Read an extract from the author’s book Wild Law.
IT WAS THE SUDDEN RUSH of the goats’ bodies against the side of the boma that woke him. Picking up a spear and stick, the Kenyan farmer slipped out into the warm night and crept toward the pen. All he could see was the spotted, sloping hindquarters of the animal trying to force itself between the poles to get at the goats — but it was enough. He drove his spear deep into the hyena.
The elders who gathered under the meeting tree to deliberate on the matter were clearly unhappy with the farmer’s explanation. A man appointed by the traditional court to represent the interests of the hyena had testified that his careful examination of the body had revealed that the deceased was a female who was still suckling pups. He argued that given the prevailing drought and the hyena’s need to nourish her young, her behavior in attempting to scavenge food from human settlements was reasonable and that it was wrong to have killed her. The elders then cross-examined the farmer carefully. Did he appreciate, they asked, that such killings were contrary to customary law? Had he considered the hyena’s situation and whether or not she had caused harm? Could he not have simply driven her away? Eventually the elders ordered the man’s clan to pay compensation for the harm done by driving more than one hundred of their goats (a fortune in that community) into the bush, where they could be eaten by the hyenas and other wild carnivores.
The story, told to me by a Kenyan friend, illustrates African customary law’s concern with restorative justice rather than retribution. Wrongdoing is seen as a symptom of a breakdown in relationships within the wider community, and the elders seek to restore the damaged relationship rather than focusing on identifying and punishing the wrongdoer.
The verdict of a traditional African court regarding hyenacide may seem of mere anthropological interest to contemporary Americans. In most of today’s legal systems, decisions that harm ecological communities have to be challenged primarily on the basis of whether or not the correct procedures have been followed. Yet consider how much greater the prospects of survival would be for most of life on Earth if mechanisms existed for imposing collective responsibility and liability on human communities and for restoring damaged relations with the larger natural community. Imagine if we had elders with a deep understanding of the lore of the wild who spoke for the Earth as well as for humans. If we did, how might they order us to compensate for, say, the anticipated destruction of the entire Arctic ecosystem because of global climate change, to restore relations with the polar bears and other people and creatures who depend on that ecosystem? How many polluting power plants and vehicles would it be fair to sacrifice to make amends?
“SO WHAT WOULD A RADICALLY DIFFERENT law-driven consciousness look like?” The question was posed over three decades ago by a University of Southern California law professor as his lecture drew to a close. “One in which Nature had rights,” he continued. “Yes, rivers, lakes, trees. . . . How could such a posture in law affect a community’s view of itself?” Professor Christopher Stone may as well have announced that he was an alien life form. Rivers and trees are objects, not subjects, in the eyes of the law and are by definition incapable of holding rights. His speculations created an uproar.
Stone stepped away from that lecture a little dazed by the response from the class but determined to back up his argument. He realized that for nature to have rights the law would have to be changed so that, first, a suit could be brought in the name of an aspect of nature, such as a river; second, a polluter could be held liable for harming a river; and third, judgments could be made that would benefit a river. Stone quickly identified a pending appeal to the United States Supreme Court against a decision of the Ninth Circuit that raised these issues. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had found that the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund was not “aggrieved” or “adversely affected” by the proposed development of the Mineral King Valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by Walt Disney Enterprises, Inc. This decision meant that the Sierra Club did not have “standing” so the court didn’t need to consider the merits of the matter. Clearly, if the Mineral King Valley itself had been recognized as having rights, it would have been an adversely affected party and would have had the necessary standing.
Fortuitously, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was writing a preface to the next edition of the Southern California Law Review. Stone’s seminal “Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects” (“Trees”) was hurriedly squeezed into the journal and read by Justice Douglas before the Court issued its judgment. In “Trees,” Stone argued that courts should grant legal standing to guardians to represent the rights of nature, in much the same way as guardians are appointed to represent the rights of infants. In order to do so, the law would have to recognize that nature was not just a conglomeration of objects that could be owned, but was a subject that itself had legal rights and the standing to be represented in the courts to enforce those rights. The article eventually formed the basis for a famous dissenting judgment by Justice Douglas in the 1972 case of Sierra Club v. Morton in which he expressed the opinion that “contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.”
Perhaps one of the most important things about “Trees” is that it ventured beyond the accepted boundaries of law as we know it and argued that the conceptual framework for law in the United States (and by analogy, elsewhere) required further evolution and expansion. Stone began by addressing the initial reaction that such ideas are outlandish. Throughout legal history, as he pointed out, each extension of legal rights had previously been unthinkable. The emancipation of slaves and the extension of civil rights to African Americans, women, and children were once rejected as absurd or dangerous by authorities. The Founding Fathers, after all, were hardly conscious of the hypocrisy inherent in proclaiming the inalienable rights of all men while simultaneously denying basic rights to children, women, and to African and Native Americans.
“Trees” has since become a classic for students of environmental law, but after three decades its impact on law in the United States has been limited. After it was written, the courts made it somewhat easier for citizens to litigate on behalf of other species and the environment by expanding the powers and responsibilities of authorities to act as trustees of areas used by the public (e.g., navigable waters, beaches, and parks). Unfortunately, these gains have been followed in more recent years by judicial attempts to restrict the legal standing of environmental groups. Damages for harm to the environment are now recoverable in some cases and are sometimes applied for the benefit of the environment. However, these changes fall far short of what Stone advocated for in “Trees.” The courts still have not recognized that nature has directly enforceable rights.
COMMUNITIES HAVE ALWAYS USED LAWS to express the ideals to which they aspire and to regulate how power is exercised. Law is also a social tool that is usually shaped and wielded most effectively by the powerful. Consequently, law tends to entrench a society’s fundamental idea of itself and of how the world works. So, for example, even when American society began to regard slavery as morally abhorrent, it was not able to peaceably end the practice because the fundamental concept that slaves were property had been hard-wired into the legal system. The abolition of slavery required not only that the enfranchised recognize that slaves were entitled to the same rights as other humans, but also a political effort to change the laws that denied those rights. It took both the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment to outlaw slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment, in turn, played a role in changing American society’s idea of what was acceptable, thereby providing the bedrock for the subsequent civil rights movement.
In the eyes of American law today, most of the community of life on Earth remains mere property, natural “resources” to be exploited, bought, and sold just as slaves were. This means that environmentalists are seldom seen as activists fighting to uphold fundamental rights, but rather as criminals who infringe upon the property rights of others. It also means that actions that damage the ecosystems and the natural processes on which life depends, such as Earth’s climate, are poorly regulated. Climate change is an obvious and dramatic symptom of the failure of human government to regulate human behavior in a manner that takes account of the fact that human welfare is directly dependent on the health of our planet and cannot be achieved at its expense.
In the scientific world there has been more progress. It’s been almost forty years since James Lovelock first proposed the “Gaia hypothesis”: a theory that Earth regulates itself in a manner that keeps the composition of the atmosphere and average temperatures within a range conducive to life. Derided or dismissed by most people at the time, the Gaia hypothesis is now accepted by many as scientific theory. In 2001, more than a thousand scientists signed a declaration that begins “The Earth is a self-regulating system made up from all life, including humans, and from the oceans, the atmosphere and the surface rocks,” a statement that would have been unthinkable for most scientists when “Trees” was written.
The acceptance of Lovelock’s hypothesis can be understood as part of a drift in the scientific world away from a mechanistic understanding of the universe toward the realization that no aspect of nature can be understood without looking at it within the context of the systems of which it forms a part. Unfortunately, this insight has been slow to penetrate the world of law and politics.
But what if we were to imagine a society in which our purpose was to act as good citizens of the Earth as a whole?
What might a governance system look like if it were established to protect the rights of all members of a particular biological community, instead of only humans? Cicero pointed out that each of our rights and freedoms must be limited in order that others may be free. It is far past time that we should consider limiting the rights of humans so they cannot unjustifiably prevent nonhuman members of a community from playing their part. Any legal system designed to give effect to modern scientific understandings (or, indeed, to many cultures’ ancient understandings) of how the universe functions would have to prohibit humans from driving other species to extinction or deliberately destroying the functioning of major ecosystems. In the absence of such regulatory mechanisms, an oppressive and self-destructive regime will inevitably emerge. As indeed it has.
