Prompted by Karl’s essay, I ask myself why little or nothing (certainly nothing effective) continues to be done to protect “New England’s River” — surely the most prominent and precious natural feature of this region — and stop this ongoing desecration that Karl describes. Where are the citizen lobby efforts, the educational campaigns, the petitions, the protests, the acts of nonviolent civil disobedience that have successfully challenged other corporate assaults on our local and regional environment (e.g., local tri-state opposition to the Entergy Corporation’s radioactive Vermont Yankee “nuke” and, more recently, Western Massachusetts towns’ united opposition to the Kinder Morgan Corporation’s natural gas pipeline project)?
In short, why are we putting up with the continuing abuse of “New England’s River”?
Perhaps we need to join the growing movement called the “Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN)” that’s taking hold in countries around the world and in various communities here in the U.S., a movement that recognizes that our ecosystems — including animals, forests, oceans, rivers, mountains, etc. — have god-given rights just as human beings have god-given rights.
Both Ecuador and Bolivia, at the initiative of their indigenous populations, have recently amended their constitutions to include the “Rights of Nature,” thus guaranteeing legal protections for rain forests and other natural features under assault from corporate exploitation. Similar efforts are underway in other parts of the globe, and in a growing number of communities here in the U.S.
The “Rights of Nature” concept doesn’t deny the rights of humans; it’s about balancing what is good for human beings with what is good for other species, and what is good for the earth as a whole. It’s based on the holistic recognition that all life forms on our planet, human and non-human, are deeply intertwined and dependent on each other — a recognition the lack (or denial) of which has clearly given rise to the escalating global climate crisis bearing down on us today with increasingly destructive force.
According to the “Rights of Nature” website (www.theRightsOfNature.org):
“Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights of Nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we — the people — have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the injured party, with its own ‘legal standing’ rights, in cases alleging rights violations.
“By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador — and a growing number of communities in the United States — are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do. This premise is a radical but natural departure from the assumption that nature is ‘property’ under the law.”
For indigenous cultures around the world, recognizing the rights of nature is simply recognizing reality, a reality consistent with their traditions of living in harmony with nature. All life, including human life, is deeply connected. Decisions and values are based on what is good for the whole.
Nonetheless, for millennia legal systems around the world have treated land and nature as “property.” Laws and contracts are written to protect the property rights of individuals, corporations and other legal entities. As such environmental protection laws actually legalize environmental harm by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur within the law. Under such law, nature and all of its non-human elements have no standing.”
Passing far-reaching new laws, let alone amending constitutions at the state or federal levels, is bound to be a time-consuming effort. But there’s no reason why in the meantime we can’t start practicing the “Rights of Nature” as a “community ethic” right now — focusing first and foremost on the right of “New England’s River” to be respected and protected.
Our planet Earth is rightfully regarded as our “mother” — “Mother Earth.” By the same token, the Connecticut River should rightfully be regarded as New England’s “Mother River” — and thus honored and protected.
Thank you, Karl Meyer, for repeatedly sounding the alarm and awakening us to this reality.
Randy Kehler and his wife Betsy Corner, after 40-plus years in Colrain, have recently moved to Shelburne Falls.
Read More: The Recorder – My Turn: New England’s river and the rights of nature