, called Chaski Warmi (which means women messengers in Kichwa), collected stories from their regions about people affected by climate change. The Indigenous group brought stories of women affected by the fossil fuel industry and climate disasters, in addition to resource extraction. The Indigenous women went to COP22 in Marrakech to share their cultural struggles and environmental strategies. Photo credit: Binod Parajuli/Seble Samuel
The very first Permanent People’s Tribunal was held in 2016 in South Africa, in Swaziland to be precise, and drew over 200 activists from the region to speak about corporate impunity. In a region that is home to some of the worst cases of ecocide and human rights violations from mining companies, the tribunal was a space for solidarity and truth-telling for WoMin alliance affiliated sisters from Somkhele and Fuleni communities in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa to talk about their challenges with coal mining and the resistance they were mounting against these abuses. Photo credit: Stop Corporate Impunity
The Earth Law Center published an initial report on the co-violations of human rights and Rights of Nature in 2015, and published this updated version in 2016. This new and improved report examines 100 additional case studies of rights co-violations, such as arrests and murders of frontline environmental defenders around the world. According to the report’s findings, 28 percent of human rights violations involved at least one murder and 30 percent of them involved harm to Indigenous peoples’ rights. The goal of the report is to propose solutions which can prevent these harms from destroying peoples and Nature. There is an increasing need to transform the current legal systems to reflect the shared well-being of humans and the natural world. Photo credit: Earth Law Center
The Ho-Chunk Nation is the first tribal nation in the United States to enshrine Rights of Nature in their tribal constitution. This is a significant step towards the prohibition and recognition of fossil fuel extraction as a violation of Rights of Nature. It also symbolizes Ho-Chunk solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, recognizing the destructive impact of fossil fuel extraction. The human right to a healthy environment is dependent on the health of Mother Earth. Accordingly, this human right can only be fulfilled by recognizing in law Nature’s right to be healthy and thrive.
This blog by 2016 EarthRights School Mekong student, Lily, tells the story of Nu River from it's own perspective. The source of this vital river is located in the Tibetan Tanggula Mountains and it extends to Myanmar, Burma and Thailand. Many people pass through it or live in its coasts. For instance, the Karen are Indigenous peoples and have lived in Nu River for hundreds of years. However, humans use it to take green electricity which is harmful for its health. People do not realize that by harming the River, they will lose their land and their life. The River does not ask humans to protect it, but to think about their lives if Nature is destroyed. Photo credit: EarthRights International
Mumta Ito, founder of the International Centre for Wholistic Law and Rights of Nature Europe, points out that modern environmental laws are designed around an economic paradigm which legitimizes the destruction of Nature. Our legal system operates within paradigms which are anthropocentric believing that Nature exists to serve human needs. In addition, modern legal frameworks are designed to support economic growth without challenging the cause of the problem which is the economic system itself. She suggests moving towards a holistic system of law that puts our existence in this planet within its ecological context. Even though humans have the right to life, Nature which provides all the materials for our lives has no such rights. By enshrining Rights of Nature in law, we protect the Earth that we all need for our very existence. Photo credit: TedxTalks
Harini Nagendra, an ecologist by training and professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, has been studying biodiversity and ecology of different public spaces for the past decade. In her new book, ‘Nature in the City; Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future’, she takes her readers on an ecological journey of Bengaluru from an agricultural center to ‘concrete-ization’. She writes of the remnants of nature’s hotspots in the city and the deep bond between slum dwellers and nature. The book highlights the works of remarkable individuals and movements that are fighting for the rights of nature and saving Bengaluru from being grasped by the silent killer, ‘concrete-ization’. Photo credit: Harini Nagendra
On April 25, 2016, activists, educators, students, mothers and allies joined together to explore the open online training “Rights of Nature: Protecting and Defending the Places We Live.” Presenters Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights and Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN explained how Rights of Nature can challenge current legal frameworks which commodify Nature. Moreover, Lake explained that because the Earth is treated as property, it has no legal standing which makes the “defenseless” in the modern justice system. Biggs focused on helping people to create new laws that recognize their right to protect the Earth and determine what happens in their communities. At the end of the training, it was pointed out that Rights of Nature can be used as a powerful tool to empower communities and restore democracies by challenging corrupted governance structures which facilitate natural and social abuses. Photo credit: Emily Arasim
In this paper, Pamela Martin and Craig Kauffman explore how Ecuador’s rights of Nature are applied in practice and the reasons why Rights of Nature are upheld in some cases and not others. Ecuador’s legal framework is used as an example, as its establishment coincides with the promotion of Rights of Nature at the global level. Because few studies focus on the implementation of Rights of Nature, the authors analyze the application of Rights of Nature in Ecuador and then proceed to an analysis of the interaction between global and local governance and the lessons learned from Ecuador’s case.
