Community Earth Law

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. 

Example: Santa Monica, California

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.

Building Community Support for Nature's Rights

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 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.

The Way Forward

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.

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