There’s a hunters’ nightmare in which a group of them flush some rabbits out of the brush, but rather than scampering away, the furry bunnies turn toward their stalkers. “Run!” shouts one of the hunters. “Run for your lives! The rabbits have guns!”
Arming animals would make the sport of hunting a bit more sporting, wouldn’t it? Well, what if we did give all wildlife a fighting chance against the destructive firepower of profiteers who so carelessly ravage their habitats and kill them off? Of course, we can’t arm nature with guns, but we could recognize that other species and ecosystems are living creatures with intrinsic legal rights to exist and flourish, thus giving nature its day in court to defend its well-being.
Like us humans, the lakes, forests, wildlife, etc. could have legal status to sue and be represented by lawyers to protect themselves from mindless exploitation, injury and death. This Rights of Nature concept is already being applied in such countries as Ecuador and New Zealand, and more than three dozen U.S. cities and towns have passed grassroots ordinances acknowledging that various natural resources in their areas have inherent rights to take polluters and other despoilers to court.
Ironically, the corporate powers — who have perverted law, logic and nature to have their lifeless profiteering entities declared “persons” — are aghast that Mother Nature not only has rights but those rights can be legally and morally superior to the claim that a corporation’s right to profit is absolute.
At its core, the Rights of Nature movement is asserting the obvious: Earth’s biosphere is not a free candy store for our taking. Water, land, air and fellow creatures are not our property. We are one with the natural world and must find ways to cooperate fully with its health for our own survival. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is working to help ordinary people bring the Rights of Nature laws into their communities. We cannot count on our so-called leaders in Washington to save our natural resources from corporate profiteers. We the People must take a stand.
The real site of America’s founding was not in such stately venues as Independence Hall but in America’s countless taverns, pubs and saloons of the late 1700s. Free-flowing spirits, mixed with the spirit of rebellion, generated big ideas and passionate, often rowdy arguments about democratic rights.
Indeed, “pub democracy” remains one of the last and best sources for generating (and plotting) anti-establishment movements. No surprise, then, that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights was conceived a few years ago by a hardy group of rebels quaffing beers in a Toledo, Ohio, pub. In 2014, residents of this city on the edge of Lake Erie were sickened by a toxic algae bloom that poisoned their drinking water. State officials were in the pocket of polluters who caused the bloom, so they did nothing to protect the lake and community from more poisoning.
Well, thought the pub party, what if Lake Erie could protect itself by establishing its own legal right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve?” From that fertile thought, the group drafted the lake’s bill of rights as a proposed amendment to the city’s charter. They defied local naysayers by getting double the number of signatures required to put the bill of rights on the ballot, beat back the power structure’s legal ploy to deny a vote on the proposal and mounted a door-to-door people’s campaign to counter a media blitz partially funded by such giants as Coca-Cola, FedEx and PhRMA. And they won! In the February election, 61% of Toledo’s voters said YES to recognizing legally enforceable rights for the natural world.
Supercilious corporate elites, however, refuse to let such a trifling matter as the will of the people interfere with their sense of entitlement to poison for profit. So they’ve now gotten top Ohio officials to shill for them in a court filing asserting that the state is the “proprietor in trust” of Lake Erie. Thus, they claim that local voters (i.e., Toledo’s people) have no power to deny so-called corporate “persons” permission to pollute real, live, breathing people’s water.
Of course, the democracy rebels are not about to back down. Keep up with them at Toledoans for Safe Water, www.LakeErieAction.org.
Jim Hightower is a columnist, political activist and author who served as commissioner of Texas Department of Agriculture.