File this under what Twitchy called “What Happens When Environmentalist Idiots Have Too Much Time on Their Hands.” If some environmentalists have their way, land, rivers and parks would be granted personhood status with all the rights granted to, well, persons. And, Outside Magazine reported Wednesday, the movement is actually gaining ground.
And it’s not something that’s never been done, as Devon O’Neil reports:
Two years ago, when New Zealand’s government granted legal personhood to one of its 13 national parks—Te Urewera, a lush, forested landscape teeming with trails and waterfalls on the North Island—some 821 square miles was suddenly protected not as land but as a citizen.
The law was called the Te Urewera Act, and its purpose was this: “to establish and preserve in perpetuity a legal identity and protected status for Te Urewera for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance.” Suddenly, the land’s management board had a powerful tool for upholding natural protections in court, including the ability to file lawsuits on behalf of the land itself. In a similar case that is ongoing, New Zealand’s Parliament introduced a bill to grant legal personhood to the nation’s third longest river, the Whanganui; it is expected to pass later this year. Local Maori tribes had long argued they owned Te Urewera and the Whanganui, but they hadn’t made headway until the idea emerged to cede ownership to the earth itself.
That’s right — the government of New Zealand made a park a person and is now considering that status for a river.
Moreover, similar laws are on the books in Ecuador and Bolivia and a group in India wants a law to protect the Ganges River.
That’s crazy, you say. That’ll never happen in the United States, you add.
Think again… According to O’Neil, if a group of activists have their way, we can start seeing these kind of laws right here in the USA.
“I think [the act’s rationale] can work in America, Canada, Australia—we all share very similar legal jurisdictions and I can see it applying in a very similar way as it has here,” said University of Otago law professor JacintaRuru says. “The trick to enabling that and getting everyone to buy into it and believe in it is really the management regime that sits over top of it.”
Imbuing landscapes with civil liberties is an idea gaining ground around the world. It’s fueled by a principle called “rights of nature,” which holds that mountains, rivers, and ecosystems should have entitlements, just like we do. The idea was broached by University of Southern California law professor Christopher Stone in a 1972 paper titled, “Should trees have standing?” It became the concept’s definitive explanation, and its legacy endures today. “We sort of picked up where his work left off, thinking this actually could work in law and it might resonate really well with indigenous groups,” Ruru says of Stone’s paper.
And, he notes, a group of 20 activists, environmental lawyers and indigenous people from North and South America are heading to New Zealand to learn about their law and how they can push it in the New World.
“I think it’s the most revolutionary piece of legislation anywhere in the world,” said Shannon Biggs, director of San Francisco-based Movement Rights. “We work with communities passing local laws that recognize something similar—rights of nature—but this goes much further. The potential to radically shift how we protect ecosystems is embedded in what they are doing there.”
Biggs, O’Neil said, is planning the New Zealand trip.
“The future can look like New Zealand,” she said. “It’s not scary. We’re not talking about shutting down the American dream, we’re actually talking about how do we rebuild it so it’s a viable one that can be shared with future generations. It’s kind of inevitable.”
Reaction to the report was, well, predictable.
Wait. What? https://t.co/ND9lS4Mtav
— Kathleen McKinley (@KatMcKinley) August 5, 2016
Sigh – I'm a liberal, but do you know how stupid this sounds?
— Dave (@RetireInReutte) August 5, 2016
I'm thinking a river shouldn't achieve personhood status before a human unborn child. Just me.
— Kathleen McKinley (@KatMcKinley) August 5, 2016
How about rivers still in the fetal stage? https://t.co/mbO19hPSxt
— Jason (@jasonelevation) August 5, 2016
What’s scary is that if Democrats win in November, this kind of legislation could easily come to pass. After all, they want to prosecute and jail those who disagree with global warming dogma.
Exit question: Would that mean the Grand Canyon would have the right to keep and bear arms?
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