The Corner

Energy & Environment

Colorado Is Ground Zero for ‘Nature Rights’

Solar panels near Boulder, Colorado. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Environmentalism isn’t about conservation or protecting endangered species anymore, approaches that recognize human exceptionalism, e.g., our right to thrive off the environment mediated by our duty to do so responsibly.

Over the past decade and more, the movement has grown increasingly radical and implicitly and explicitly anti-human. Hence, we are denigrated as a “plague on the earth” by Sir David Attenborough, as the movement often seeks to prevent our thriving off the earth.

This new approach is epitomized by the “nature rights” movement that seeks to establish something akin to a right to life for nature, e.g., the “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” Nature’s “rights” would be enforceable by anyone who believes a proposed project would impede or destroy nature’s vital cycles and processes in evolution — which would bring enterprise to a screeching halt.

Colorado is now a clear focus of the movement. A lawsuit was filed last year to have the Colorado River declared a person. That was withdrawn, but they will be back, as is made clear by an article Denver’s 5280 magazine:

“We’re talking about a 20- to 30-year time frame here,” says Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. To affect policy, “you need 100, 200, 300 court cases [such as Colorado River v. Colorado]. You gotta draw the conflict in enough places to force that up the ladder.”

In other words, they will sue and sue and sue and sue, diverting already strained judicial resources from proper purposes — until they find that one judge who wants to make radical history. Why not? It’s worked many times before.

The litigation campaign can be stopped. Every time these groups sue for such ridiculous things, courts should quickly dismiss and impose stiff financial sanctions on the groups bringing the actions and refer the attorneys for professional discipline for filing frivolous (under current law) suits. That would force these ideas into the arena of democratic deliberation where they belong.

“Nature rights” radicals candidly admit they seek to to impede development and enterprise:

To keep the forests intact [from logging or clearing for pasture land], DGR is encouraging indigenous nations on the Colorado Plateau to insert nature-centric provisions into their tribal constitutions, which would grant forests the inherent right to exist and flourish.

A couple hundred miles away, the citizen-led Boulder Rights of Nature group is working to pass an ordinance by early 2019 that would grant the county’s grasslands and forests the legal right to exist and evolve. That would mean Boulder Creek, for example, would gain the right to maintain a healthy in-stream flow, defending it against overuse for municipal or agricultural diversions.

Which means hands off without first going through an extensive and expensive legal process, even if that leads to a water shortage.

It is high time that state legislatures and the Congress pass laws barring animals, geological features, and nature from possessing “rights” or being granted any legal standing in court. The threat is real. The time to stifle “nature rights” is now, while the campaign is still incipient.

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