Environmental rights

by Mike Gaworecki

July 9, 2008

This is very, very cool (h/t Idealog):

On July 7, 2008, the Ecuador Constitutional Assembly – composed of one hundred and thirty (130) delegates elected countrywide to rewrite the country’s Constitution – voted to approve articles for the new constitution recognizing rights for nature and ecosystems. “If adopted in the final constitution by the people, Ecuador would become the first country in the world to codify a new system of environmental protection based on rights,” stated Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. (Read the entire Rights of Nature Language Approved by the Ecuador Constitutional Assembly doc on CELDF’s website.)

The environmental movement in the US has always been a voice for the voiceless – the wildlife, the ecosystems, all of the inhabitants of the Earth that have a right to life every bit as much as humans do but that can’t speak up for themselves. Rarely do enviros organize around the idea that those rights should be made law. And yet look at all of the great movements in American history: abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights – all rights-based movements. Perhaps it is time to rethink our strategies if we are to effect lasting protections for the natural world. All too often we’ve discovered that it’s not enough to get a species listed as endangered or to stop a dam project from going forward. Our opponents will simply regroup and redeploy with new tactics and new ways to spin the facts. If we codify the rights of the natural world to exist, not only do we have lasting protections for the environment but powerful new tools to stop the polluters and robber-barons who are befouling and plundering the Earth for their own gain.

Recently, our own Carroll Muffett wrote some excellent blogs about his experience attending a coal industry conference and how many of the people working in the industry feel that it is the corporation that is damaging the world, not them. This idea is fostered by the legal rights we’ve afforded to corporations as entities in and of themselves, as if they are people who should enjoy equal rights under the law. This is a misguided notion, to be sure, and the laws that established corporate personhood are “illegitimately” based on Constitutional law, according to Richard Grossman, co-founder of Programs on Corporations, Law and Democracy (read more). Given that corporations are responsible not just for a huge amount of the pollution dumped on our planet but also for obstructing most progressive, environmental causes like global warming legislation, emissions standards, etc., opposing legal corporate personhood should probably be a part of any rights-based environmental movement. We need to assert the rights of the Earth over the rights of the corporations that have been pillaging the Earth.

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