In particular, we should examine the fact that, in the eyes of the law, corporations are considered people and entitled to civil rights. We often forget that corporations are only a few centuries old and have been continually evolving since their inception. Imagine what could be done if we changed the fiduciary responsibilities of directors to include obligations not only to profitability but also to the whole natural world, and if we imposed collective personal liability on corporate managers and stockholders to restore any damage that they cause to natural communities. Imagine if landowners who abused and degraded land lost the right to use it. In an Earth-centered community, all institutions through which humans act collectively would be designed to require behavior that is socially responsible from the perspective of the whole community.A society whose concern is to maintain the integrity or wholeness of the Earth must also refine its ideas about what is “right” and “wrong.” We may find it more useful to condone or disapprove of human conduct by considering the extent to which an action increases or decreases the health of the whole community and the quality or intimacy of the relationships between its members. As Aldo Leopold’s famous land ethic states, “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” From this perspective, individual and collective human rights must be contextualized within, and balanced against, the rights of the other members and communities of Earth.
ON SEPTEMBER 19, 2006, the Tamaqua Borough of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, passed a sewage sludge ordinance that recognizes natural communities and ecosystems within the borough as legal persons for the purposes of enforcing civil rights. It also strips corporations that engage in the land application of sludge of their rights to be treated as “persons” and consequently of their civil rights. One of its effects is that the borough or any of its residents may file a lawsuit on behalf of an ecosystem to recover compensatory and punitive damages for any harm done by the land application of sewage sludge. Damages recovered in this way must be paid to the borough and used to restore those ecosystems and natural communities.
According to Thomas Linzey, the lawyer from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund who assisted Tamaqua Borough, this ordinance marks the first time in the history of municipalities in the United States that something like this has happened. Coming after more than 150 years of judicially sanctioned expansion of the legal powers of corporations in the U.S., this ordinance is more than extraordinary — it is revolutionary. In a world where the corporation is king and all forms of life other than humans are objects in the eyes of the law, this is a small community’s Boston tea party.
In Africa, nongovernmental organizations in eleven countries are also asserting local community rights in order to promote the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development. Members of the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) have coined the term “cultural biodiversity” to emphasize that knowledge and practices that support biodiversity are embedded in cultural tradition. The ABN works with rural communities and schools to recover and spread traditional knowledge and practices.
This is part of a wider effort to build local communities, protect the environment by encouraging those communities to value, retain, and build on traditional African cosmologies, and to govern themselves as part of a wider Earth community.
These small examples, emerging shoots of what might be termed “Earth democracy,” are pressing upward despite the odds. It may well be that Earth-centered legal systems will have to grow organically out of human-scale communities, and communities of communities, that understand that they must function as integrated parts of wider natural communities. In the face of climate change and other enormous environmental challenges, our future as a species depends on those people who are creating the legal and political spaces within which our connection to the rest of our community here on Earth is recognized. The day will come when the failure of our laws to recognize the right of a river to flow, to prohibit acts that destabilize Earth’s climate, or to impose a duty to respect the intrinsic value and right to exist of all life will be as reprehensible as allowing people to be bought and sold. We will only flourish by changing these systems and claiming our identity, as well as assuming our responsibilities, as members of the Earth community.
Read an extract from the author’s book Wild Law.
To buy that book, go here, which is reported to be the ONLY in-stock source for Wild Law in North America.
Yes, it seems so obvious doesn’t it… people who harm the non-human environment on which we all depend should be held accountable for their harm, like the Kenyan farmer was in Cormac Cullinan’s story. I believe that the non-human environment should also be a factor in the profession of psychiatry as well as in the law, so that depression or neuroses might be seen as responses not only to family or social environments, but to the harm that is being done to the non-human world. Industrialized societies greatly exaggerate the importance of the human individual, so we need to break down the psychological barriers separating individuals from their environments. Those barriers are solid in the legal and psychological professions, as well as in agribusiness, education, many and other fields. So I’m grateful for people like Cormac Cullinan and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund who are helping us to see over the barriers. As he says, “our future as a species depends on those people who are creating the legal and political spaces within which our connection to the rest of our community here on Earth is recognized.” Thank you for a wonderful article.
Yes, perhaps nature is in desperate need of a legal guardian, one that can protect the natural world from the pernicious effects of economic globalization.
I have a concern that businesses are growing so large that they have become more powerful than the governments of the nation-states they call home. If people were not the consumers of their products, people would receive little regard, if any at all, I believe.
Evidently, humanity has a global warming challenge, in large part induced by the industrial activities of big businesses worldwide. During the last 30-40 years big business has admitted “poisoning the well” of public discourse about fulminating environmental degradation by giving millions of dollars to ideological think tanks, (for example, Exxon Mobil) to spread disinformation, to willfully misrepresent the science of climate change and to literally manufacture the uncertainty and controversy surrounding otherwise good science.
Leaders of big corporations have too much power to influence the decision-making of politicians, many of whom are already bought-for-paid-for by great wealth provided by the very big business entities that fill the politicians’ coffers.
How can national governments and their politicians be expected to sensibly regulate the activities of multinational conglomerations?
Are we now to think of multinational corporations as “global” citizens? If so, what global entity is supposed to regulate them? If not, how an Earth can these gigantic corporations be made to serve the interests of humanity more reasonably and sensibly and not just their bottom lines for making profits?
The multinational businesses now operating rampantly and overspreading the surface of our planetary home represent a giant, soon to become patently unsustainable dinosaur-like presence on Earth. The current scale and continuous growth rate of the expanding global economy cannot be maintained much longer, much less forever, can it?
I can see who protects the endless expansion of the artificially designed, manmade global human economy. What I cannot see is evidence of individuals or institutions with any actual authortiy to protect Earth, its frangible ecosystems and its limited resources.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Declaration of Equality, Rights and Responsibilities
(The Declaration of Independence as amended by Bill Chisholm)
We hold these truths, to be self evident, that all men, women and children of all races, of all nations, of all beliefs, of all social and economic circumstances are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator, with certain, sure, and inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Joy and Contentment. That inherent in these rights are also undeniable responsibilities, that among these are Good Neighborliness, Respectful Environmental Stewardship, Personal Accountability and Accountability to Future Generations. To insure these Rights and foster these Responsibilities, government was instituted among humankind and derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That the surest way to insure one’s Rights, is to embrace one’s Responsibilities. When any form of Government becomes destructive of those Ends, it is the right, it is the duty of the People to alter or abolish it, preferably at the ballot box or peacefully in the streets.
It is further acknowledged as a self evident truth that humankind is a part of Nature. That Nature is made up of interconnected and interdependent systems and species, and that all species and ecological systems should be accorded respect, for they too have come from the same Creator. To best insure our inalienable rights, we must embrace our responsibilities toward Nature.
place to start.
This article makes a sound case for society to respect the rights of the environment. It notes
It does not, however, recognize that the operations of civilization depend on the irreversible depreciation of natural bounty capital. That is a natural law that is virtually unrecognized by society. Civilization has achieved its progress at the expense of the health of the planet, so at the expense of the future operation of civilization. Greater recognition by society of the rights of the environment would make a contribution to amelioration of decimation of the eco system by its parasite, civilization
Agreed. But it is not so much that “nature” has rights as that WE agree that it should. Nature cannot argue for it/herself: WE can. Therefore we should agree that WE have, in certain instances, legal standing to represent the interests of Nature. This is philosophically more accurate than stating/claiming that Nature has rights; and it does NOT take us off the hook: WE are responsible for what happens to Nature.
I am so pleased to see Cormac Cullinan’s article in this issue of Orion. He raises critical issues to be addressed, especially in light of the devastating consequences of global climate change. Law and governance has to be re-envisioned and changed now so that we humans take greater responsibility for protecting the integral functioning of the natural world, for our own benefit as well as for the survival and flourishing of the rest of the members of the Earth community.
We at the Center for Earth Jurisprudence have as our mission “a rethinking of law and governance from an Earth-centered perspective.” Cormac has been a key advisor to the Center and shaping its programming. Both he and Thomas Linzey, of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, keynoted an inaugural Colloquium with us last Spring at St. Thomas University in Miami.
