Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT DOES "Rights of Nature" MEAN?
In most countries, nature has the legal status of property. In contrast, Earth Law argues that nature has inherent rights, and legally should have the same protection as people and corporations. Earth Law will enable the defense of the environment in court—not only for the benefit of people, but for the sake of nature itself.
HOW is EARTH LAW an improvement ON CURRENT ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION?
Despite decades of environmental legislation, Earth’s health continues to decline. Under the present system, the environment has no voice in decision-making and cannot bring issues to court. Our current laws protect nature only for the benefit of people and corporations, which means that economic outcomes typically overshadow environmental consequences. Even when environmental issues are brought to court, people have to prove that the damage infringes on their own rights, since the environment has no rights itself.
Earth Law will enable people to defend nature in the courts for the sake of nature itself. Earth Law aims to protect the environment for all creatures. It ensures true environmental protection via proactive action and effective restoration projects.
WILL EARTH LAW DAMAGE THE ECONOMY?
We believe the economy cannot survive without an environment to support it.
Fisheries are collapsing, forests shrinking, soils eroding, rangelands deteriorating, water tables falling, sea levels rising, glaciers melting, and species disappearing. By ensuring that our economy supports the overall health of our planet, Earth Law will ensure that our planet can continue to support our economy.
WILL EARTH LAW PUT HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK?
Nature’s rights benefit human rights. Where the environment is harmed, people suffer from disease, violence, and land loss. Therefore, in many situations, both human and environmental rights are supportable without conflict, and indeed would support each other. ELC has published two reports highlighting the connections between natural and human rights violations.
Conflicts do arise, but when they do, it is first important to distinguish desires from rights. Human desires, such as verdant golf courses in dry climates, are not human rights. With genuine conflict, as in all aspects of the law, the proper response is compromise, putting minimal restrictions on both sets of rights.
“RIGHTS FOR DOLPHINS MAKE SENSE, because they're intelligent like humans. BUT WHY SHOULD sea slugs and BARNACLES HAVE RIGHTS?"
Rights for dolphins capture the popular imagination because dolphins are smart. But more intelligent creatures are not more important to the web of life. Each and every species plays a critical part in earth’s ecosystems, and deserves the right to thrive.
Earth Law comes from a worldview that respects life for itself, and does not value creatures based on their skill or intelligence.
how can the environment take issues to COURT?
Earth Law calls for a system of jurisprudence in which ecosystems are seen in court represented by humans. The unique aspect of Earth Law is that humans can advocate for an ecosystem’s rights without needing to prove that their own human rights were infringed upon. This means that the rights of nature are enforceable independently of the rights of people. Under Earth Law, courts assess monetary awards by looking at the cost of restoring ecosystems to their pre-damaged state.
HOW CAN EARTH LAW BE ENFORCED?
Numerous bodies play a role in enforcing nature’s rights. Governments, not-for-profits, and active citizens can all detect threats and bring issues to court. Guardianship bodies can be appointed to protect ecosystems. Management boards comprised of court-appointed specialists can ensure that activities or proposed projects do not violate nature’s rights.
At the end of the day, people must enforce nature’s rights. Enforcement will become easier as communities increasingly act on their right to contribute to decisions affecting their environment.
Has Earth Law been enacted before?
Two countries, Ecuador and Bolivia, are leading the way in Earth Law, where ecosystems have the same rights as people and corporations.
In Ecuador, the Quechua hold a united worldview of humans and nature, where both belong to an interdependent global community. This perspective inspired the 2008 revised Ecuadorian constitution, which reads: "We ... hereby decide to build a new form of public coexistence, in diversity and in harmony with nature, to achieve the good way of living." Similarly, Bolivia grants Mother Earth the right to life and regeneration, biodiversity, clean water and air, and restoration, among others.
Local governments have also stepped up legal protections for their environments. The Whanganui River in New Zealand has appointed guardians who have a responsibility to protect the River and act as its voice. The Atrato River in Columbia has legally been granted rights to “protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration.” Numerous municipalities in the United States have enacted environmental legislation, including Santa Monica, CA, with the help of ELC.
From an international perspective, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Harmony with Nature in 2009. Harmony with Nature works to construct a new paradigm of our relationship with Nature in a non-anthropocentric way. It catalogs member states’ law and policies securing Rights of Nature.
LEGAL CHANGE IS ALWAYS SO SLOW, WILL EARTH LAW ARRIVE SOON ENOUGH TO HELP THE PLANET?
People make sudden change possible. We have seen many examples worldwide where laws have been proposed and passed quickly due to mass public support.
If enough people support Earth Law, change will happen quickly. ELC is part of a growing group of concerned citizens who are committed to making Earth Law the next movement for change. By campaigning together we can protect our planet for generations to come.