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.
- Linda Sheehan, "Implementing Rights of Nature through Sustainability Bills of Rights," New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law 13(1) (June 2015)
- Santa Monica Sustainability Bill of Rights Ordinance (April 2013) (ELC co-drafted)
- Video, “Sustainability Bill of Rights for Santa Monica,” Santa Monica City College, CA (Nov. 2011)
- Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (co-organizer)
- Bay Area Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal (Oct. 2014): Summary Video (co-organizer and Prosecutor)
- Bay Area Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal (Oct. 2014): Full Day’s Video and Summaries
- Santa Monica City Council Resolution calling for the Sustainability Rights Ordinance (Jan. 24, 2012)
- Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan (Jan. 2014)
- City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Home Rule Charter, Title 6, Art. 1, Ch. 618, "Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling Ordinance" (Nov. 2010) (includes model rights of nature language)
- Transition Network