Currently Britain's environmental regulations consider nature as an object of commerce within the law, and this poses a barrier to the efficient protection of ecosystems. Existing models of protecting nature are failing, as they serve to regulate nature's destruction rather than prevent it. They tend to adopt a capitalistic approach which does not protect the environment because it involves a further commodification of nature's ecosystems. The only answer to the problem is to give formal recognition to the Rights of Nature, challenging the leading anthropocentric idea that nature is ours to consume. Photo credit: Pablo Fernández via Flickr
Mirian Cisneros, Ena Santi, Patricia Gualinga and Nina Gualinga are some of the women leaders of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest, who are opposing continued oil extraction, and setting forth a vital proposal for the healthy and just future they envision for their community and the forest that they live in relationship with. The women shared their communities’ Kawsak Sacha, ‘Living Forest’ proposal at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris, France during the United Nations 2015 climate negotiations. This article shares background and analysis from Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, regarding the Living Forest proposal, Rights of Nature and the importance of Indigenous women’s leadership in these movements for deep systemic change in law, policy, and ways of living with the Earth. Photo credit: Emily Arasim/WECAN International
At an event hosted by Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network during the COP 21 Paris negotiations in 2015, women leaders spoke about how women are the first and worst impacted by climate change. Indigenous women led the way, sharing their experiences fighting the dominant fossil fuel economy and forging a new way towards a sustainable, healthy and ecological communities. Photo credit: Emily Arasim/WECAN
This video was shot at the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature International Tribunal at the Paris COP21. Lisa Mead, Director of the Earth Law Alliance, presents a new case for consideration to the panel of Tribunal Judges. Marine life is severely threatened by several factors such as deep-sea mining and oil extraction, pollution from plastics and other toxics, sewage and agricultural run-off, birds and mammals which are being killed by nets and lines and fish farming which affects native species. The case that she presents on “Depletion of Marine Life” concerns three issues which are interrelated: the lack of an integrated Ocean care and governance, the extensive overfishing and the inadequacy of marine conservation efforts. Photo credit: Rights4Nature
Yudith Nieto is a Youth Organizer and Communications Coordinator at Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services which is fighting for environmental justice and is advocating for communities around the world. During her testimony at the Paris International Rights of Nature Tribunal, she describes the situation in Manchester Community, which is a part of Houston surrounded by petrochemical industries. Houston is the petrochemical capital of the world and is witnessing contamination of the environment. The support from officials and agencies is non-existent. At the end of her speech, she presented a video with testimonies from members of the community on the destruction of Nature, environmental racism and the effects on the community members’ lives and health. Photo credit: Rights4Nature
The third International Rights of Nature Tribunal took place in Paris at the same time as COP21. There, several presenters from around the globe shared their testimonies and experiences on several topics such as the effects of petrochemical pollution and fracking on communities, environmental racism, the violations against Rights of Nature, and the current disconnection of human beings with the Earth which leads to further environmental destruction. Tribunal judges commented on the need to include the rights of environment defenders in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Photo credit: Ché Ramsden
Catherine Irons At TEDxTauranga: Using Human Rights Law To Protect New Zealand’s Natural Environment
Catherine Irons, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at Victoria University of Wellington, uses examples of pollution to illustrate that this can no longer be accepted as the status quo and she proposes to include environmental protection in our human rights legislation. Human rights are designed to resolve human problems, but if we do not see a problem it is impossible to create a right for it. Modern legal frameworks provide for environmental laws but not for environmental rights because when the laws were created humans didn’t see any problems. Lastly, she points out that a line in the Bill of Rights or Human Rights Act would allow the protection of the environment to be discussed in the national courts and it could compel a person, company or organisation to take active measures to ensure we live in a healthy, sustainable country. Photo credit: TEDxTauranga
In the 1970s, the Sierra Club sued to stop a ski development in Sequoia National Forest, California, but the Supreme Court rejected the club’s reasoning, unwilling to accept that Nature had standing to sue in court. However, one justice, William O. Douglas, was persuaded by the Sierra Club’s original reasoning and later supported allowing Nature’s voice to be heard in the courtroom. Despite Douglas’ efforts, Nature is still excluded by courtrooms. Today, climate change and environmental crises require major reforms in the legal systems. For this reason, it is time for us, humans, or at least our organizations, to advocate for Nature’s standing in Courts. Photo credit: Jena Cragg, Rhett Wilkins, NOAA
This report, with co-authors including woman leader Linda Sheehan, examines the co-violations of Nature’s and people’s rights around the world, as humans and Mother Earth are directly linked. Currently, Nature is treated globally as property, and as a result both humans and ecosystems are severely injured. The aim of the report is to highlight this problem via an analysis of 100 case studies of mining in Northern Europe, Canada, Latin America and Africa. At the same time, the publication identifies solutions and recommendations to combat and prevent human rights violations and violations of Rights of Nature. Photo credit: Earth Law Center
Dr. María Valeria Berros, professor and researcher at the National University of the Littoral and the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research in Santa Fe City, Argentina, is researching the recognition of nature as a subject of rights in Latin America. Using legal documents which recognise nature explicitly as a legal entity, such as Pachamama in the Constitution of Ecuador (2008), Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) in the Mother Earth Rights Act (2010) and the Framework Act on Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well (2012), in Bolivia, she shows that non-anthropocentric ethics is beginning to gain importance. Photo credit: Rachel Carson Center
In this interview, Dayamani Barla, Indigenous tribal journalist and activist from Jharkland, India, discusses how Indigenous peoples have been displaced from their traditional farming lands due to the dams, mining and other development projects. She states that Indigenous peoples do not treat Nature as a commodity but they live in harmony with Earth as their mission is to protect their natural heritage. Accordingly, the protection and guarantee of land rights is a significant part of Indigenous peoples’ lifestyle and livelihood.
