Earth Defenders Launch “One Vote for Nature” Campaign

image1-17.jpeg

By Darlene Lee

From global temperature rise to acidifying oceans, from shrinking ice sheets to rising sea levels [1], it’s no wonder climate change is the biggest global concern for 18 to 35 year olds across the planet.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey of 25,000 young people from 186 countries found that nearly half rank climate change and the destruction of nature as the most serious issue affecting the world today. [2]

Emerging environmental solutions

Is there a solution to the global environmental crisis? Earth Law Center, joining with many organizations and advocates around the world, propose that a paradigm shift in our perspective is critical to strengthening and accelerating our progress in halting the destruction of our natural world.

Rather than seeing nature and the myriad nonhuman species living with us on the planet as objects, the shift is to see them as fellow subjects — that is, deserving of rights to exist, thrive and evolve (just as we expect to have those rights for ourselves and our descendants).

The rights of nature movement is growing worldwide — from Nigeria to France to the United States, to name but a few. So far, much of the movement has focused on giving legal rights to particular ecosystems or recognizing nature’s rights within a particular administrative region; or even a whole country, as is the case with Bolivia and Ecuador.  

But in addition to recognizing nature’s rights, we must also begin to integrate nature into our democratic systems. By doing so, we can ensure that nature has a seat at the table, and that its voice is heard in the decision-making that affects its very existence.

Earth Law Center’s One Vote for Nature Campaign

Building on the drive to recognize rights of nature, the “One Vote for Nature” Campaign seeks to give nature one seat in legislative bodies throughout the world; including city councils, state and national legislatures, and more. By having a voice in decision-making, nature can advocate for its health and very existence by voting on new laws, resolutions, and policies. This approach recognizes the fairness of giving nature a say in the decisions that will impact its well-being. This is fairer than humans making decisions for all of the Earth’s species and ecosystems.

"I was giving a talk at the UN and looked back at the General Assembly, and thought it was amazing that there was no seat for nature," says David Mayer de Rothschild, head of Sculpt the Future Foundation, a charity that supports innovations and creativity in social and environmental impact efforts. de Rothschild - who also founded Adventure Ecology, Myoo Agency and Mpact - also mentioned an idea to create a special envoy for nature at the UN since special envoys for oceans, peace, refugees already exist.

So how does nature get a vote if it can’t speak, at least in the traditional sense? ELC proposes that the basic framework would work as follows: 

  • Nature is given one seat (to start) on every legislative body. This may require amending constitutions, charters, bylaws, etc.
  • A body of experts and scientists represents nature from academia, civil society, indigenous groups, and/or other appropriate individuals.
  • For each issue that comes to a vote, “nature” (as represented by the body of experts) casts its vote based on nature’s best interests.
  • The body of experts also releases a short, science-based memorandum citing scientific, biocultural, and other support for its vote.

Nonhuman government candidates have been elected before

Contrary to what you may think, this would not be the first time a nonhuman candidate has been elected. Although nonhuman electoral candidates have usually been a means of casting a protest vote or satirizing the political system, there have still been scores of examples of nonhuman electoral candidates actually winning. Just in the US, these include:

 A cat named Stubbs

A cat named Stubbs

While these examples may be merely symbolic or even humorous rather than operative, they still support the notion that nonhumans can be elected to public office. If we can flippantly elect cats, dogs, and mules, why not elect representatives of nature to ensure its voice is heard in our democratic processes?

Evening the playing field with corporations

The courts have long treated corporations as persons in limited ways for some legal purposes. They may own property and have limited rights to free speech. They can sue and be sued. They have the right to enter into contracts and advertise their products. [7]

With the landmark Citizens United decision in 2010, the US Supreme Court overturned 20 years of rules that governed the financing of the nation's political campaigns. Corporations can now spend unlimited money in elections. [8] US elections, once founded on the principle of individuals giving limited, disclosed contributions, changed to allow individuals and organizations to give hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars without disclosure.

Consider the disproportionate impact that a few organizations and individuals now have in the US political system based on their contributions:

  • During the 2016 election cycle, the 20 largest organizational donors gave a total of more than $500 million, and more than $1 billion came from the top 40 donors. [9]
  • In the 2012 election just 31,385 donors who make up .01 percent of all Americans contributed more than 28 percent of the money spent. [10]
  • In the 2014 election, just 100 individuals and their spouses contributed 37 percent of the money raised by Super PACS. [11]

Considering the massive political influence corporations have on elections, it makes sense to give nature its own tools to participate in our democracy. While nature is unable to participate in the human-created political finance game, it can be given basic representation in our democratic systems. And best of all, once it has a legislative seat, nature’s vote cannot be bought — even by the richest corporation.

Putting the “One Vote for Nature” Campaign into action

Already, there is strong precedent to build from for ELC’s “One Vote for Nature” Campaign. For example, countries that recognize the rights of nature often appoint guardians to put those rights into practice. In New Zealand, for example, a treaty agreement between the indigenous Māori iwi and the New Zealand government appointed several guardians, including representatives from both the Māori and the government, to implement the rights and interests of the Whanganui River.

Additionally, the rights of the Atrato River in Colombia are being implemented by legal guardians consisting of a governmental and community representative. The community representative, at first envisioned as a single individual, has evolved into a body consisting of several community members who act democratically on behalf of the river.

In taking the next step by giving nature actual legislative seats, we can learn from these models. One important lesson is that local community members that live within an ecosystem in question, especially indigenous peoples, are essential voices for nature. Another lesson is that it does not have to be one single individual that speaks on behalf of nature, it can be many.

Conclusion

While nature has existed from time immemorial, human-created governance emerged only recently. Our governance has greatly benefited many marginalized groups, from minorities to women to persons with disabilities. But it also continues to leave many voices underrepresented. One of those voices is that of nature, whose rights and interests are continually marginalized. By giving nature legislative seats across the world, we can begin to give it the voice it needs.

Want to seek a legislative seat for nature in your own community? Contact Earth Law Center at info@earthlaw.org and let’s get to work.

How else you can help


1.  https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

2.  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/these-are-the-issues-keeping-millennials-awake-at-night-shapers-survey-2017/

3.  http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,788780,00.html

4.  https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/weird/The-Bosco-Ramos-Story-to-be-Immortalized.html

5.  https://www.cnn.com/2012/07/17/us/alaska-cat-mayor/index.html

6.  http://www.businessinsider.com/a-cat-mayor-just-announced-his-campaign-for-senate-in-alaska-2014-11

7.  http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/08/13/duke-the-dog-elected-mayor-in-cormorant-minn/

8.  https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122805666

9.  https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/02/how-citizens-united-changed-campaign-finance/

10.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/15/why-we-still-need-to-worry-about-money-in-politics/?noredirect=on

11. Lioz & Shanton, “ The Money Chase”