Human existence is dependent upon the natural world, without which we would not exist. At present, our global society treats nature as a resource to be exploited for the benefit of some but to the detriment of many. Our relationship to nature needs to change so that we respect all life and value its right to exist just as we value human rights. We are part of nature, yet we see ourselves as separate from it. The fact that we even have a word for nature shows how disconnected we have become.
A number of European countries have expanded their body of legal rights to recognise a human right to a healthy environment. These include Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, and Finland. In the past few decades, ecosystems and species around the world have been decimated. Climate change has accelerated, adding a further threat. Fulfilling the human right to a healthy environment is not proving achievable. The right of the environment itself to be healthy must therefore be enshrined in law.
Nature is currently viewed and legally designated as property in the capitalist economy. It is therefore currently considered to be right-less. Anyone who owns parts of nature or ecosystems is legally allowed to destroy it. The more nature someone owns, the more they can destroy. Environmentalists have been urging a more careful use of that property – environmental regulation. Slaves, indigenous peoples, and women were once considered right-less by legal systems around the world. They were unable to defend their own basic rights to life and well-being. Environmental laws currently treat nature this way, by actually protecting resource extraction and ecosystem destruction over communities and nature. This has to change.
Instead, Rights of Nature laws recognise the fundamental rights of nature and ecosystems to exist. These laws would prohibit human activities that would interfere with the ability and rights of ecosystems and natural communities to exist and flourish. These laws transform the status of nature from being regarded as property to being rights-bearing.
In fact, these laws have changed the status of property law in the U.S. and elsewhere. Rights of Nature laws eliminate the authority of a property owner to interfere with the functioning of ecosystems and natural communities that depend upon that property for their existence. They do not stop development; rather, they stop development and use of property that interferes with the existence and vitality of those ecosystems.
Under Rights of Nature laws:
- Nature is empowered to defend and enforce its own rights;
- People are empowered to defend and enforce the Rights of Nature; and
- Governments are required to implement, defend, and enforce the Rights of Nature.
There are many important issues that people are campaigning against – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), fracking, genetically modified (GM) foods. Rights of Nature laws are something positive you can campaign for.
Read the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) FAQs http://celdf.org/2016/03/rights-nature-faqs/