“So, what would a radically different law-driven consciousness look like? …
One in which Nature has rights … Yes, rivers, lakes … trees … animals.
How would such a posture in law affect a community’s view of itself?”
– Christopher Stone, American criminal justice expert
“[It is] to balance the rights of people against the rights of animals and the needs of an ecosystem.” Daniel Goleman to the Dalai Lama, 2018
About Rights of Nature
The world loses a species about every ten minutes
Animal populations have fallen by 60% since 1970.
E.O. Wilson has predicted that 25% wild species will survive to the year 2100.
Half of natural ecosystems are now destroyed and a total of 1 million species are at risk of extinction.
Only 20% of the world’s wild ecosystems (biotic communities) remain intact and undisturbed.
In terms of habitats, the deepest loss is of wetlands, which have drained by 83% since 1700.
More than 95% of U.S. land in the lower 48 has been modified
Three-quarters of all land has been turned into farm fields, covered by concrete, swallowed up by dam reservoirs or otherwise significantly altered.
Grazing areas for cattle account for about 25% of the world’s ice-free land and more than 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
75% of rivers and lakes are used for crop or livestock cultivation.
More than 70% of the world’s flowering plants and 90% of the most important food crops rely on pollinators.
The wild population of vertebrates worldwide is down 60% from 50 years ago.
2 in 5 amphibian species are at risk of extinction.
40% or more insect species are at risk of extinction.
Only 3% of marine areas are free from human pressure.
Two-thirds of the marine environment has also been changed by fish farms, shipping routes, subsea mines and other projects.
80% fisheries were fully exploited between 1950-2000.
Industrial fishing takes place in more than half the world’s oceans, leaving 33% of fish populations over-exploited.
Scientists have found that 90 percent of the world’s seabirds, a third of the sea turtles, and over half of all whales and dolphin species have ingested plastic.
Every year, more than one million birds and 100,000 marine animals die from ingesting or becoming ensnared in plastic or other marine pollution.
75 percent of freshwater resources are devoted to farming and fishing
According to the national Audubon Society, nearly half of North American bird species are at risk of losing habitats by 2080 due to climate change
Rights of Nature is an integral piece of the current conservation movement. The concept has taken off around the world since Ecuador recognized Nature’s rights in its constitution in 2008. Yet in most places in the United States Nature is still treated as property: legally it is a commodity.
Pollution and environmental destruction are not illegal in this country. Our current environmental regulatory laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act simply regulate how much can be exploited by whom. These laws actually authorize and legalize the destruction of the natural world. These Acts allow permits and licenses to pollute and degrade or destroy nature. Countries like Spain, France, Portugal and Finland have already recognized a human right to a healthy environment.
Boulder started acquiring open space for the mountain park system in the 1890’s. Boulder County today is made up of 50% public lands. Boulder Rights of Nature (BRoN) is working to get “rights of nature” established as law in one or more jurisdictions in Boulder County and beyond. (To see our draft ordinance, click here.)
We are currently researching legal frameworks such as a resolution to protect Boulder Creek Watershed. We are also pursuing a Colorado Green Amendment (like the one enacted in Pennsylvania) with Delaware Waterkeepers and Boulder Waterkeepers; a Climate Bill of Rights for Longmont (like the city of Lafayette’s) with the Colorado Community Rights Network; establishing and preserving habitat or land connectivity through biological and wildlife corridors in Boulder County with ESC (Endangered Species Coalition); halting the expansion of Gross Dam with TEG (The Environmental Group) and Save Boulder County; saving prairie dogs, a keystone species and apex predator, with Prairie Protection Colorado; and preserving and restoring the waterway and wildlife movement corridor through the city of Longmont with Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek. Finally, we are researching using the concept of the Public Trust Doctrine in other endeavors to protect the rights of Nature.
In all this we are aligned with the Arapahoe tribe and “Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples.” Like cultural diversity, the value of biodiversity is still not recognized in the U.S. Indigenuous culture was once essentially the worship and respect of Nature. But nowhere is there a law today that culture has a right to survive. The environmental, indigenous and social justice movements must be combined. Like slavery and the suppression of women’s rights, the abuse and ownership of Nature could and should be outmoded.
“The latest U.N. report confirms what Indigenous communities and those asserting ‘community rights’ have known all along: That the best defenders of Nature and biodiversity are the communities themselves; and that the best way to protect Nature is for those communities to have the legal authority to recognize ecosystems as having rights and to veto harmful development projects,” said Thomas Linzey, executive director of the U.S.-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
Finally, the transition to clean energy needs to be about more than curbing climate change.
It should also protect wildlife and wild places.
Rights of Nature Laws have been passed in Lafayette, Colorado, the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, the Chippewa Nation in Minnesota; for Great Lake Erie, the Te Urewera Forest and Whanganui River in New Zealand, The Colombian Amazon,The Páramo in Pisba, a high Andean ecosystem in Colombia, The Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, the White Earth Band of Minnesota Ojibwe adopted the Rights of Manoomin, or wild rice; and in countries including Ecuador, Bolivia, Nepal, India, Cameroon, Colombia, and Australia. Constitutional Green Amendments exist in Pennslyvania and Montana; and are proposed for New Jersey, New York, Maryland and West Virginia.
We are the first humans to consciously destroy the environment, notably through human-caused climate change. Boulder Rights of Nature believes that living in balance and harmony with nature is essential for life and well-being for all species, and for the integral functioning of the ecological systems that give life to all.
Our relationship with nature says a lot about who we are, and who we want to be.
Who wants to live in a world without Blue Whales and butterflies?
We all come from Nature. Nature gives us life.
Aldo Leopold – “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Chief Seattle, Puget Sound Suquamish – “This we know: the Earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to Earth.”
Ansel Adams – Once destroyed, Nature’s beauty cannot be repurchased at any price.“