Land Ordinances

Cities and towns around the United States are adopting laws and policies to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and the environment’s own right to be healthy. Nationwide, roughly three dozen communities have adopted local laws that protect the rights of nature, particularly from threats such as hydrofracking and mining. ELC's Earth Community map highlights many examples of such local laws. 


Advised by Earth Law Center and community groups, the City Council of Santa Monica unanimously passed in 2013 a Sustainability Rights Ordinance, which recognizes that “natural communities and ecosystems possess fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and flourish in the City of Santa Monica.” The Ordinance also articulates the rights of Santa Monicans to self-governance, a healthy environment, and sustainable living, and protects these rights from acts by corporate entities. Currently, Santa Monica leaders are examining the role that the Sustainability Rights Ordinance can play in providing extra protection to the City’s aquifer.



Local communities are also banding together regionally to raise awareness and take action for nature's rights. In early 2014, ELC co-founded the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARoNA), to bring together communities in the San Francisco Bay Area to fight for rights of nature locally. BARoNA’s October 2014 Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal, held in Oakland, examined nature’s rights violations caused by spills and accidents at the Chevron Refinery in nearby Richmond, California. A second Tribunal in 2016 examined rights violations of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, and proposed specific solutions to achieve thriving waterways.


Local communities must continue to fight the legal and economic system that prioritizes profit over the well-being of people and planet. By implementing the rights of nature and related human rights, we can create new paradigms that reward low-impact trade, locally-grown food, water use compatible with healthy river flows, close interaction with nature, and locally-owned businesses that enhance the well-being of human and natural neighbors.


In 2017 thus far, four rivers have been granted legal personhood status, that is, they have been granted the same legal rights as a juristic person. This includes the Whanganui River in New Zealand, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, and the Atrato River in Colombia. ELC is committed to achieving legal personhood for more rivers and waterways. Learn more.


To correct the environmental problems we face, we must fully understand their scope. Transparency is critical. We also must know who are allies are and reach out to them to work together in this shared effort. ELC maps the data on both problems and allies, to help focus and galvanize the support needed for success.