Cormac will again be a keynote presenter at the “Framing an Earth Jurisprudence for a Planet in Peril” Symposium at Barry Law School in Orlando, Florida on Friday, February 29, 2008. He will be joined by five other environmental lawyers, scholars and activists including, Winona Laduke, Andrew Kimbrell, Joe Guth, Donald Goldberg and Barbara Wall. Because of the urgency facing us as a people to respond to the unprecedented ecological crisis, the Colloquium is complimentary and open to the public. If you wish to register, go to http://www.earthjuris.org for more information.
The world is one – the living components (biota) and the non-living (abiota) form one entire ecosystem subdivided into myriads of ecosystems, far and wide.
As it is water is a non-living component of our world but at the same time it is essential for life to exist. Therefore it is logical that those who distrupt the water cycle should compensate others for doing so – ideally they should amend their ways.
My argument can be applied to anything that is present on planet Earth.
We must appreciate that the world owns us and not the other way – the planet existed before man appeared on this planet and it will continue to exist if man becomes extinct.
It is logical that all level headed people should come out in favour of planet Earth.
I agree with everything you report; however, something is worrying me.
We can see that global challenges, already visible on the far horizon,are posed to humanity. Because economic globalization could be approaching a point in human history when it becomes patently unsustainable on a planet with the relatively small size and make-up of Earth, the current scale and unbridled growth of global consumption/production/propagation activities of the human species could soon produce a colossal wreckage of either the global economy or Earth’s ecology.
If leaders are presented with a forced choice between protecting the global economy and preserving Earth’s ecology, it seems crystal clear to me that the leadership of the kind we have today will reflexively choose the economy…..first, last and always.
And that is worrisome.
The world is experiencing a global problem of huge proportions.
The Human Population is growing very fast indeed. The number of people living on this small planet is going has already reached 6.5 billion.
The Human Population was only just over 1.5 billion in 1900.
To appreciate the problem let us consider one fact – give an individual an apple a day.
Paul M Camilleri
Dear Paul M. Camilleri,
Yes, definitely yes.
The human species appears to be in an “overshoot” situation relative to Earth’s limited capacity to sustain life as we know it much longer.
In the course of history, I cannot find any evidence of a single species other than the human species that has precipitated such multi-faceted leviathan-like circumstances.
Inasmuch as human beings possess the attributes required to have induced the gigantic problem we see looming ominously before humanity in the offing, it seems to me that we also maintain the capabilities to take the measure of the problem, however colossal, and find a solution to it, one that is consonant with universally shared values.
Understanding population mathematics (i.e., the exponential function) and human creatureliness would make a big and helpful difference. Appreciating the limits of linear thinking will be another giant step forward.
Once we share an adequate enough understanding of the “global problem of huge proportions,” as you are seeing and reporting it, then it will become possible for the family of humanity to carefully and skillfully find a humane path toward a sustainable future, I believe.
Nature DOES have a right – the right to survive – and survive she will, regardless of the outcome for Homo Sapiens or any and all other species currently living.
I believe we have only begun to see what she will do to ensure her survival; including a complete revision of the planetary ecology into a new balance for the eons yet to come.
Your introductory story reminds me of the Tamil (S.India) jungle cow herder whom I interviewed some 30 years ago, and told me that the loss of a few calves to predators did not trouble him because it was the rent he paid to the king of the jungle (Tiger) to graze his cattle.
The concept of Nature having rights is absurd from the non-dualistic perspective of Nature and life, including human life, being one: Of the same creation, inter-dependent and co-evolving. Nature is not seen as something separate. But it is from our collective anthropocentrism. A seriously flawed world view indeed, considering the state of the Earth,Nature, mother of all.
If humans can have rights, then so should all beings and natural creations by the shared virtue of their existence per se.
Our anthropocentric language and way of thinking change as we evolve and establish new laws, customs and conventions.Animals are not objects of property, commodities, subjects of human exploitation created for our own exclusive use; nor are natural creations mere resources for commerce and trade. But in the dominant world view of materialism and consumerism, such valuations are the norm, embedded in econimic and other vested interests to the exclusion of more enlightened perceptions and treatments: And to the ultimate demise of that way of life and so-called civilization.
(For further documentation go to http://www.doctormwfox.org)
Dear P and the Orion Community,
From all I have seen and heard, many of you in the E & S Community are somehow on the correct track, I believe. I wish this was not the case. It would be my preference that you would be found to be simply wrong and all the politicians and economists, their benefactors and the talking heads in the mass media actually had an adequate enough understanding of the way the world works and a realistic recognition of the “placement” of the human species within the natural order of living things. Sad to say, at least to me, it appears that things will likely turn out the way all of you suggest rather than the other way around.
It appears the predominant culture on Earth and its artificially designed, endlessly expanding global economy could soon have pernicious, inadvertent impacts on the Earth. Would you agree that if the leaders of our culture choose to keep growing the global economy in the business-as-usual way they are doing now, then the future of life as we know it could be put at risk?
The current organization and management of the global economy, given its planful and unrestrained expansion that marks the rampant economic globalization process we see today, also appears to give rise to something that is unintended and potentially ruinous.
If you will, please examine how the hoarding of wealth and resources by millions of people leaves billions of people in the family of humanity hungry and destitute.
For fortunate millions of people with super riches to conspicuously consume resources, while billions of less fortunate people go without adequate food to eat, is an unseemingly economic arrangement in need of modification in a timely fashion.
Inequity is sad enough; grotesque inequity will one day be judged intolerable, I suppose.
If the leaders of our predominant culture choose to examine the way the currently unbridled global political economy grows and the way it distributes Earth’s resources, then perhaps they will find more reasonable and sensible ways to modify this obviously unfair and grossly inequitable economic system and, thereby, assure a good enough future for our children.
Wow. This is the most intelligent series of comments that I think I’ve ever seen.
Nothing substantive to add here — it’s just wonderful that someone is revitalizing Stone’s & Douglas’s work after all these years….
One way to give nature rights would be to acknowledge that, instead of nature being fair game for anyone or any corporation who wants to do damage to it, it is in reality the property of all creatures in the world and all those yet to be born. And being the property of all of us, now and future, it is our obligation to preserve it for non-harmful use and to keep it in as good shape as we found it for coming generations.
Peter Barnes, in his book, Capitalism 3.0, has outlined how this might be accomplished. One indication of his desire to spread his idea is that he has made the entire book available for reading or free download at http://capitalism3.com/. Despairing of corporations ever restraining themselves voluntarily or of government effectively controlling corporations given the latter’s great power and influence, he proposes that trusts be established to manage commons such as air and water and the broadcast airwaves. The boards of these trusts would be responsible for protecting the commons for future generations and could be sued by anyone if they failed in their duties.
In the book Barnes says this:
What would happen if we, as a society, created a trust to manage the atmosphere on behalf of future generations, with present-day citizens as secondary beneficiaries. Such a trust would charge dumpers for filling its dwindling storage space. Pollution would cost more and there’d be steadily less of it. All this would happen, after the initial deeding of rights to the trust, without government intervention. But if this trust owned the sky, there’d be a wonderful bonus: every American would get a yearly dividend check.
Today we’re awash in capital and literally running out of nature. We’re also losing many social arrangements that bind us together as communities and enrich our lives in non-monetary ways. This doesn’t mean capitalism is doomed or useless, but it does mean we have to modify it. We have to adapt it to the twenty-first century rather than the eighteenth. And that can be done.
It’s possible to imagine that the next time corporate dominance ebbs, government—acting on behalf of commoners—swiftly fortifies the commons. It assigns new property rights to commons trusts, builds commons infrastructure, and spawns a new class of genuine co-owners. When corporations regain political dominance, as they inevitably will, they can’t undo the new system. The commons now has safeguards and stakeholders; it’s entrenched for the long haul. And in time, corporations accept the commons as their business partner. They find they can still make profits, plan farther ahead, and even become more globally competitive.
If curbing capitalism’s destructive ways is to be a matter of, in Cullinan’s words, “restorative justice rather than retribution,” we would do well to pay close attention to Peter Barnes’ creative and realistic solution.
