Ep 10: The Rights of Nature, Part 1

The rights of Nature and human rights are intertwined. Recognizing that is not about changing the nature of legal practice; it is about making us smarter in the way we determine the boundaries between right and wrong, and between healthy and destructive.

In Episode 10 of Earth Intelligence, we hear about the value of this work toward wisdom from Myra Jackson, Diplomat of the Biosphere and a long-time leader in the movement to honor and safeguard the rights of Nature.

Don Shelby, the host of Earth Intelligence, asks Myra whether recognition of the rights of Nature means we are granting legal personhood to Nature.

Myra’s response focuses on rights being intrinsic:

As with human rights, Nature’s rights are inherent. You know, when the United [Nations] drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the drafting committee really observed then that supreme value of the human person did not originate in the decision of worldly power… but rather in that fact of existing itself, so existence itself is the basis that underlies human rights.

She adds that while many have argued about similarities to the concept of corporate personhood. That kind of artificial personhood, Myra explains, is very different from the consideration of the intrinsic rights of Nature. While New Zealand did assign personhood to the Whanganui River, it is the guardians that become the voice of Nature in court.

Don turns to the question of whether this is another kind of “unalienable right” as described in the Declaration of Independence.

Joe answers (and we paraphrase): Yes, human rights and rights of Nature exist, because we exist. That’s it. They cannot be denied or erased by anyone failing to document or codify them. They cannot be erased by legislating that they do not exist. They are unalienable; they cannot be separated from us; they are intrinsic.

Myra notes that:

We need new futures to rise whole, where these very intrinsic rights that we speak of are for all.

Don paraphrases the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and asks when Myra had the realization that “the rights of Nature were inextricably bound up in humankind?”

  • It is in seeing the co-violation of communities of color and of Nature, Myra explained. When we see abuse of women and children, and animals, unconstrained extraction, war and poverty, these are all connected.
  • She described visiting Colombia, where judges have been able to recognize the rights of Nature without adding new law. The lesson is that the rights of Nature are already inherent in the foundations and structure of the legal system.
  • Violations are violations, and there must exist legal grounds for countering violations, even before new laws are written.

It is also critical to recognize that human beings, natural systems, and all life on Earth constitute an integrated community. Myra explains this, saying:

To be honest, the rights for every member of the Earth community is what I’m interested in… an ever-renewing process that the Earth community is involved in… I’m really seeing a future where we turn from extraction and outright degradation of natural systems on the planet to becoming a restorer.

It isn’t just activists who want this, or people who live in vulnerable places who understand why this is important. Our entire system of finance, economics, and industry, is operating outside of what is rational, healthy, and safe. The rights of Nature are, ultimately, about steering our overall impact on natural systems that sustain us to a place where we are operating safely, and building mutual resilience.

Resources on the Rights of Nature