The ongoing climate crisis has already impacted our lives in serious ways. Extreme weather events. Earthquakes and tornados in places that have never had them before. Wildfires greater and more frequent than ever that have devasted entire towns. Rising seas levels that threaten coastal communities. And so much more.
Many people all over the world are working to reduce the effects of climate change and save our biosphere. But unless we human beings change the way we perceive our world, and find ways to respect rather than exploit the earth and its many non-human inhabitants we will always be in danger of destroying the very environment that keeps us alive.
This change in our belief system starts with understanding and accepting the concepts behind the Rights of Nature movement. It starts with realizing that everything on this planet, the oceans, the forests, the animals, the land itself, has a right to its own existence. Which means the right to be unencumbered by human notions of “ownership” and “property”. The right to thrive.
On Thursday, November 9, 2021 at 7:00 pm PST the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Climate Reality Project will be hosting a panel of creative artists and activist at the forefront of the Rights of Nature Movement. Our guests will be two of the producers of the documentary film “The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement” and two of the principal activists who appear in the film.
You can view the film on YouTube for free whenever you like and then join us on November 9th for our discussion to learn more about the history of the Rights of Nature movement and find out what is being done to make sure your children grow up in a world where there is air to breathe and a chance that your grandchildren will know, first hand, what a tree looks like.
Below, Judy Glass, Chair of the Environmental Justice and Rights of Nature Committee and a Climate Reality Project Leadership Team Member, offers an introduction to the subject of Rights of Nature as a lead in to what we anticipate will be an eye-opening conversation.
To introduce our discussion of Rights of Nature, I’d like to begin with the highlights of the evolution of the rights of humans—which we know is part of the rights of nature, though too often not thought of that way.
The evolution of human rights has both a political and an economic dimension, both relevant to thinking about Rights of Nature. To provide context for our program tonight, I want to acknowledge the work of Christopher Stone, recently deceased, who more than 50 years ago authored a pioneering work on Rights of Nature called “Do Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects”.
In his introduction, Stone quotes from a 19th C court decision refusing women the right to practice law in Wisconsin. The court comments that the nature of woman—purity, delicacy, subordination of hard reason to sympathetic feeling—disqualify her for the battle field of forensic strife. Stone editorializes that the movement to confer new rights is “bound to sound odd or frightening or laughable…because until the rightless thing receives its rights, we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of “us” –those who are holding rights at the time….”
Here are some significant dates in the history of increasing political rights for human beings:
English Barons forced the king to renounce certain of his rights, particularly habeas corpus
Parliament shares governing rights with the King. English Bill of Rights-includes end to cruel punishments
US born into age of Enlightenment; Declaration of Independence—all men are equal; have inalienable rights from God; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
France – Decl. of the Rights of Man
US Constitution: Freedom of speech, religion, assembly; right not to incriminate oneself
19th Century in America:
No property qualification for voting; Women can enter professions, can divorce; inherit property; Get custody of children
Blacks freed from slavery; black men get the vote. But reconstruction denies to blacks the freedoms promised by the 13,14,15 Amendments
Women get the vote after 75 years of agitation; Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s finally delivers, at least on paper, on many promises of the Constitution
Significant Constitutional protection of economic and social rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals & communities
I separated the human struggle for economic rights because here the analogy with the rights of nature movement is so compelling. The building blocks—the resources– of any economy are land, labor and capital. From the point of view of the economy, labor is a cost, a commodity. But labor is human life, and the struggle for economic rights for workers and consumers is ongoing. The struggle to reduce hours of work or to gain legal rights to organize unions took all of the 19th C and half of the 20th. Reducing child labor, requiring minimum years of schooling, minimum wages, paid vacations, pensions, social security—none of that happened before the mid 20th century; recognizing health care as a right still is not established in the US, nor are economic protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities guaranteed in their implementation.
These are rights of nature, rights of human nature. All hard fought, over many years.
Similarly to labor, land was seen as a cost, as commodities, as resources to be used to create wealth. In the late 20th century, though, another quantum leap occurred when new laws like the Endangered Species Act, and the Environmental Protection Act morphed into a discussion with a Rights of Nature emphasis. Enter Christopher Stone, and nations like Ecuador and New Zealand, and local communities like Santa Monica, and film makers like our guests tonight whose consciousness mirrors that of indigenous peoples around the world, arguing for giving “standing” to trees, rivers, and other natural entities, to sue for protection, for life and their right to thrive, their right to be other than resources.
Chair, Environmental Justice and Rights of Nature Committee
Climate Reality Project Leadership Team Member
San Fernando Valley Chapter
Please join us at our November Chapter meeting by registering at bit.ly/SFVCR
And join in wherever you can in establishing and protecting the Rights of Nature so that you don’t have to worry about what you will say when your grandchildren look up at you and ask, “What is a tree?”
2 thoughts on “GRANDPA, WHAT IS A TREE?”
Wonderful overview of the history of the Rights of Nature movement, Tara. Thank you for publishing the complete text of Judy’s introduction here.
My belief system, such as it is, is metaphysical naturalism, which is just a pretentious way of saying I believe nature Herself is a conscious entity. If we are conscious, then Mother Nature is conscious; we are Her eyes and ears and conscience, aren’t we? When we come to recognize that the trees out our window and the stars in the sky and the face in the mirror are all components of a conscious biomatrix, we view the natural world not as a resource to exploit but rather as an existential partner. If we are conscious, then nature is conscious; if we have rights, then nature has rights. For me, it’s as simple as that.
Now we need only convince a billion other people of that! This is as good a place as any to get started.
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Thank you, Sean, for this beautifully written description of our connection to, and our inherent place in the family of, the natural world. I am especially charmed by the phrases “metaphysical naturalism” and “conscious biomatrix”. There does seem to be some forward momentum within our population toward recognition of this perspective and, yes, if we are to survive as a species we will have to keep working to, as you say, convince a billion other people that we are indeed a part of an existential partnership with Mother Nature.
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