Thanks to all for the insightful and thought provoking comments. I am wondering if any of us has an idea about how to turn these ideas into reality.
Since our culture currently finds it acceptable to extend rights to corporations (often times more rights than we extend to human individuals) it makes perfect sense that we could / should extend equal rights to nature. It seems to me that this would actually be easier since a tree or river is an actual object and a corporation is not.
Obviously any world view which stems from the assumption that man is apart from is doomed to fail, but we must do our subversive best to work the system from the inside. A complete rejection does no good, since the cultural machine will keep moving full steam ahead without us. Ruining the planet we are making our stand on.
I would also suggest reading “The Consent of the Governed” published in an earlier Orion.
In the “overdeveloped” world, millions of people emit vast amounts of greenhouse gas, while billions of people the “underdeveloped” world produce scant emissions.
The overdeveloped world is showing a decline in the growth rate of absolute human population numbers, while the underdeveloped world is witnessing a continuing explosion in its population numbers.
In the overdeveloped world, millions of people are moving toward the stabilization of their populations, while billions of people in the underdeveloped world are rapidly growing their numbers.
A person in an overdeveloped country like the USA consumes 32 times more resources than a person in an underdeveloped country.
These unsustainable patterns and gross imbalances need to become primary sources of immediate concern for the human community, I suppose, because global overgrowth activities of human species could soon produce either an economic breakdown or an ecologic collapse or both in these early years of Century XXI.
What leaves me with a sense of foreboding has to do with something within the psyche of the family of humanity that is making it difficult for the leaders of our species to recognize and come face to face with the threats to life as we know it and to the integrity of our planetary home which are posed to humankind by the gigantic scale and rapid growth of unrestrained consumption, unbridled production and unchecked propagation activities of the human species now overspreading the surface of Earth.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
I have seen the print issue and there are more images by this artist with it. I find them so compelling. The image online here is a disembodied human eye looking at a tangled thread-like thing. At first I didn’t notice, but the thread disappears under water (out of view of the eye?), then I realized it is attached to the rear of the eye, like an optical nerve. The human eye is observing its own “tangle”.
Yet the birds (Nature itself) seem to be doing the job of untangling. Then I saw the faint title under the image: Undoing.
I could ponder this for quite sometime. I guess a picture does speak a thousand words. I love that Orion includes art like this.
I understand the desire for a “Trust” to oversee the parts of the Earth, but would you really trust the Trust? Who would be on these Trusts? Who would appoint the Trust members?
You see the problem? In a world of greed, abuse, incompetence, selfishness, etc. forming an organization that would eventually succumb (if not at the onset) to politics could become just another reason to curse humanity’s stupidity.
Consider that the United States for instance would probably insist on control of all the parts of the Earth that by border, it could legitimately claim. In fact, that is what nations do. They claim the airspace, the land, the waters within and around and every resource. Then after placing these things under a sort of Trust, we know darn well it would become argument laden.
The chance that the US would ever join in some sort of global trust seems slight at this time. The US won’t even sign the Kyoto Agreement. The US just doesn’t like the rest of the world helping in decisions, particularly in regards to its’ own property. But other nations can be selfish too.
Any nation in the world understands basic economics. There really is no growth without the Earth’s freebies. All resources are given to humans by the Earth. Humans don’t have to give something in exchange for the resource. This is what enables human economics to grow. So all nations attempt to extract anything from the Earth to turn into economic growth.
I’m surprised that no one has figured out a way to charge us for the air we breath, because I’m sure people have spent time thinking about it. I suppose the government by taking taxes from us has indirectly charged a breathing fee.
If the government decided to have an “Air Trust” to oversee the atmosphere above us, couldn’t you just imagine the board of directors consisting of ex-members of the smokestack industries or the auto industry? Isn’t that how they usually stack the regulatory agencies these days?
To really reach the “trust” goal, it’s going to take a large change of attitude. More than likely, and history has shown this to be true, it won’t happen until the last minute or when disaster actually affects nearly everyone.
They didn’t bother to clean up polluted rivers in the US until the water became undrinkable and unsafe to touch. They didn’t bother with the visible offensive smog in major cities until people couldn’t breath the air. In both of these cases though, they didn’t repair it to the original state. People still have trouble breathing in Los Angeles for instance.
There is no doubt that Nature has rights and is in the process of currently enforcing them through the acceleration in the increasing entropy of our finite system, eg. climate warming, overpopulation, consumerism. Hence, it seems to me that if we have any wish to keep homo sapiens as a viable species then we have to recognize and respect the infinite powers inherent in these rights and try for a more symbiotic relationship. Our Courts, laws, edicts and whatever provide no answer, tis each and everyone of us that have the answers within self. The time is after midnight. Nature has shown once again unless we make peace we will be gone. Forget not, we are now in a position where we need our lifegiver and protector. She hardly needs us.
“Peace Brother”. Like Yesterday.
History teaches us empires come and go, rise and fall; but history provides no evidence for the existence of so huge, and soon to become unsustainable, an empire, one that actually threatens to engulf the surface of our planetary home in the way the seemingly endless expansion of the “economic globalization empire” is doing in our time.
The gigantic scale and rapid growth rate of the unbridled, global big-business empire, the one we recognize as the predominant human construction on Earth, appears to be approaching a point in history when this economic empire irreversibly degrades Earth’s frangible ecosystems, dangerously dissipates its limited resources, and recklessly diminishes Earth’s capacity to offer a fit place for human habitation by our children and coming generations.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Wow, nice very educated responses.
You guys really think your something don’t you.
Nature, As human we were a part of nature and we broke away when we became civilized. Now as humans we are supposably fighting against nature because of our use of it’s recources. But whether we use them or not nature will always survive, the only thing humans can do with nature is destroy themeselves. Nature will live on whether humans are here or not.
Humans are part of nature, but arguing if we are better than it doesn’t seem relevant to me. Does it matter if a tree is chopped down and someone is paid for the damages? There is no way to restore that tree, it’s dead, the person or “guardian” that Cullinan refers to would just use that money for something else, of no benefit to the tree. People exist in nature to use nature and that is what makes nature survive. In Alaska, hunters are allowed to take a certain number of moose each year, the hunters use this meat and it provides food for their family. If we weren’t allowed to kill some moose to help us live, then there would be a larger population of moose, eating the habitat that provides for other species as well and also the bear population would boom due to lots of yummy calfs to feast on. Since bears are a dangerous predator in Alaska, humans and nature would lose a lot more than moose calfs if the bear population went out of control. Nature needs humans as much as humans need it. So in a way, yes, humans are a part of nature, but we are also a completely seperate system. And both systems depend on eachother to run.What would we give back to nature? Clean it up? Repair the damages when possible? People already realize that they need nature in order to survive. Maybe it did take a few disasters to teach us this but for a person to think that they don’t need trees or water or the natural produces offered by nature is absurd. Nature doesn’t need to be treated like an infant. It gives to humans much more than an infant does and knows much more about survival than humans do. Maybe that is wy it takes a disaster to make us realize, its nature’s way of reminding us just how powerful it can be and just how much more we need to appreciate it. It doesn’t need a protecter, it just needs someone to use it.
Something is worrying me, something that appears self-evident, clear and simple. The Earth need not be treated like an infant, as you suggest, but neither can the human species behave much longer as an insatiable infant, recklessly suctioning the resources from the bosom of Mother Earth, I suppose.
Human beings inhabit a relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planet we wishfully think of, and magically regard, as if ‘our’ tiny Earth is actually some sort of cornucopia that will forever fulfill each and every human desire.
Surely we can agree that the human species is not like a suckling babe and the Earth not like an endlessly providing teat.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Right on brother!
But what about the animals?
Who will speak on their behalf?
The wolf, the whale, the salmon the quail
The pigs and the cows – don’t laugh!
Much of the land we cultivate
To feed the animals we eat
Could be restored to a natural state
If we could get by with less meat
(from EcoEpic & Other Poems)
Dear Ken Ingham,
Thanks for your comments. People like you help all of us by remembering that someone has to protect biodiversity and the integrity of Earth.
