by Osprey Orielle Lake, Tikkun, January 28, 2013
Many of us realize that we are at a crossroads both as a species and as a planet. On the current trajectory, our very survival and that of all future generations is at risk. Pivotal to successfully navigating this particular human-made strait of dangers is our ability to transform our relationships with each other and the ecosystems upon which our lives depend. Within this context, it is paramount that we swiftly transform our legal and economic structures and institutions to better align with the natural laws of our Earth and the deeper core values shared by humanity.
“Our life-giving rivers, forests, and mountains are treated as property to be sold and consumed,” the author writes. “In our legal systems, because nature is property, it is invisible to courts.” Credit: Creative Commons/blmiers2.
Rights of Nature
I want to address Rights of Nature in the context of some wise words from one of our great foremothers and seminal environmentalists in the United States, Rachel Carson: “The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.”
Today, as we stand at the precipice of the destruction of all life as we know it, this question of what we call “civilized” truly tears open the reality of our startling and dangerous circumstance.
We know we can no longer live as we have been and clearly, our worldviews, laws, economic structures, and governance systems must change.
I believe one of the most critical areas of work that we can focus on is Earth law. The idea of Rights of Nature or Rights of Mother Earth can address our dire need to truly become “civilized” in the highest sense of this word—meaning to live civilly with each other and our Earth, respecting both natural laws and the Earth’s ecosystems.
Around the world, and in almost all non-indigenous systems of law, nature and ecosystems are treated as property. Our life-giving rivers, forests, and mountains are treated as property to be sold and consumed, often protected under commerce laws. As property, these natural communities and ecosystems are not recognized as rights-holders. In our legal systems, because nature is property, it is invisible to courts.
Beyond the legal frameworks, this nonrecognition of the inherent rights of nature has dangerously contributed to distancing us culturally and personally from our living planet. I think we should consider this old, property-based legal system as highly uncivilized.
That said, what is very encouraging right now and brings promise is that for the past three decades, environmental lawyers and visionary thinkers around the globe have been developing a new theory of jurisprudence to change that system.
The “Rights of Nature” approach promotes a structure of law that recognizes that our living planet has rights of its own. If a Rights of Nature legal framework were implemented, activities that harm the ability of ecosystems and natural communities to thrive and naturally restore themselves, would be in legal violation of nature’s rights.
The Rights of Mother Earth framework recognizes the inherent meaning, sacredness, and value of the natural world: that which is not tradable or subject to commerce.
These rights along with respecting human rights are what being civil means.
Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder/president of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus and co-chair of the International Advocacy Working Group of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. She is also author of Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature (White Cloud Press). To learn more go to www.iwecc.org and www.ospreyoriellelake.com.
Related Articles also in Tikkun:
- A Community Perspective on the Rights of Nature by Shannon Biggs
- Earth Democracy and the Rights of Mother Earth by Vandana Shiva
- Extinction, Climate Change, and the Rights of Nature by Tikkun Staff
- The Gift Economy: A Model for Collaborative Community by Adam Sher
- From Individual Rights to the Beloved Community: A New Vision of Justice by Peter Gabel