I am not quite sure why the rights of nature movement doesn’t get more attention. Perhaps people think it is so crazy that it “can never happen here.” But it is happening here. Nearly 30 municipalities have passed laws granting nature rights–which really means that anyone can sue to prevent any human activity with which they disagree. Moreover, when you say pond scum, mosquitoes, viruses, rats, weeds, etc. have “rights,” you have attacked human exceptionalism and diminished the concept of rights in the same way that inflation devalues currency. I mean if a snail has rights, what makes humans special?
Now Vermont is seeing the beginning of a campaign to place rights in the state’s constitution, akin to a right to life. (See the italicized portion.) From the press release:
The Campaign has drafted a proposed Rights of Nature article to be voted on at Straffordʼs town meeting in March. It calls for an amendment to the Vermont Constitution that would “recognize in the law the natural, inherent and inalienable rights of forests, natural areas, waterways, and fish and wildlife populations of Vermont to exist, thrive and evolve.”
Marx feels that such an amendment would provide “an even playing field. People have rights, corporations have rights, and nature should have rights as well.” Marx does not envision the amendment as prohibiting logging or hunting, but rather ensuring that natural resources are managed in a sustainable and ecological manner. Environmental lawyer Gus Speth, author of America the Possible, notes, “The rights of nature movement, slowly building around the nation, is an effort to carry forward the land ethic of Aldo Leopold. It would be great to see a new amendment in the State Constitution.”
We can and do manage development and the extraction of resources without granting rights to nature. Indeed, Yellowstone is very well managed and Old Faithful hasn’t been deemed a person. (Don’t laugh. New Zealand has granted personhood status to a river.) This is about anti humanism, not proper regulatory control.
Will this take off in Vermont? I have no idea. I hope the state’s voters retain enough New England common sense to reject this drive out of hand. On the other hand, Vermont is a very liberal state and nature rights is a very liberal cause. So stay tuned.
I have written more extensively about nature rights here. Also, here.