What is Earth Law?

Earth Law is the growing body of law recognizing that the Earth has inherent rights, and that humans and nature are co-members of a larger Earth Community whose well-being is guaranteed. Rather than treating nature as “property” for human consumption, Earth Law recognizes that nature is an entity with its own rights. Nature's rights are not “given” by humans, but rather are inherent to nature’s existence – just as humans possess inherent rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Earth Law aggregates a multitude of interrelated movements and concepts, including the “right of nature,” ecocide, rights of future generations, and others. Earth Law is also referred to as “Wild Law,” as used in Cormac Cullinan's seminal book of the same name.

For the most part, our human laws ignore the larger body of Earth Law, and we and the planet are paying an increasingly heavy price for that mistake. We must change our laws to recognize the inherent rights of the natural world to exist, thrive, and evolve. That is Earth Law Center’s mission.

Why is Earth Law Important? 

Environment laws have proven inadequate to protect the Earth’s natural systems. Current legal systems treat the natural world as property. Economic and financial systems reward profit-making exploitation of ecosystems as a benefit, and they treat compliance with environment regulations as a cost.

Until our legal system inherently values the rights of nature to exist and thrive, these challenges will accelerate. We must defend and protect nature’s inherent rights through new laws that ensure permanent and lasting change. This is not just good for nature; it is good for us as well. 

Which governments and legal systems recognize the rights of nature?

The 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution, at Articles 71 and 72, endows the environment with inalienable rights to "exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution," and it empowers individuals to legally defend these rights on behalf of the environment. This initiative led to the international adoption, led by Bolivia, of the 2010 Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, presented to the United Nations in April 2011. Since then, this movement has grown further, with a court decision in Ecuador, new national statutes in Bolivia, and treaty agreements in New Zealand all recognizing the rights of nature.

Moreover, dozens of U.S. municipalities from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Santa Monica, California have adopted ordinances granting legal rights to the natural world and enforcement rights to affected communities. Earth Law Center helped spearhead an effort to amend the Vermont state constitution to recognize nature’s rights, and ELC has begun campaigning for waterway “rights to flow” in California.

Notably, many indigenous communities have lived consistently with the inherent rights of nature for centuries. For example, the Andean indigenous tradition of uywa, or “reciprocal nurturance,” acknowledges that humans and nature are equal, caring partners rather than master and servant. Indigenous communities recognize our interconnections as the foundation of ethical relationships, effective self-governance, and exercise of our responsibilities to the natural world.

What does Earth Law Center do to advance Earth Law?

We use a “think, share, and do” approach. Here’s how each step works:

Think: We use law, economics, philosophy, and science to examine the problem at hand. We develop materials that reinforce the need for a system of legal rights for the natural world. We publish widely across geographic and discipline boundaries.

Share: We speak on behalf of the rights of nature to a broad range of audiences, from the public, to local and state governments, to universities, to the United Nations. We conduct a graduate-level Earth Law class for law, ecology, and philosophy students. These efforts support our mission to build a global force of advocates for the inherent rights of nature in legal, economic, and governance systems.

Do: We advocate for the rights of nature at the local, state, and international levels, with a particular focus on the rights of waterways to flow. We draft new laws, advocate for Earth rights in court cases, and work with scientists to define “healthy” ecosystems. We promote the development, adoption, and effective implementation of laws that recognize the inherent rights of the natural world.

In what areas do we focus?

Earth Law Center works at the international level, through the United Nations and other forums, and at the state and local levels to push for reforms that recognize the rights of nature.

We focus on four areas: 

What can people do to support ELC’s work to recognize and defend nature’s rights?

There are many ways to support ELC’s work and become an advocate for the inherent rights of nature; you don’t have to be a lawyer to help. We welcome volunteers with a variety of skills including photography, videography, graphic design, web support, social media, marketing, and research.

Everyone’s contributions are important. Email us to share your interest areas and expertise. When you volunteer to assist ELC in our work, you will gain valuable experience as you support a worthy cause. And please consider a donation to ELC to support us all in this shared effort. We welcome you in this movement! 

To keep up with ELC’s activities, sign up for our newsletter and become part of our social media community.

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Get Social With Us

If you would like to get involved with a local group in your area, use our Earth Community map to identify Earth rights-centered organizations near you. If you don’t see what you are looking for, start a group! Or contact us and we will put you in touch with like-minded folks near you.

Finally – spread the word! Tell your friends about the rights of nature movement and forward our website. We look forward to hearing from you!

Let’s fight for laws that protect the inherent rights of nature.