Ruth Nyambura, from the African Biodiversity Network, pointed out during Paris International Rights of Nature Tribunal that we should deal with the rights of Mother Nature along with the protection of the people who defend her and the problem of their criminalization. First, it is important to build an understanding of the system which uses the criminalization of these defenders and focus on how to demand the rights of Indigenous defenders by States which have committed genocides. Furthermore, there is a need for a systems approach to the climate crisis: we need to talk more about racism, colonization, patriarchy and borrow ideas of climate justice for the protection Rights of Nature defenders. Photo credit: Rights4Nature
During her passionate speech at the Paris International Rights of Nature Tribunal, Shannon Biggs, Executive Director of Movement Rights and co-founder of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, explains how fracking is a global issue and one of the worst threats of life on Earth. In the U.S. fracking sets stage for disaster with over 1 million active fracked oil and gas lines. She states that fracking is a clear violation of Rights of Nature as it violates the rights of water, air and climate, soil and life. Moreover, it causes earthquakes and contributes to climate change, cancer and asthma as it uses and brings to the Earth’s surface radioactive materials that cannot be safely disposed. In the end, Casey Camp-Horinek, Indigenous rights activist who helps maintain the cultural identity of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, in an emotional speech described how fracking has major impacts in the lives of tribes located in Oklahoma. Photo credit: Rights4Nature
Casey Camp-Horinek, an Indigenous activist who helps maintain the cultural identity of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, testifies on fracking and its major impacts in the lives of tribes located in Oklahoma during the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris during the UN COP21 climate negotiations. She explains that there are 13,000 fracking wells in her community and because of fracking, her community has gone from having 5 earthquakes in the year of 2008 to over 5,000 in one year alone. These earthquakes are directly related to the injection process involved in fracking. She states that Mother Earth suffers and she has begun to shake as she has to live with her waters being poisoned. Photo credit: Indigenous Rising Media
Natalia Green is an Ecuadorian environmental leader who played a significant role in the inclusion and recognition of Nature’s rights in the Ecuadorian Constitution. During a webinar presentation she explains how the country’s hgh levels of biodiversity led the country to shift the paradigm and recognize that human existence should coexist in harmony with Nature. However, as she explains, the implementation of the country’s new legal framework remains a challenge, and that there is an urgent need for real implementation and accountability in the face of continued rights violations.
