All around the world, the Environnement is getting increasing legal recognition and support. And this year things have started moving at a much higher pace, especially around the Pacific Ocean.
July 2017 Oregon, USA – The Siletz River rallies the fight
Last battle to date: a few weeks ago, a river of Oregon finishing its course in the Pacific Ocean, the Siletz River “filed to intervene in a lawsuit, making it the third ecosystem in the United States to seek standing to protect its rights”, according to pagosadailypost.com.
The online community magazine explains that “the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are attempting to overturn a Community Bill of Rights law adopted by Lincoln County voters in May. The ordinance establishes rights to clean air, water, and soil, and the rights of ecosystems and natural communities to be free from toxic trespass caused by aerial sprayed pesticides. The practice is banned as a violation of those rights.”
March 2017 – Whanganui (NZ) and Ganges (India) gain human-like legal rights
Another symbolic river flowing to the Pacific Ocean has won its own fight: the Whanganui river in New Zealand. Earlier this year, in March, theguardian.com reported the event: “The local Māori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river – the third-largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years… “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi [tribe].
“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”
“The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same.”
Later the same month, another victory was won. This time by India’s sacred river, Ganges. It also gained the rights of a human being, meaning it can also be defended in court by legal guardians in case of violation.
It all began in Ecuador, in 2010
“Ecuador is the first country to recognize Rights of Nature in its Constitution. A great first step for humanity towards a change of paradigm!
Ecuador rewrote its Constitution in 2007-2008 and it was ratified by referendum by the people of Ecuador in September 2008.
The new Ecuadorian Constitution includes a Chapter: Rights for Nature. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights for Nature articles acknowledge 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 to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.”
This highly symbolic event didn’t capture much of the general public’s attention. However, it created a starting point. Nine years later, we, Pacificans, can already benefit the first consequences of this bold move done by a humble South American country. And this “global change” is far from finished.
Next candidate: the Pacific Ocean
In our article A lawyer wants to give legal rights to the Pacific Ocean, we already covered the “long fight of The Institute for Research and Development (IRD) in New caledonia, aiming to give a legal personality to the Pacific Ocean. This achievement would give our ocean legal rights, defensible in court against companies, individuals or even countries that are hurting it… ”
The success of the concept can clearly be seen in the Pacific Ocean area, for a really good reason. Here, the threat of climate change is really frightening: most of the islanders have no much land to take refuge on. Take a look at this post on Kiribati islands. For insular countries, their short term survival is at stake.
Ancient concepts renewed!
Another reason for this different attitude may be that, having been colonized last, most of the populations scattered around our massive Ocean have kept a more respectful concept of Nature. Not long ago, one or two centuries in the past, most Pacifican native cultures still conceptualized the environment as a vast hierarchy of spiritual entities. In those times, spiritual nearly meant legal…
Then came the European way of thinking, with an outrageous orientation towards exploitation of nature, perceived like an infinite ressource! Now that this once triumphal vision is showing its limits, it’s easier for those who, not long ago, perceived Nature as some sort of global living being, to join up to fight for its legal rights.