Rights of Nature

Several years ago, we would come to fish on the west coast of Florida and the waters were clear with visibility to nearly 20 feet deep. Now, you can only find patches where visibility is four or five feet down. We fished the seagrass flats and caught sea trout in abundance. Now, the seagrasses, along with the many creatures who called them home, are gone, including most of the trout. A friend says when she came to Matlacha ten years ago, she could drop in a bucket and pull it out to find little crabs, tiny seahorses, and a multitude of small sea plants. Now, you’re lucky to get clear water to fill a five-gallon bucket, and certainly won’t year-round in many places around Ft. Myers.

Nestle is trying to bargain to pull billions of gallons of water from Ginnie Springs in north Florida. Nestle states, “At Nestlé Waters, our business depends on the quality and sustainability of the water we collect. It would make absolutely no sense to invest millions of dollars into our local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies. It would undermine the success of our business and go against every value we hold as a people, as Floridians, and as a company.” But their history begs to differ. From California to Michigan, to Maine, to Florida they have ruined or are in the process of ruining eco-systems and aquifers around the nation. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/29/the-fight-over-water-how-nestle-dries-up-us-creeks-to-sell-water-in-plastic-bottles.

Ginnie Springs crystal clear spring waters

Developers, like James Finch in Panama City, and others in SWFL, destroy acres of environmentally sensitive property, pay the fines as, “The cost of doing business,” with NO ACCEPTABLE RESTITUTION.

There is a new movement, Called Rights of Nature that I want all of my friends, particularly my Florida friends, to know about because it will ultimately affect you personally in some way. Back in the day, we so-called Flower Children and Hippies protested and fought hard to get clean water, clean air, and other anti-pollution protections in place. There are so many of us Boomers that are being disrespected nowadays, and if you look with consideration at how the environment was back in the late sixties and early seventies as compared to the eighties and nineties, you will see that we were highly successful. But things have gotten worse in recent years because these laws have been abused and quantitative limits on pollution were set which have been adjusted in favor of the polluting industries and corporations and their development.

What if Nature, like Corporations, had the rights and protections of a person?

 

January 21, 2010, a United States Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance was decided. The ruling effectively freed corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates (ie. Lobby). Citizens United basically gives corporate personhood. Corporate personhood is the legal notion that a corporation, separately from its associated human beings (like owners, managers, or employees), has at least some of the legal rights and responsibilities enjoyed by natural persons. In a series of decisions over the past 40 years, the Supreme Court has radically expanded constitutional rights for corporations.

Corporate interests are often contrary to the interests of the general public, and studies find that elite interests are much more likely to be reflected in policy outcomes than those of the general public. We need to end Citizens United. While the name implies that it is a group of concerned citizens fighting united for citizen’s rights, it is anything but. Corporations are destroying our nature and our planet has little defense against corporate giants. It’s not nature vs corporations and developers. Nature is us. We are Nature.

Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights. It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, and mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. … Nonetheless, for millennia legal systems around the world have treated land and nature as “property”.

Ecuador is the first country to recognize the Rights of Nature in its Constitution. Rights of Nature laws enable people, communities, and ecosystems themselves to defend and enforce such rights. Without the ability to do so, those ecosystems would be destroyed. Clean water is vital to life. All life, including ours.

On Saturday, the Florida Democratic Party approved a new party platform which includes the Rights of Nature. This is believed to be the first time such a provision has been included in a state political party platform in the United States.

The platform reads:

We resolve to adequately protect our waters, support communities’ rights in reclaiming home rule authority and recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of nature… 

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is working closely with communities across Florida to advance the rights of Nature and local communities.

Roseate Spoonbills in Big Cypress Conservation Area

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is spearheading the global advancement of the Rights of Nature through support for the increasing number of communities defending the rights of nature. You can read about their work in the USA and abroad here: https://celdf.org/advancing-community-rights/rights-of-nature/.

Laws recognizing the rights of nature thus change the status of natural communities and ecosystems to being recognized as rights-bearing entities with rights that can be enforced by people, governments, and communities. Just as corporations (and developers) have rights protected by Citizen’s United, Nature needs a right to defend itself.  Or we need Citizen’s United overthrown, and our environmental policies and regulations protected and enforced. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future.

Our lawmakers are already passing preemptive laws designed to prevent the Rights of Nature movement. These laws – including the United States’ Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and similar state laws – legalize environmental harms by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur under law. Rather than preventing pollution and environmental destruction, these laws, instead, allow and permit it. In addition, under commonly understood terms of preemption, once these activities are legalized by federal or state governments, local governments are prohibited from banning them.

Laws recognizing rights for nature begin with a different premise – that ecosystems and natural communities have the right to exist and flourish, and people, communities and governments have the authority to defend those rights on behalf of those ecosystems and communities.

The following is from a WINK News article here near Matlacha in Ft. Myers:

“There have been several efforts to give legal rights to nature in Southwest Florida. But now, some lawmakers are trying to block the movement before it appears on your ballot.