Humanity has been warned repeatedly about the threat to humanity, to life as we know it, to the viability of recognizably frangible global ecosystems and to the integrity of Earth and its limited resources that could be posed to humankind by the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers. Because we want human beings to be fed and to have jobs so they can feed themselves and their families, the growth of human numbers has lead great thinkers and scientists to regularly remind the human community of the impacts of unregulated human propagation, unrestrained consumption and rampantly expanding production activities in our planetary home.
Every possible bias, rhetorical device and “spin” appears to have been employed to deny the mounting evidence of the potential for impending ecological calamities and economic disasters from the near exponential growth of human numbers worldwide. Recently, good scientific evidence of climate change, about the way the world works, has been systematically discredited; leading elders of the political economy have consciously conspired to mislead the public by misrepresenting the science and by turning climate science into a “political football” of sorts; ideological groups sponsored by super-rich, large-scale corporate ‘citizens’ have spread uncertainty and confusion in discussions about the nature of the biophysical world in which we live; and controversy has been manufactured where none would have otherwise existed.
The illusion of meaningful debate has been foisted upon the public by leaders who are evidently intent on “poisoning the well” of public discourse by knowingly and selfishly fostering disinformation campaigns for the purpose of enhancing their own financial interests……..come what may for our children, coming generations, global biodiversity, the environment, and the Earth as a fit place for human habitation.
The elder guarantors of a good enough future for the children appear to be leading our kids down a “primrose path” along which the children could unexpectedly be confronted with sudden, potentially colossal threats to human and environmental health that appear to be derived from human-driven, converging global challenges such as pernicious impacts of global warming and climate change, pollution of the air, water and land from microscopic particulates and solid waste, and the reckless dissipation of scarce natural resources. All the while, these leading elders remain in denial of the fulminating ecological degradation by willfully declining to acknowledge, much less begin to address, humanity’s emerging, human-induced predicament. One day, perhaps sooner rather than later, our children could have extraordinary difficulties responding ably to that with which they could soon come face to face; that is to say, because their leaders have so adamantly refused to acknowlege God’s great gift of the good science of biological and physical reality, our kids will not even know what “hit” them, much less why it is happening.
Please note the concerns I am trying to communicate are expressed much better today by Cameron Smith at the following link.
As always, your thoughts are welcome.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
As humans, we obviously depend on Nature for our survival. Nature has fed, sheltered, and provided for us since the beginning of our existence, and so far, that has worked out just peachy. However, as humans, we are naturally a greedy species. As we have become more and more established as a civilization, we have become less and less concerned with acknowledging the environmental teat from which we suckle. We are so concerned with our own personal gain and development that we seem to forget where our resources come from. We don’t care that the rainforests are being destroyed as long as we get our bottomless refills of paper for the copy machine. We don’t care that at least one animal species dies out every year as long as we can get our new trendy and expensive fur coat. In the case of the tribesman, he did not take into account the well-being of the hyena’s life until it personally affected him. I think that it is a serious problem that we as people don’t take into effect the damages that we commit until we are directly affected. I believe that if it takes us being sued by a plant to realize that we need to take better care of our environment, then so be it. I don’t really think that paying someone else for environmental damages is going to make the environment any healthier. However, I think that treating Nature as if it had rights will make the world actually CARE about what is happening to our environment, while at the same time making people see that nature is more than “a conglomeration of objects that could be owned.” This way of thinking may lead to a healthier Nature in the future instead of the steadily increasing concept of a doomed one.
Humans have and always will exist with nature. We are just a small piece of the puzzle. Mankind could not survive without nature. Nature provides us with food, water, shelter and many other things that humans must need in order to survive. Although, man does tend to abuse nature and we are reminded of what nature can do to us such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters. If man respects nature, nature will respect man.
Man’s relationship with nature is like marriage. The relationship has to be a “give and take” relationship. One cannot be dominate over the other. For example, if man were to continually cut down trees and never replant them, eventually there would be no trees left to cut down. So, to keep this from happening man must stand up and give a voice to nature. It is important to have groups such as the Sierra Club to fight for the rights of nature. If we did not have groups like this then nature would be left vulnerable.
There is a continuous cycle that helps keeps man and nature balanced. Man is a highly developed and powerful species created by nature. Sometimes that cycle is thrown off when man does not treat nature with respect which makes the balance between nature and man unstable. Man will always depend on nature for their survival and nature will always depend on man for their survival and when man and nature have a mutual relationship, then the cycle is balanced.
Cullian makes a good point about having to respect nature. I agree that if we do not properly care for nature then one day we will indeed fail to “recognize the right of a river to flow.” However, appointing us as “guardians” seems not only extreme, but hypocritical. By doing this we would give ourselves power over nature and this is basically saying that we are better that nature. And this seems to somewhat contradict the point the Cullian is trying to make. How are we supposed to be equal to nature if we have this power over it?
Also, how is being able to sue someone for cutting down a tree beneficial to the tree? In the end, the tree won’t benefit at all, we will. We’re basically just using this tree for our own well being.
We as humans already benefit so much from nature, so much to a point where we couldn’t survive without it. What we need to do now is appreciate nature, not abuse it.
The comment made by Bill Chrisholm on Jan 02 reads, “It is further acknowledged as a self evident truth that humankind is part of Nature. That Nature is made up of interconnected and interdependent systems and species, and that all species and ecological systems should be accorded respect.”
Agreed. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, we are fully and completely a part of nature. The image found in the print issue exemplifies this. The eye in the picture is gazing across both water and air, to regard a wild tangled mass. Although the eye appears to be apart from it, or perhaps sees itself as a separate entity, it is in truth deeply connected. As a species, we are part of nature, interconnected with other systems and species. For every action we take there is an opposite and equal reaction. We have this power and it is crucial that we do not abuse it. It is essential that we maintain unity between ourselves and our surroundings, according everything its proper respect.
The idea that a humans should be held legally responsible for the damages that they inflict upon nature is not an old concept. Be it for spilled materials, destruction of habitat or the killing of endangered species, humans are already being punished for the negative effects they have on nature. The problem is how far we take the issue.
Presented in the article is the opinion that we should act as protectors of nature, and those who say, cut down a tree, pay for the tree. Enforcing a rule such as this would not only tax the legal system due to extreme prevalence, but be incredibly hard to enforce. Also, if we were enforcing a rule effecting trees, how about the atmosphere, would all humans, companies and governments then have to pay for there CO2 emissions every year? If these are the criteria we are held to then every member of the human race is a criminal. Most countries would be bankrupt and the world economy completely destroyed if we all of a sudden had to pay for all the damages we have done over the years.
Humans, being a part of nature should respect it’s balance and attempt to maintain it, though not through legal any obligation, but a moral one. The truly unnatural thing in this discussion is the societal influence on how humans interact with nature. Does a bear only kill what it needs for fear of a lawsuit? The problem is how separated we have become from the natural world. With most of the population living in large cities and metropolis’s, with people not seeing non-human animals in any environment but in a zoo, a cage, homo sapiens have become so disassociated with the rest of nature. Until we fix this, the worlds problems, the animals problems, will never be seen as what they really are. Our problems.
In order for nature to have the right to sue humans for its ‘overuse’, and in order for these rights to be fair and equal to everyone, both man and nature, it would then seem necessary that man would be able to sue nature back. It’s not a fair use of our powers and law if we allow nature to sue us, and then we can’t do it back. If a tree falls on your house and destroys a part of it, can you really sue that tree? No, of course not. You can’t sue hurricane Katrina just because it happened to blow by one day and destroy an entire city. If we can’t sue nature it shouldn’t be able to sue us. We can’t survive without nature and nature can survive without us, we already now that. The issue isn’t that nature should be able to sue us; it’s that we should just be able to maintain a safe balance between preserving nature and using it for ourselves. We can’t stop natural disasters from happening, but by maintaining a balance, we can stop ourselves from taking too much and possibly destroying ourselves.
Humans need nature, and vice versa. Humans and nature have always lived in harmony together. Man should respect nature, and it’s not like nature has no way of fighting back. Floods and hurricanes serve as a reminder to us all that nature is not a force to be reckoned with. Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami that hit Asia in 2006 are both examples of how powerful nature can be. Humans need to realize that power, and respect it, but should that stop us from taking what we need to survive? Or should all humans just stop using nature and die out? Many people speak about how we carelessly use nature to our advantage, but I don’t think so. Humans take what they need to survive, and it has worked so far.
