Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT DOES NATURE HAVING RIGHTS MEAN?
In most countries, nature has the legal status of property. Earth Law will give ecosystems the same rights as people and corporations, as is the case in Ecuador and Bolivia already. Formal recognition for nature’s inherent right to exist and flourish will help humanity to restore balance in the global environment.
HOW IS EARTH LAW AN IMPROVEMENT ON CURRENT ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION?
Despite decades of environmental legislation, Earth’s health continues to decline. Because laws have focused on protecting nature for the benefit of people, economic outcomes have overshadowed environmental consequences. Some laws even legalize harm to the planet by permitting a certain amount of pollution or exploitation.
Under the present system, the environment has no voice in decision-making and cannot bring issues to court. Only people can bring environmental harm to the law’s attention. Even then, they have to prove that the damage directly impacts on their rights. 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 protection, proactive and preventative actions, and effective restoration projects.
WILL EARTH LAW DAMAGE THE ECONOMY?
Fisheries are collapsing, forests shrinking, soils eroding, rangelands deteriorating, water tables falling, sea levels rising, glaciers melting, and species disappearing. The economy cannot survive without an environment to support it.
Earth Law will restore balance by ensuring that our economy supports the overall health of our planet, rather than ecosystems being a subset of the economy.
HOW WILL EARTH LAW HELP THE WORLD'S MANY OTHER PROBLEMS?
Earth Law connects with an ancient worldview which recognizes that humans and nature belong to an interdependent global community. In Ecuador, the Quechua know this worldview as "sumak kawsay." Sumak kawsay inspired the 2008 revised Ecuadorean 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." (1)
Earth Law represents a fundamental and systemic change to our current system of law. Under Earth Law every member of the global community, human and non-human, has inherent, non-removable rights. It presents an opportunity to address all the problems the present system has caused, locally and globally.
LEGAL CHANGE IS ALWAYS SO SLOW, WILL EARTH LAW ARRIVE SOON ENOUGH TO HELP THE PLANET?
If enough people support Earth Law, change will happen quickly. We have seen many examples worldwide where laws have been proposed and passed in a matter of days to months. Few believed the Berlin Wall would fall or that apartheid would end, but it happened.
People make sudden change possible. Let’s make Earth Law the next movement for change. By campaigning together we can protect our planet for generations to come.
WILL EARTH LAW PUT HUMAN RIGHTS AT RISK?
With Earth Law in place there will be times when nature’s rights conflict with other rights, including human rights. The legal system has experience of resolving such problems because rights conflict happens all the time.
The first step is to eliminate fake conflicts by asking if both sets of rights are supportable. A river may be able to supply a human population while retaining enough water for adequate flow. We can also ask if the conflict is real. In some cases desires, such as verdant golf courses, are confused with rights.
The second step is to balance conflicted rights. With genuine conflict, the custom is to compromise, putting minimal restrictions on both sets of rights. This happens in human rights conflicts, with governing bodies deciding how to treat all parties fairly. Under Earth Law, when balancing the rights of people and nature, part of treating people fairly will be remembering that they need the environment in order to live.
Nature’s rights benefit human rights. Where the environment is harmed, people suffer from disease, violence, and land loss. ELC has published two reports highlighting the deep connection between nature’s rights violations and human rights violations. (https://www.earthlawcenter.org/co-violations- of-rights/?rq=Co- Violations).
WILL EARTH LAW MEAN THAT WE'LL SEE PILES OF ROCK SITTING IN COURT?
Under Earth Law, the rights of nature are enforceable independently of the rights of people. However, humans can step into the shoes of an ecosystem and advocate for its rights. Earth Law calls for a system of jurisprudence in which ecosystems are actually seen in court, in the shape of human representatives. Under Earth Law, courts assess how much money to award by looking at the cost of restoring ecosystems to their pre-damaged state.
HOW CAN EARTH LAW BE ENFORCED?
People must enforce nature’s rights. Governments and active citizens detect threats and bring issues to court. Guardianship bodies also have a role. For the Whanganui River in New Zealand, for example, the court has appointed guardians who have a responsibility to protect the River and act as its voice.*
Management boards comprised of court-appointed specialists can ensure that activities or proposed projects do not violate nature’s rights. These boards aim for a holistic approach, weighing the costs and benefits to all affected parties and basing decisions on what is best for the whole.
Enforcement will become easier as communities increasingly act on their right to input into decisions affecting their environment. In Ecuador, the courts granted a Constitutional injunction in favor of the Vilcabamba River against the Provincial Government of Loja. Lawyer Carlos Eduardo Bravo González advised the plaintiffs and presented the case. (2)
* The Whanganui River court decision included a financial award which will pay for enforcement activities in the future.
“RIGHTS FOR DOLPHINS MAKE SENSE AS THEY'RE INTELLIGENT LIKE HUMANS, BUT WHY SHOULD SEA SLUGS AND BARNACLES HAVE RIGHTS?"
Rights for dolphins capture the popular imagination because we recognize that they are smart. Rights for mice are less often called for. Who decided that a certain level of cleverness earns a creature more rights?
If rights depend on intelligence, are smarter humans more deserving of rights than others? Of course not. Earth Law comes from a worldview that respects life for itself, and does not judge humans and other creatures by what they can do.
(1) https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/buen- vivir-philosophy- south-america- eduardo-gudynas