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Supporting Information

Rights of Mother Earth Global Petition

Practical Side Effects of Nature as Property

Modern environmental law legalizes harm by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur under law.  Rather than preventing these things it permits it. Under the current system of law worldwide, nature (which includes mountains, rivers, ecosystems and species) is considered to be property – an object rather than a subject of the law – with no rights of its own to exist, regenerate and maintain its natural cycles.

This approach has the following practical side effects:

  • piecemeal protection so we are always reactively legislating to carve out protections rather than proactively legislating to bring in legal frameworks that operate in harmony with nature;
  • an endangered species protection system that relies on listing the protected species – it takes years of scientific studies to update the lists. Scientists say we are losing literally dozens of species each day – in the time it takes to update the lists its already too late;
  • environmental issues are dealt with almost exclusively by the planning courts. The only conversation that can happen in court is whether the correct planning procedure was followed and the outcome is simply a referral back to the planners.
  • if a disaster happens and people litigate, the courts will compensate people for proven monetary loss – but in the absence of a law that enables it, there is no obligation to restore the damage to nature;
  • the law doesn’t recognise a relationship between us and the rest of nature so there are no obligations or legal duty of care towards nature – therefore, a property owner has the right to destroy ecosystems on that property;
  • it leads to a cultural attitude of separation from nature which is at the root of our environmental crisis.

What does Rights Change?

Rights of nature starts with the premise that all life is protected – and then seeks to find the balance required to maintain our dynamic relationship with all life – not the other way round. It changes the situation in the following ways:

  • makes nature a subject of the law – equal to people and corporations – with tangible rights that can be enforced by people, communities and governments on its behalf;
  • enables us to proactively put into place ecological governance systems based on laws that operate in harmony with nature, instead of reactively carving out protections;
  • takes environmental issues out of the planning courts and into its own forum where all considerations can be addressed;
  • evolves our system of planning and environmental law so that all stakeholders – including nature – are equally considered;
  • ensures that human rights is firmly rooted in a whole systems perspective that understands that the human right to life only make sense if that which gives us life also has a corresponding right to life;
  • aligns our law with natural law leading to more resilient societal structures;
  • creates a paradigm shift in the way we see ourselves in relation to the rest of nature.

Which countries already have these laws?

Given that our current legal and the economic models have been ineffective in halting the widespread destruction of the biosphere, more and more countries are looking at rights of nature as a sensible way forward. Such laws already exist at the national/plurinational level in Ecuador and Bolivia and at a local level in over 36 USA municipalities and counties, Mexico City and New Zealand. Court decisions in Ecuador, New Zealand, Belize, Costa Rica and India affirm the rights of nature and rights of nature and community ecological governance has been given effect in several African countries through the legal recognition of traditional customary law.

Doesn’t recognizing Rights of Nature just add an additional layer of regulation?

No. Current environmental regulatory structures are mostly about “permitting” certain harms to occur – acting more to legalize the activities of corporations and other business entities than to protect our natural and human communities. Laws recognizing the rights of nature empower communities to reject governmental actions which permit unwanted and damaging development to occur – by enabling communities to assert the rights of those ecosystems that would otherwise be destroyed. Although people have been talking about “sustainable development” for decades now, very little has been done to change the structure of law to actually achieve that goal.  Laws recognizing the rights of nature finally codify the concept of sustainable development – disallowing those activities that would interfere with the functioning of those natural systems that support human and natural life. ”

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