Let’s go to the story about the Kenyan farmer. Is it really fair to take away the farmer’s livelihood because he was defending his lifestyle? All he did was kill a hyena, because the hyena was trying to kill his goats. The goats were all he had to provide for his family, so they could live. So should we sacrifice an entire family’s well-being just because a hyena was killed? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
They also set 100+ goats out into the wild to be eaten. Isn’t anyone concerned about the goats’ lives? They just set them into the wild, so they could be “eaten by the hyenas and other wild carnivores.” If they are so concerned about the hyena, why aren’t they concerned about the goat? The goat is a living animal, just like the hyena. That doesn’t seem fair, to the farmer, or to the goats.
All in all, I understand the need to respect nature, and as humans, we need nature to survive. Nature has provided us with so much, and as long as we respect and take care of it, we’ll be okay.
In response to the story at the beginning of the article, the Kenyan farmer was found guilty for killing a female hyena, who attempted to eat his goats. The farmer was protecting his goats, which are his livelihood, his ability to provide for his family. We must ask: by what standard would we judge the hyena’s actions to be justifiable? Do we judge the hyena as a human? How do we judge her intentions and motivations? We do not have to question very far to conclude that saying the hyena’s actions are justified because of drought, is nonsensical. The hyena was responding to its instincts. The hyena may also be responding to its instincts when it allows one pup to starve allowing another one to survive, or when she eats a baby zebra in the wild. Do we apply human ethical standards to these scenarios? Or is it the fact that these are wild natural instincts that make them somehow superior to our human ethical standards? This line of questioning is untenable. It appears that an exaggerated anthropomorphism is being made by the council. If we are to treat the hyena as a human, then she is guilty of theft as well as murder and may deserve to die. Sure, there was a drought, and the hyena needed to feed herself and her pups, but so does the farmer. He needed those goats to provide for himself and his family. If we insist on defending the rights of all creatures using human standards of ethics based on man’s relationship to other men, then we are bound to end up with very odd consequences. The goats, for example, what about their rights? Is the farmer the bad guy for penning them up? Or is the hyena the bad guy for wanting to eat them? Could the hyenas actually the good guys, trying to set the goats free? Perhaps from the goat’s point of view, the farmer is guilty of slavery and the hyena guilty of murder. But wait: maybe the goats are tickled pink having a three square and a bed, rather than having to fend for themselves in the open savannas. The fact is nature can’t tell us what they want. If we apply anthropomorphisms onto nature then we have to be ready to do so in all of its many ways. There may even be trees that want to commit suicide, who are just plain tired of living. Trees live a long time. Have you ever walked through an old growth forest? It’s like a death ward.
Not that we don’t care from hyenas or goats or trees, but to misapply human ethical standards; which have come about through thousands and thousands of years of cultural, social and religious conflict and refinement, and which focus on mankind’s relationship to other men and to his concept of a higher moral order, will not lead us in the direction in which we should go. These ethical norms were made for man. Therefore should we apply these norms to the animal kingdom? To do so, where they have no basis whatsoever, is utter nonsense. In the truest sense of the word, “not sensible, not reasonable, not rational” – it is in fact a joke. Which makes me wonder if this article; which claims to tell of the “deep understanding” of a indigenous council, which by its virtue of being indigenous must be superior to our Western ethical values; is in fact a tongue in cheek satire of our current legal system, which will extrapolate anything in order to find some way in making Western capitalist civilization feel guilty in the fact that it continues to be wealthy and prosper.
What this does clearly show, is that there is a need for a new standard of environmental ethics, the scope of which, as we have seen through the numerous questions posed in this response, will necessarily be quite limited: always dealing with man’s side of the relationship due to man’s inability to truly understand anything about nature’s side of the relationship. There is need for an environmental ethic, but it will require very specific detailed definitions of what we are talking about. Without establishing these definitions first, we will end up talking in circles about nonsense.
Nature vs Humans. This case has been repeted many times in American Law. The case that would pertain mostly to nature would probably be slavery. Slaves were treated not as human but more as Animals. People began to realize more and more that they had to do something, and began seeing them as equals sharing this earth just as they were. Only a man that went by the name, abraham lincoln had the courage to step up and start what became the civil war.
Sooner or later someone has to step in and take control of the progressing situation that people are having on the enviorment. America has sided in favor of people over all others in many cases. The Exxon Valdez crashed and spilt millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, but through the America’s legal system, the strongest country in the world, were they have to pay the bare minimun. Finding an equal ballance between state and enviroment is comming soon. Protecting the enviorment and people needs to have a better line, wich seems impossible to draw. When you try to protect the enviorment to much you get all your goats taken away. If you take to little care of the enviorment your hyenas die off.
Enviroment has flaws of its own that people will have to deal with. Human involment has made everything have to tweak themselves drastically to continue. The U.S. Government seems to be carring less and less about enviorment and more about protecting themselves against an invisiable threat. Government officials seem to have major leeway in anything they do. Such as in Cordova Alaska, you have the United States Coast guard. The Coast guard has an abbudence of 25+ year old guys going out with many underage girls. Not only is this wrong, but it is considered Child Molestation. Yet, it is more proffitable to the government to turn a blind eye to this. Corpirations make to much money from butchering animals and the ecosystem, but yet again what is more profitable for the United States even though it may have dramatic effects, mentally and physically on everything we still have yet to do anything.
Man started out utilizing every resource that could be used, wasting nothing because man depended on nature to live. Man still depends on nature, we could not live without it, but man uses it excessively and not as it is needed.
It is no doubt we add to pollution of the land, seas, and air, but I’m not completely sold on suing on its behalf. Suing on behalf of a cut down tree is a little more understandable than suing on behalf of the atmosphere, though I still don’t think thats justified. Where I live, a majority of families have wood stoves where cutting down trees for fuel is necessary to live. Like Livy said, hunting is necessary and keeps the life cycle in check by making sure nothing is too abundant and we have limits to what we can kill for our own basic needs. Yes we are altering the life cycle, but we’re also keeping things balanced which is necessary
The story of the hyena and the goat farmer seems slightly ridiculous. The life cycle works in that plants grow to be food for small animals, to be food for bigger predators. The goat farmer was a predator protecting his food source from another predator, like is done in the wild, yet he was forced to give up his families dependencies, for doing what is natural in life. If a hyena were to enter the territory of a lion, it would be driven away as well, so should we begin to sue on behalf of the lion too?
Man has hurt nature, and I do feel man has a moral obligation to preserve and better it, but I just don’t know if suing on its behalf and altering the simple life cycle we’ve always known is the right way to preserve nature. Instead, do your part. Pick up litter, unplug electronics to conserve electricity, buy economically friendly cars, and do what you can to preserve the world that sustains us. It can live without us, but we surely cannot live without it.
To apply human morals and laws to nature is absurd. By applying human characteristics to nature we are helping neither nature or humanity.
Is a wolf guilty of murder every time he kills a caribou? Of course not. He is doing what he needs to do to survive. If we say that trees should be given the rights of a person than is a woodcutter a killer? If so than we are all guilty of being an accomplice to murder every time we use a piece of paper.
I agree that nature needs to be preserved but I think that there are more affective ways of doing so than seeing nature as being human.
Everything I’ve wanted to say about this article has already been covered, for the most part. I agree with the idea of nature having rights; it takes ‘going green’ to a whole new level.
I’ve also never heard of the idea of restorative justice. If both concepts were adopted into American culture (at least), I think it would do a world of good. It would do the world some good, actually…
Nature already has rights, and it uses them reguraly. When mankind abuses nature, nature stops giving mankind the resources that they abused. When mankind abuses nature, mankind only hurts themselves, and nature lives on. No matter what mankind does to abuse nature, nature will will always strike back and win the war.
I read your comment and I am sorry to ask, what is your point. Would you please clairify what your trying to say?
There is a direct correlation be the strength of a democracy and its care of the land. When a government works for it citizens it naturally cares for the land. And, when it takes care of the land’s health it works for the health of the people who depend on it. Poison the land you poison the people who live on and consumes its resources
A great Web site is http://www.celdf.org on defending the environment and democracy. The following is a sample ordinance for the defending the rights of Nature.
