What If Nature Had Rights, Just Like People and Corporations?
In most countries, Nature has the legal status of property. This means that our current laws protect Nature only for the benefit of people and corporations and not Nature itself.
We envision a future in which humans and Nature flourish together.
Earth Law is the idea that ecosystems have the right to exist, thrive, and evolve—and that Nature should be able to defend its rights in court, just like people can.
Despite decades of environmental legislation, Earth’s health continues to decline. Because our current laws protect Nature only for the benefit of people and corporations, profit usually takes priority over Nature. Even when environmental issues are brought to court, people must prove that the environmental damage violates their own rights since the environment has no rights of its own.
Earth Law changes this model by giving ecosystems the same rights as people and corporations. This means that people can defend an ecosystem’s rights in court without having to prove that their own human rights were violated.
Under Earth Law, courts assess monetary awards by looking at the cost of restoring ecosystems to their undamaged natural state. This allows for the defense of Nature in the courts—not only for the benefit of people, but also for the sake of Nature itself.
Earth Law Ensures Strong Economies and Human Rights
Earth Law argues that humans and Nature are not at odds but are deeply connected and dependent on one another. Around the world, fisheries are collapsing, forests shrinking, soils eroding, rangelands deteriorating, water tables falling, sea levels rising, glaciers melting, and species disappearing. By defending the overall health of our planet, Earth Law will ensure that our planet can continue to support a thriving global economy.
Where the environment is harmed, people suffer from disease, violence, and shortages of food and water. Human rights and environmental rights are intertwined and rely on each other. We have published two reports highlighting the connections between natural and human rights violations.
Many different entities play a role in protecting Nature’s rights. Governments, nonprofits and active citizens can all detect threats and bring issues to court. Guardians can be appointed to protect ecosystems and management boards can ensure that Nature’s rights aren’t violated.
At the end of the day, people must enforce Nature’s rights. Enforcement will become easier as communities increasingly act on their right to contribute to decisions affecting their local environments.
Earth Law is Working Today
Earth Law is already working today. Ecuador and Bolivia are leading the way by passing laws to ensure that ecosystems have the same rights as people and corporations.
In Ecuador, the Quechua hold a united worldview of humans and Nature, in which both belong to an interdependent global community. This perspective inspired the revised 2008 Ecuadorian 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." Similarly, Bolivia grants Mother Earth the right to life and regeneration, biodiversity, clean water and air, and restoration, among others.
In addition, local governments around the world have stepped up legal protections for their environments. The Whanganui River in New Zealand has appointed guardians who have a responsibility to protect the River and act as its voice. The Atrato River in Columbia has legally been granted rights to “protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration.” Numerous municipalities in the United States have enacted environmental legislation with the help of Earth Law Center, including Santa Monica, CA.
In 2009 the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Harmony with Nature, which works to construct a new model of our relationship with Nature in a way that considers the whole environment and not just humans.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can the environment take issues to court?
Earth Law calls for a system in which humans represent ecosystems in court. Earth Law is unique because it states that people can advocate for an ecosystem’s rights without having to prove that their own human rights were violated. This means that the rights of Nature exist and can be enforced on their own, even if they don’t directly affect of the rights of people. Under Earth Law, courts assess monetary awards by looking at the cost of restoring ecosystems to their pre-damaged state.
Rights for dolphins make sense because they're intelligent like humans. But why should sea slugs and barnacles have rights?
Rights for dolphins capture the popular imagination because dolphins are intelligent, social, and self-aware. But in the web of life all creatures play a key role, not just intelligent ones. Each and every species plays a critical part in earth’s ecosystems and deserves the right to thrive.
Earth Law comes from a worldview that respects life for itself and does not value creatures based on their skill or intelligence.
Legal change is always so slow, will Earth Law arrive soon enough to help the planet?
People make sudden change possible. We have seen many examples around the world where laws have been proposed and passed quickly due to mass public support.
If enough people support Earth Law, change will happen quickly. Earth Law Center is part of a growing group of concerned citizens who are committed to making Earth Law the next movement for change. By campaigning together, we can protect our planet for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.