The calm Caloosahatchee River is one of the 15 Florida waterways that people are fighting to give legal rights. Karl Deigerts (Matlacha Civic Association President,is among these people.

“If an inanimate corporation can have rights,” Deigert said, “then why cannot a living ecosystem full of life not have individual inalienable rights?”

Now, Deigert’s effort to bring the Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights to Lee County is facing a big challenge.

“We have people out there in Tallahassee working to keep nutrients flowing into this river,” Deigert said, “to prevent us from creating these protective laws.”

Two Florida lawmakers want to stop any effort to give nature legal “rights.”

“I take that as a compliment,” Chuck O’Neal said, “because apparently, this is so dangerous the thought of actually giving people the right to clean water.”

“Why would any representative preempt things that protect us and our health and our environment?” Deigert said.

Sen. Ben Albritton, who filled one of the bills, said to WINK News it handcuffs local governments and invites litigation. His full statement:

Handcuffs Local Governments – These proposals would restrict a local government’s ability to pass ordinances, adopt regulations, and issue permits that may implicate these “new” rights. This could include development approvals, zoning, land use controls, or infrastructure projects. This is not in the best interest of local communities.

Invites Litigation – These proposals will likely result in a significant increase in litigation by creating a private cause of action whereby any person can sue another person, business, or government if they “feel” their “rights” are being violated. There is no requirement for actual injury or any direct connection to bring a lawsuit, and the burden of proof is on the one being sued.

The risk to Business – These proposals would have a detrimental effect on Florida’s economy in general.

In addition, I don’t believe that elevating nature to the status of a human being is good for society. Our Constitution is meant to protect the rights of people, with no mention of “rights of nature”. To elevate any natural feature to the level of human beings simply diminishes the value of human life. (Yet, we protect corporations as if they were individual people.)

Unnecessary – These proposals are entirely unnecessary as Floridians already have ample opportunity under existing law to challenge activities or government actions they feel could or would result in harm to the environment.

This legislation that I have filed addressing these “rights of nature” proposals will preserve the ability of local governments to operate without the threat of overwhelming litigation, preserve the rights of Florida landowners (from large to homeowners) to rely on well-established permitting and environmental regulatory programs. These proposals will throw Florida’s current local government regulatory and permitting structure into turmoil, thus having a terribly negative impact on Florida’s economy.

“It’s not working,” Deigert said. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation today if our current system worked.”

 

Instead of trying to pass a nature bill of rights countywide, organizers in Lee County are focusing on getting it done municipality by municipality.”

 

This article is a prime example of politicians claiming to know the best interests of the people when clearly their interests lie with corporations and developers.

Doesn’t recognizing rights for 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 that 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.

The preemptive laws, like Florida SB1382- preempts and eliminates our Right to self-governance in the creation of a Bill of Rights for selected ecosystems that amend our local city and county charters elevating environmental legal protection to the highest level recognized in western law. This preemption is aimed at the entire State of Florida. According to Clean Water Act author Oliver Houck, “The Clean Water Act does not go far enough to protect us. We must add Rights of Nature law if we are to have true protections.” We can no longer afford to consider ourselves above nature but must recognize that we are a part of nature. Our water are in an emergency state of decline. From Florida’s first magnitude springs, to our estuaries, to our marine coastal waters, all Florida waters are now designated as “impacted”. Clean Waters are the backbone of Florida’s entire economy and must be at the forefront for consideration in every decision by our elected officials and every level. We can not delay remediation any longer and must seek a new paradigm for the most expedient and effective changes in our laws. Our current regulatory system has failed to protect us. We must break the fixed system. Rights of Nature laws are the path to change.

What can I do to support the Rights of Nature?

  1. Become better informed. A variety of booksarticlesvideos, podcasts, and other reference materials may be found on the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature website at  TheRightsOfNature.org including just released The Rights of Nature, The Case for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth and  Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice.
  2. Talk with friends and spread the word about the Rights of Nature. Share this site with others and visit our Rights of Nature Facebook group.
  3. Join a global signature and letter-writing campaign by signing our Value Rights of Nature petitionhttp://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/yes-to-rights-of-nature/or writing a letter to your President or other head of state requesting support for Rights of Nature. Gather friends for a letter huddle and write your letters together.  For more information, visit RightsofMotherEarth.com.
  4. Draft, endorse and support local initiatives that recognize rights for nature in your municipality. For advice and counsel, contact the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund CELDF.org.
  5. If you are an Awakening the Dreamer Symposium facilitator, include Rights of Nature in your symposium discussions.  Include our letter-writing campaign as a way to be in action.
  6. Support the work of the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature (GARN) financially.  Every dollar, euro, or other currency makes a difference in expanding the recognition of Rights of Nature around the world.  Thank you for your consideration and generosity! https://therightsofnature.org/

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