Perhaps there is a need for transforming change to occur with all deliberate speed.
At least to me, global warming is not a “them versus us” problem, a China, India and the East versus USA, Europe and the West problem, for example. The overdeveloped nations, the developing nations and the underdeveloped nations are stakeholders with regard to global warming and climate change. For every stakeholder to point a finger at another stakeholder, as a way of placing blame for the potentially catastrophic consequences of runaway climate change, gets us nowhere, I suppose.
Is it reasonable and sensible for the human community to consider that those corporations and industries found to be responsible for polluting the environment during the 20th would be held accountable for that pollution AND those businesses responsible for polluting the Earth and its atmosphere in the 21st century would pay the costs of their present and future actions?
In order to secure a good enough future for our children, we could begin by examining the necessity of redirecting the great wealth that is being fecklessly hoarded and conspicuously squandered by a remarkably small group of people within the family of humanity toward conservation programs that protect and preserve the Earth.
Afterall, does anyone seriously believe or possess good scientific evidence to suggest that the artificially designed, dissipative national economies can much longer thrive without adequate resources and irreplaceable ecosystem services provided by Earth?
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
To claim that nature has rights is to claim what cannot be verified: “Nature,” a personified entity, has never stood in a cour of law or before a government to assert these rights.
Secondly, we cannot know what these rights are. Does Nature have a right to be left alone? not to have anyone speak for it/her? to destroy anyone it pleases? These questions, and similar ones that one might think of, are not answearable by “Nature.”
Third, even personified or anthopomorphized, Nature is not a person. In the Greek tradition nature was Demeter, the Mother (Nature), and in the Indian tradition it was Parvati; but these were obviously ways of understanding Nature, very beautiful and useful, but still ineffectual.
Four, to say that Nature has rights makes Nature be responsible for hurricanes, floods, etc., and this is no intelligent way of talking.
All the talk about Nature having rights seems to me a diversion, a way to avoid responsibility for what WE do or do not do. Whether we conceive rights as imbedded (as Jefferson did) or a socially determined, we still have to determine who/what has rights. Not too long ago women were said to have no rights! Socially we decided that was wrong, and change the spectrum. We can do the same with Nature: we can say WE stand for Nature’s wellbeing, and WE can pass laws, etc.
There’s an article on China in the current issue of Mother Jones by Jacques Leslie called “The Last Empire”. It details the unbelievable environmental destruction going on in China today. Most of us know that China has real ecological problems, air pollution, etc., but it’s even worse that my worst imaginings. Not only did China surpass the US for CO2 emissions in 2006, but it is quickly deforesting the worlds last remaining forests, for its wood products industry much of which is exported. Read this article and weep for China’s government and environmental policies are even more corrupt and backward than ours.
Many years ago I helped organize a conference in Vermont to oppose Hydro Quebec’s dam expansion for hydro power which would result in additional destruction to James Bay and the indigenous way of life in the region. Winona LaDuke was the keynote speaker and she talked about how in Native culture, all nature has standing, which I understand to mean that every tree, animal, plant, rock, mountain, etc. has the right respect and reciprocity in relationships with humans. Winona went on to say that this also means everything has spirit, has living essense. “All my relations” speaks to this. It’s not a court of law thing, but rather a cultural teaching and understanding of how to interact with nature, how to take with gratitude, how to give back when appropriate, how to listen to the voices of nature however they speak, and there is an understanding that some people can and do communicate directly with nonhumans and respect and honor the messages they share with others. This is so far from our western experience and relationship with nature that we have allowed our desires and compulsions to become all-important, more important than the wellbeing of the Earth.
Yes, nature should have rights. Since nature can’t speak in a court of law, then we must bring the lawmakers to nature. Nature speaks to us in our hearts, directly. If we’re disconnected and unaware of the possibility of other voices, then no way will we believe this, let alone hear anything except our own inner dialog. But common sense also must prevail. We know it’s destructive to continue clearcutting the last forests, to condone mountain-top removal mining, to allow sewage and chemicals to pollute waterways, and so on. It should not take a lawsuit to stop these atrocities. That it does and that they don’t always prevail, speaks volumes about how far we have to go.
In my view of ethics I have always understood that at its root, ethics is about relationship. As Western people we have become so removed from the land that we no longer really believe that the land nourishes us. We have forgotten that the land gives us life. In so doing we have lost our respect and appreciation for it.
How truly wonderful that Cormac is reawakening us to this very vital truth. It will not be enough to get “through” the drastic changes the climate will soon manifest, we will need to reframe our relationship so that we can STAY in relationship with the Earth after the climate resettles. Perhaps this catastrophe will help us remember the importance of relationship.
After reading through all of these comments I’m deeply saddened.The point of relationship seems to have been missed. those who tried to take a “leagal” point of view do not see their blindness to unequal power. The use of words like “own” and “use” as justifications for actions only continue the damaged thinking that has created this mess in the first place. Everyone, it seems, wants someone else to “fix” it and few saw their own culpability. The stroy of the farmer was all about relationship and power. Humans – who can think, and who seem to have “dominion over” the planet also have a responsibility. That responsibility is not strengthened by punishment, but by the restoration of relationship – and that happens in the farmers head as much as it does in the action of apologizing to the hyenna species.
Come join the natural world. Know it as your community and act and think in ways that ensures its health, just as you would your other family members.
Nature has inherent and fundemental rights. It has value unto itself. Nature has rights that are inalienable that no one can take away or even give. They are sentient, in the broodest possible sense of the word, with We need to recognize this fact.
A corporation is a person under US law. Nature as a person makes much more sense then a person the artificial legal constructed for individuals ownership of property. Nature is “property” and We the People are its trustees and stakeholders within that “property”. We the People and Nature are not separate entities. Nature is the source of Our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the source of Our commonwealth.
Recognizing Nature has inalienable and fundemental rights strengthens democracy by strenthening by enhancing the power, under law, of people to defend the land they live on.
Yes, we are humans, we are anthropocentric.
We see things as we perceive them from our point of view. In our christian-european-based history (I am a European contributing here) we have seen continents as resources, peoples to be enslaved and exploited, minerals and animals likewise. We have created laws to support us in these endeavours (Britain created the legal device of ‘terra nullius’ which enabled it to grab land from the Indians in what is now Virginia and in its further plantations). But laws are man-made and can be changed. Laws are tools, they follow a purpose.
Now, again, from our anthropocentric view we realise a threat to our environment, we realise that it aims at our very existence. So, I think it is just a clever way to modify the laws to assign certain “rights” to nature and allow human defenders to have proxy standing before court.
You see, I do not argue if there IS something like “Nature’s rights”, but I would just use it as a wonderful tool to get things moving in the right direction. And to get it moving, you need a shift in perception in the polulation (as with slavery) – and here you are, that is completely anthropocentric.
Let’s be anthropocentric (we are anyway), and let’s get things moving!
Hats off to the Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania, & to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund for having the courage to “think outside the box,” & devise a new way of managing their environment. Although the outcome would be in doubt, given the Supreme Court’s current make-up, I’d almost like to see it tested in court. The notion that a corporation should have the same legal rights as an individual is ludicrous. It’s also important to realize that, as Eric Freyfogle and others have written, our current paradigm regarding private & corporate property rights is not writ in stone. It was an evolution of industrializing 19th century America, & can be modified to reflect further evolution in our values. The concept that nature & natural systems have rights that may equal or even supersede human property rights has been tested in court before, & upheld (Just v. Marinette County, Wisconsin Supreme Cout, 1972, for example). The creative courage of Tamaqua Borough gives me hope that our society does indeed have the potential & creative energy to “think outside the box” on the rights of nature & natural systems.
I can’t take such anecdotal stories of how native cultures respected nature more then we, the civilized people, do. For many opposing anecdotes how the Asian peoples in the late 19th century ill treated both domesticated & wild animals, read Sven Anders Hedin’s My Life as an Explorer. On p. 87, he tells how the Kirghiz tortured to death the wolves they caught killing their sheep. Restorative justice, eh?
