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Emebedding The Rights Of Nature In Our Legal Code PDF Print E-mail
Earth News
Posted by Joan Russow
Sunday, 21 April 2013 15:17

 

By Terry Tamminen   Scienific America http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=emebedding-the-rights-of-nature-in-2013-04

A new movement seeks to change laws to give our ecosystem legitimate legal protection. With Earth Day around the corner, it's a good time to step back and see how we've been doing since the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million people took to the streets to protest rivers on fire, DDT-poisoned birds, sewage on beaches, and a devastating oil spill off the pristine Santa Barbara coast.

 

 

Emebedding The Rights Of Nature In Our Legal Code

Emebedding The Rights Of Nature In Our Legal Code Image:

By Terry Tamminen

A new movement seeks to change laws to give our ecosystem legitimate legal protection.

With Earth Day around the corner, it's a good time to step back and see how we've been doing since the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million people took to the streets to protest rivers on fire, DDT-poisoned birds, sewage on beaches, and a devastating oil spill off the pristine Santa Barbara coast. Soon after, many of our basic national environmental laws were passed in direct response to this massive grassroots movement. Is there another wave of this activism coming?

Since those early days, we have improved sewage treatment plants and banned DDT, but new threats to human and environmental health are mounting - pollution from hydraulic fracking, leaking oil pipelines, nuclear disasters, and other localized impacts on communities. At the global scale, climate change is real and accelerating, as evidenced by unprecedented droughts, hurricanes, floods, and crop losses. As the World Bank warns, a possible 4 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures by the 2060s will lead to a "transition of the Earth's ecosystems into a state unknown in human experience." These new and very visible threats are igniting a fresh grassroots call for more action that is commensurate with such challenges in ways the existing laws seem unprepared to address.

Enter the "Rights of Nature" movement. Any pensioner knows you can spend the interest on your nest egg, but should avoid diminishing the principal if you want a sustainable economic future. But our current economic system assumes we can consume nature's capital without consequence. Given that we live on a planet with finite resources, the Rights of Nature movement seeks a new, sustainable model.

Several countries, including Bolivia and Ecuador, and over three-dozen U.S. municipalities have recently incorporated such Rights of Nature into their policies and laws. Last week, my hometown of Santa Monica became the first city in California to pass such a law. This new ordinance states that "natural communities and ecosystems possess fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and flourish." It recognizes Santa Monicans' rights to "clean water from sustainable sources; marine waters safe for active and passive recreation; clean indoor and outdoor air; a sustainable food system that provides healthy, locally grown food; a sustainable climate that supports thriving human life and a flourishing bio-diverse environment . . . and a sustainable energy future based on renewable energy sources."

Relevant to the business community, which depends on resources and public good will to make and distribute products, the ordinance makes clear that "[c]orporate entities...do not enjoy special privileges or powers under the law that subordinate the community's rights to their private interests." At some point, these rights and values will clash if smart businesses don't take these rights into account and demonstrate that their products are truly sustainable, especially because the Santa Monica ordinance includes citizen enforcement authority to protect those rights, just as the federal Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and other fundamental statutes include - - and which have been used by individuals and environmental groups to force compliance.

The good news is that solutions to this potential culture clash already exist. Cradle-to-cradle product design, LEED standards for the built environment, and zero waste plans by companies like Walmart all show the path to products and services that maximize the use of scarce resources and find measurable ways to spend the interest of Nature and not the principal. If more companies pay attention to the Rights of Nature movement and the obvious limits of our planet, we can enjoy sustainable, healthy communities and profits, making every day Earth Day in the process.

 
 
NOTE  
 

Ecuador Rights of Nature

Ecuador Constitution Adopted September 2008

Nature, or Pachamama – an indigenous word for all life, has been legally acknowledged as having rights by the Ecuadorian people in their new constitution. Ecuador is the first country to incorporate rights of nature in their constitution.

Rather than treating nature as property under the law, these laws acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people – have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendent.

Ecuador’s new constitution includes a Chapter addressing Rights for Nature.

Derechos de la naturalezaChapter: Rights for Nature

Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3. The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 4. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow well-being.

The environmental services are cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

“Public organisms” in Article 1 means the courts and government agencies, i.e., the people of Ecuador would be able to take action to enforce nature rights if the government did not do so.

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 April 2013 15:43
 

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