In this Movement Rights blog, Suzanne York, expresses her concern for the future of the world which is heading towards a “danger zone” as it is crossing several planetary boundaries that could destabilize the earth. She highlights the Rights of Nature movement that is trying to shift the paradigm and move from exploitation to the coexistence with Mother Earth. The International Rights of Nature Tribunal enforces Nature’s rights by putting the current global system on trial. According to Suzanne, there is no time to wait as the later it gets, the more difficult it will be to stem the tide. She calls us to act immediately as that’s the only way for all future generations to inherit a livable world. Photo credit: Jeffrey Bury
Thirteen judges meet in Peru at the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature to hear charges of how Rights of Nature are being violated. The goal of the Tribunal is to investigate cases of possible violations according to the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. In total, 12 cases were heard and experts and impacted people from around the world spoke as “witnesses.” Among the experts there were Casey Camp-Horinek who spoke about the negative impacts of fracking on the Ponca Nation, and Shannon Biggs, who highlighted how fracking is destroying livelihoods within the United States. Photo credit: Free source
Linda Sheehan was one of 45 leading scholars, authors and activists who convened at The Great Hall of Cooper Union, for the public presentation: "Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth." Speakers discussed the profound impacts—environmental, economic and social—of runaway technological expansionism and cyber immersion; the tendency to see technology as the savior for all problems. During her speech, she explained how modern environmental laws have limits and treat land as a commodity and not as a community in which we belong. Denying rights to Earth leads to separation and does not create communities where humans and Nature can coexist. The movement for Earth rights is going to shift the narrative where human superiority prevails and prove that it is illogical to recognize rights to humans and not to Nature. Photo credit: IntlForum
Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange explains that nowadays there are factory towns where the entire job market is related to corporations. Even though those factories are responsible for local contamination, communities struggle to prevent their activities as they boost the economy. She suggests that the green economy can help us find a balance as it follows the example set by the Indigenous peoples who have maintained a balanced relationship with the Land. Accordingly, we should shift the narrative and the main question should not be how we can fit Nature in Economics but how we listen to the Earth and what she has to offer us. Photo credit: Rights4Nature
Osprey Orielle Lake’s presentation at The Economics of Sustainability Conference 2014 focused on the reinvention of modern economies and legal frameworks so that humans can coexist in harmony and reciprocity with Nature. Modern environmental legal frameworks have failed to protect Mother Earth and most of the world’s economies are based on treating Nature as property. Accordingly, there is a need to replace the current model with a new just and restorative economy which considers social, gender, Indigenous, economic and environmental justice. The rights of Nature legal framework can affect our economies in a positive way as it requires a transition to a renewable energy and organic agriculture. Photo credit: Sam Euston
Patricia Siemen is a Dominican Sister from Adrian, Michigan and a civil attorney licensed in the states of Florida and Michigan. She argues that just as human rights are protected by legal systems, the rights of the rest of creation must be protected by Earth jurisprudence. She also explains that human rights cannot cancel out the rights of other beings. Siemen proposes to grant basic rights for all Earth’s systems and creatures such as the right to exist, to habitat and to flourish. Photo credit: TEDxJacksonville
Vandana Shiva is an internationally-renowned activist for biodioversity and against corporate globalization. Vandana has been responding to deforestation and attacks on nature since the 1970s, when peasant women in her region of the Himalayas rose up together in defense of their forest. Logging in the area led to landslides, floods, and scarcity of water and fuel, with the burden falling heavily on local women. Since that time, Vandana says that biodiversity and biodiversity-based living economies became her life’s mission, acting as a documentarian and activist, spreading the message that the failure to understand biodiversity and its many functions is at the root of the impoverishment of nature and culture. Photo credit: Suzanne Lee
Katie Redford, co-founder and director of EarthRights International, questions unfettered corporate power and the real-life impacts it has on people when fossil fuel companies like Shell Oil Company or Chevron are granted corporate-personhood in the United STates legal system, but are not held accountable for human rights abuses. EarthRights International brings legal power and people power together to seek justice for people and the environment worldwide. Redford gave this TEDx presentation at DePaul University in 2012. Photo credit: TEDx Talks
Natalia Greene is the President of Ecuador's National Coordinating Entity for environmental NGOs, and has been a key figure in the recognition of Rights of Nature. She surveys the transformational global movement for Earth jurisprudence. During her presentation, she explained that currently, we live in a world where using sustainable development to justify environmental destruction is acceptable. This shows that human beings are disconnected with Nature (“Pachamama”) and treat the earth as a commodity. Ecuador, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, is a leading example is this trend, where there is an active civil society which advocates for biodiversity, food security and Indigenous rights. In 2008, the most biocentric Constitution the world has known, was passed in Ecuador. However, there is still a lot of work to be done for the implementation of these fundamental rights. This is possible through the “reading” and understanding of Nature. Photo credit: Bioneers
This podcast by Women Rising Radio features four animal rights activists. Elena Bykova discusses her work with the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Saiga Conservation Alliance to preserve the Saiga Antelope in Uzbekistan. Alice Ng, with Wild Aid, speaks about founding Animal Balance in the Galapagos Islands and directs the Animals Asia Foundation. Rosamira Guillen shares her experience as the executive director of Proyecto Titi in Colombia, protecting the cotton-top tamarin monkey and its habitat. Lorena Aguilar, with with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, works in community and gender issues.
In his groundbreaking work, Christopher Stone challenges the legal premise that nature and trees are to be treated as objects in the eyes of the law. He argues that it is pointless to state that natural objects should have no rights to seek legal redress merely because they cannot speak up for themselves. He elaborates by using the case of corporations, who cannot speak but still employ lawyers to act on their behalf; the same can be said for states, estates, children, etc. Accordingly, he proposes that someone could apply to the courts to be the guardian of a natural object that is perceived to be in danger. Therefore, for nature to have rights under the law, the fundamental basis of legal systems must change.