Here’s an interesting development — two New Hampshire towns, at town meetings in March, voted to assert the rights of nature and deny the rights of corporations:
2007 EXCHANGE OF IDEAS BETWEEN FRIENDS (and perhaps timely in 2008)
In the light of E. O. Wilson’s comments about small creatures and today’s report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) that more than 41,000 species of animals and plants are now on its ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST, do you think it is too early to consider that the evolutionary success of the human species may not be guaranteed? Perhaps it is not too late to consider how the human species in our time could inadvertently precipitate a “Human Community Collapse” by adamantly insisting upon more unbridled growth of business enterprise and human numbers now overspreading the Earth.
I am concerned that after threatening biodiversity with extinction and the environment with irreversible degradation, and also dissipating the limited resources of Earth, humankind will become an unexpected threat to its own survival.
You bring up a very good point, and one that is foremost in the minds of everyone with environmental awareness. The notion of sustainability does not seem to have been infused in equal value to progress made in both the industrial and technological revolutions. When we look closely, it is as if we are but children playing with new toys, not grasping just what they mean nor thinking very far into the future. Anyone who studies simple biology knows that unchecked growth cannot last, that eventually the system that supported whatever it is gets out of balance, and then…well…things change. So at the very least we are looking for sweeping change. How much of it we will see in our short lifespan is uncertain, but what is certain is that even now we are observing first-hand some negative effects of our actions in the past. Nature is very efficient, and certainly will take care of things one way or another. I agree with what you suggest, that we could benefit from applying caution and implementing the enlightened consideration of experts in our approach to the future. Application of knowledge requires official sanction and public policy, which as you know is not so easy to achieve. Hopefully, the brightest minds among us who post their knowledge and recommendations in research & books and who broadcast their views and information on things like TED TALKS will encourage our policy makers to get on the same page, i.e., as stewards of the earth and its abundance rather than exploiters. Ultimately, I have hope, and think a hopeful attitude can have a snowball effect. I’m pretty sure hope is the official stance of this organization, by the way, and why a forum such as this is so encouraging.
Thanks, Steve, for your posts here and elsewhere on our blogs.
Sometimes it looks to me as if some of our brothers and sisters are so focused on the accumulation of wealth and power, in feathering their own gigantic nests, frequenting exclusive clubs, flying private jets, sailing yachts and visiting exotic hideaways, that the “powers that be” have overlooked the certain requirements necessary for the maintenance of our planetary home, which is soon to become endangered by certain unbridled, distinctly human enterprises now overspreading the Earth.
How do things look to you?
I like the idea of everyone coming to see that we are definitely interconnected. Just as the bees and flowering plants need each other, so do we humans need the environment. The sooner we get truly sustainable in our stewardship of the environment, the better. The last 50 years have seen unprecedented wealth and technology, and a few have enjoyed advantages never dreamt of in the past. Hopefully, we will all start doing our part, even the very insulated among us. I’m actually quite optimistic, as I think there is so much positive focus for new energies coming along in young people, and a rededication to creative efforts to make the world a better place in those of us who are older. I certainly can imagine these things building on themselves. It starts right here, wherever we are.
I share your optimism. With good science as our guide and the adequate use of intelligence and other splendid gifts granted to human beings by God, we can choose to respond ably to the requirements of reality, whatsoever they may be.
Elders like me will hopefully be open to guidance of our young people, as you suggest, and also of the mothers of children, rather than holdfast to the outworn creeds of the children of men among us. The self-proclaimed masters of the universe in my not-so-great generation appear to have lost their way.
On the other hand, we cannot rule out the possibility that I am one of those unfortunate elders about whom I report, who has lost touch with good science, the natural order of living things, and the limitations imposed upon human life by the very nature of the biophysical world we inhabit.
I and my generation can and will do better. Of that I am certain.
I believe this is one way to begin. We have to speak of topics that are taboo, just as we do here.
My greatest concern is that the undoing of the human species, and life as we know it, could inadvertently occur as a result of the adamant and relentless maintenance of SILENCE.
Silence is something to be feared. Silence is especially terrifying and potentially ruinous when it is actively employed as a tool for denying good science.
I don’t mean to be flip, but the old saying comes to mind: “The more the merrier!” We can hope more voices will speak up for beneficial uses of our stunning technologies to forge a path to a wise, efficient, and fittingly sustainable paradigm for the future world. There is another saying that comes to mind should we fail to understand what we need to do, and that is, “That way lies madness.” I am so looking forward to the tipping point, where all accept as a given the need to create and live in a balanced world. I know it is coming.
You make wonderful points. Let me see if I understand you well enough.
Would it be correct to say that we have a choice: either we can choose to accept the knowledge derived from the best available, good science and deploy that knowledge to maintain a sustainable world, one fit for human habitation, or we can fail to do what is necessary by holding fast to an unsustainable paradigm for the future world…and by continuing to defend flawed data derived from politically convenient and economically expedient mad science?
…and having the wisdom to know the difference.
At least in my humble opinion, THIS IS COMMUNICATION!
Perhaps humanity has global challenges in the offing, challenges that are formidable, even as we begin to take the measure of them.
As we steady our focus on these challenges, it becomes evident that there may be no quick fixes to the problems with which we are presented. Business-as-usual brought us to this moment in human history, but cannot take us to the future we picture for our children.
Contemplate and picture in your mind the business-as-usual activities with which we are familiar. We can see that the unbridled growth of economic activities is overspreading the Earth.
Now for the hard part: questions.
Can the seemingly endless growth and the astonishing success of unregulated human production and consumption activities continue in the same old business-as-usual way and at their current scale on a relatively small, finite planet the size of Earth?
If the Earth is round and has physical limitations, is it reasonable and sensible to consider that there are limits to the unrestricted global growth of human activities on Earth?
Are there no alternatives to untethered economic globalization?
Are there no options to the unchecked per capita consumption of Earth’s limited resources?
Who knows, before long questions like these will become a part of open discussions at international conferences, in governing bodies and spoken of by those in the mass media.
I and my generation are going to do better, much better.
Your questions almost answer themselves and wholly appeal to common sense. I believe that love of humanity, passion for life and a strong will to survive will eventually corral all of us into the same camp, which is good because we must work together to solve our problems. We may be lucky that things are getting so blatantly out of hand, because a cry for better will eventually emerge. Hat’s off to any who can keep their heads while some around us are losing theirs. Like a teenager on a joy ride, flagrant environmental abuses cannot have good results and therefore cannot last that long. The trick will be coming to the tipping point. I believe we are very very close. I hope others will participate in this inspiring conversation. We believe in the exchange of ideas and invites it with these blogs. Thanks so much for participating.
Thanks to you, D., Al and the great scientists of the IPCC, it does appear more and more people are beginning to awaken, finally, with the coming of each new day, to something that is fresh and unforeseen about the world we inhabit.
I and our dearest colleagues have only become awakened just a matter of days earlier than those who are soon, or else eventually, to be released from their slumber.
Once awake, people are going to be able to see that while nothing about the surface of the Earth has changed, not really; everything about the wondrous landscape is different in unexpected ways.
When many in the human community perceive what you and other leaders are saying and doing, it will be as if they are seeing the world God blesses us to inhabit for the first time, I suppose.
That is going to make a difference.
All the best to you,
The Ecuadorian Constitutional Assembly has done something that could change the world.
Legislation has been accepted in Ecuador that would alter the human community’s relationship to the the planet and its ecosystems. Earth’s body and atmosphere will be transformed from disposable things into entities with rights and protections under the law.
If we can confer citizenship on corporate entities, surely we can provide the elements of the natural world with some legal standing.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Somehow we have got to find more effective ways to communicate about global threats and impending dangers. People are not saying loudly, clearly and often enough what they know to be true….not speaking truth to power.
Politicians are posing for the public and pandering to those with great wealth; business investment brokers are devising pyramid schemes, stealing billions and “breaking” the bank; and the mass media is turning a blind eye to the entire mess.
Such woefully inadequate leadership needs to be identified and replaced.
The family of humanity could soon, very soon, be confronted with an economic and/or ecological wreckage of an unimaginable kind; but, because people are not reasonably and sensibly communicating with one another, the chances for taking the measure of certain ominously looming global challenges and finding reality-oriented solutions to them are diminishing day by day.