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  • Richard Bonetti

The Rights of Nature

Updated: Nov 26


What it means to be human in an interconnected world? Are humans in Nature or part of nature? Do Nature and nonhumans have "rights"?


Wikipedia has a thoughtful discussion of the Rights of Nature.

"Rights of nature or Earth rights is a legal and jurisprudential theory that describes inherent rights as associated with ecosystems and species, similar to the concept of fundamental human rights. The rights of nature concept challenges twentieth-century laws as generally grounded in a flawed frame of nature as "resource" to be owned, used, and degraded. Proponents argue that laws grounded in rights of nature direct humanity to act appropriately and in a way consistent with modern, system-based science, which demonstrates that humans and the natural world are fundamentally interconnected."

The Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER) works to establish the Rights of Nature laws. "Rights of nature laws exist at the local to national levels in 17 countries, including dozens of cities and counties throughout the United States. They take the form of constitutional provisions, treaty agreements, statutes, local ordinances, and court decisions."


CDER traces the timeline for drafting Rights of Nature provisions in Pennsylvania (2006), Ecuador (2008), Bolivia (2010), India (2012), Colorado (2014), New Zealand (2014), Sweden (2015), Mexico City (2017), Brazil (2018), Uganda (2019), New Hampshire (2020), the Klamath River (2020), Orange County FL (2020) and the Moon (2021), to name a few.


So far in 2022 "the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe has filed a “rights of salmon” case agains the city of Seattle seeking to protect salmon, and the rights of tribal members to fish for salmon. Panama has adopted a national rights of nature law. Ecuador's Constitutional Court issued a ruling in the Estrellita Monkey case, finding that “Animals are subjects of rights protected by the rights of Nature." Chile’s Constitutional Convention approved of rights of nature provisions to be included in the country’s draft constitution. The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in India declared that Mother Nature” is a “Living Being with constitutional rights for its “survival, safety, sustenance and resurgence.”


On October 19, 2021 CDER’s Thomas Linzey, and Wesley J. Smith of the Discovery Institute, engaged in a lively debate on the Rights of Nature. The debate was hosted by the Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment at Gonzaga University, and moderated by Professor Brian Henning. The debate focused on the practical, ethical, and moral considerations of the Rights of Nature, and how that applies to humankind. You are invited to watch the debate recording here or click the YouTube image above.


The Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment (CCSE) at Gonzaga has a variety of events planned in 2022 that may be of general interest:

  • July 13, 2022 - Economics for a Full World

  • September 8, 2022 - Documentary Screening: Youth v. Gov

  • September 28, 2022 - Polar Bears and Global Warming: Connecting the Dots to the Rest of Us

  • October 17, 2022 - Integrating Science into Climate and Environmental Policy

  • November 1, 2022 - The Emotional Life of the Climate Justice Movement

  • November 15, 2022 - The Credibility of Climate Models

Also find CCSE's past event library on their YouTube channel. Subscribe to the channel to be notified of future events.


Does protecting the rights of nonhuman sentient animals, such as Happy, the Asian elephant in the Bronx zoo, mean they are a "person"? The Elephant in the Courtroom article in the March 7, 2022 issue of New Yorker Magazine describes the legal crusade of the NonHuman Rights Project to redefine personhood. This raises profound questions about the interdependence of the animal and human kingdoms. The Associated Press on May 18, 2022 further recounts this story of Happy, saying that a court verdict is expected in June 2022.


If Corporations can be considered "persons" perhaps elephants can too?

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