The Need

Rights of Nature: What and Why

  • Rights of Nature is the legal recognition that humans are a part of, not apart from, the earth community.  This movement embodies the principle that ecosystems and natural communities are not merely property to be owned, but are entities that have an independent right to exist and flourish.
  • Rights of Nature honors the right of every member of the Earth community to fulfill, to its full potential, its role in the community of life.
  • Rights of Nature does not eliminate property ownership, but seeks to eliminate the authority of a property owner to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural communities and ecosystems that exist and depend upon that property.
  • Rights of Nature is important because:
    • The rate of extinction is increasing, with the speed of a ball rolling down a steep slope.  In Boulder County, at-risk species include paper birches and northern harriers.  Species extinction and environmental degradation threatens both our physical survival (our supplies of nourishing food, pure water, and clean air) and our spiritual well-being (the beauty of nature).
    • After more than 40 years, it is now clear that our national and state environmental laws have been ineffective in preventing this ecological crisis.  We need a paradigm shift.  Standing to enforce the rights of Nature must now be recognized in local communities.
    • Lifeless corporations have been declared juristic persons with constitutional rights.  Organisms that live, die, and reproduce have a much greater moral claim to judicial standing than lifeless corporations.
  • Laws that recognize the Rights of Nature have been adopted by countries and communities around the world, including more than two dozen communities in the U.S.  The movement is growing rapidly. 

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More Information

An Introduction to the Rights of Nature

“Wild Law” author Cormac Cullinan’s important essay in Orion Magazine, titled: “If Nature Had Rights.” It explains the history and implications of the movement to recognize the rights of nature.

For another perspective on how the rights of nature idea developed, see the article on Natural Law in Earth Island Journal (Spring 2012).

Dan Leftwich has written an essay titled: “Evolving From Dominion To Communion” which describes how legal rights for nature evolved and can be implemented as our cultural attitudes evolve from seeing humanity as having dominion over nature to our need to act in communion with nature.

Priscilla Stuckey has a blog post, Why do the rights of nature matter?, about why we must place the rights of nature into law. This post grew out of her experience at CELDF’s Democracy School, which she recounts in 3 prior posts, It’s a democracy problem, Rolling back democracy, and Why do we need a local bill of rights?