The Right to a Clean Environment for Humans and Nature

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For those who fight to save the environment and animals, particularly the last several years, it is just that, a fight. It has been an uphill battle often frustrating and even discouraging. But we plug away and carry on because we know the work we are doing is so very important.

The laws we have today do not make polluting the Earth illegal. The laws are insufficient to prevent pollution. They are only set up to regulate pollution and destruction after the fact rather than stop it. The burden is placed on the citizens fighting for their own health and that of the Earth and its animals. It has been a long, tiring, backward way of protecting the planet or anything for that matter. Who would willingly eat a poisonous plant first and then look it up to see if it really is poisonous?

But there is hope.

For some years now there has been a movement around the world and in communities across the United States to change this. Today it is gaining more momentum and attention. That is a movement to change our laws to protect the Natural Wold from pollution and destruction. Laws that would prevent pollution and destruction before it happens. Radical, huh?

Communities and countries are approaching it in different ways but they all involve rights.

One approach is granting Nature Rights. Some countries and now some communities in the United States are granting Nature Rights. They recognize Her Right to property, rights to exist and flourish, or rights to be restored. These laws are applied to Nature, which includes rivers, ecosystems, natural communities, glaciers, species, and the animal kingdom. It recognizes Nature and its inhabitants as having intrinsic value just by existing and not how they benefit humans.

Ecuador and Bolivia were the first countries to honor and recognize Mother Earth’s Rights. Both countries made it a part of their constitutions. Ecuador in 2008 and Bolivia in 2010. Bolivia’s Constitutional law is called The Law of the Rights of Mother Earth and recognizes Her Right to life, diversity of life, water, clean air, and restoration, among others.

Since then other countries have followed suit such as India and New Zealand.

Communities in the US are recognizing Nature’s right to flourish. On February 26, 2019 Toledo, Ohio citizens passed a referendum by 61% granting Lake Erie the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve”. The citizens have the right to sue polluters on the lake’s behalf. It was all done through a ballot initiative. It is the first time a natural resource has been granted legal status in the United States. Hopefully not the last.
These Nature Rights create a balance from the human centered laws we have today. They recognize that other lives have intrinsic value and inalienable rights. It creates a balance that recognizes that all life is connected and only a fair and equal balance will keep the Earth and Life on it functioning as it has for so long before humans. With Nature Rights laws it takes humans out of the center.

Another approach that is moving through the US is a Green Amendment movement. This makes a clean healthy environment a constitutional human right as much as the right to free speech.

Like many movements it starts in local communities. In 2013 Maya K. van Rossum was one of the original petitioners who fought and won a watershed victory in Pennsylvania that strengthened the state’s constitutional Environmental Rights Amendment, protecting people’s right to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment. She has been lecturing communities across the US ever since mobilizing people to pass a Green Amendment in their state’s constitution.

Out of fifty states Pennsylvania is the only state with such a constitutional right. Other states have provisions in their constitutions but it is a far cry from an actual right. They are merely a public policy instead of a legal right. In other words, mainly a suggestion. Fifteen states don’t even have provisions for the right to a clean environment. Of course there is nothing in the US constitution recognizing a clean environment as a human right at all.

As Maya van Rossum points out in her book The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment, these constitutional amendments need to be worded right with strong language making it a legal and constitutional right on par with your right to free speech or due process.

The beauty of both of these approaches is both involve amending federal constitutions making it a legal right, not a suggestion. The problem with environmental laws like the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act, while great advances at the time, are subject to the whim of the legislature and can be changed, or often ignored, depending on who is in office. They are only as good as the leaders elected to enforce them.

With constitutional amendments, just as with free speech, it is locked in. Polluters can be taken to court for violating your right to a clean environment or a species right to live and flourish. The burden is on the polluters.

Along these same lines others are not waiting for a constitutional amendment. They feel they already have a constitutional right to a clean environment. Our Children’s Trust argues we have a legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere. The atmosphere is a public trust and the United States government, knowing about Climate Change for over 50 years, knowingly and willingly violated that trust placing it in jeopardy. Their argument is, We all have the same rights to life, liberty, and property — but these rights depend on a safe climate.”

They are a part of the 21 young Juliana plaintiffs who filed suit in 2015 suing the United States government for violating those rights in Juliana v. United States.

Their lawsuit has gained a lot of support. On their website they report:

On March 1, 2019 powerful voices of support for our case filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In all, 15 amicus briefs, filed on behalf of a diverse set of supportive communities, including members of U.S. Congress, legal scholars, religious and women’s groups, businesses, historians, medical doctors, international lawyers, environmentalists, and more than 32,000 youth under the age of 25, displayed legal support for Juliana v. United States to proceed to trial. “

Other cases have popped up around the country with young people suing their state governments for violating their right to a stable atmosphere.

Lawsuits are an effective way to create change when a government is unresponsive to the people refusing to protect citizens as they were sworn to do. It is the one direct way the people have to force change and force laws. That is how the real danger of asbestos was finally addressed. Finally, 30 years after World War II when it was fist used in shipyards and over half a million Americans died from it was a lawsuit finally filed in Tyler, Texas. Now asbestos is almost entirely prohibited in the US.

Each approach deals with the constitutional rights of people, animals and ecosystems. Each one is pushing for constitutional amendments for a right to clean, healthy environments and a stable atmosphere. Constitutional amendments declare and recognize these rights whether rights of nature or for humans, they are constitutional rights no longer subjected to the whims of whoever holds office at the time.

If the US government is so eager to grant rights to nonliving entities like a corporation that has no life, no blood and does not breath air, a thing, then why should it be so hard to recognize the rights and intrinsic value of living breathing creatures and trees and ecosystems that collectively keep our world turning?

A constitutional amendment, especially on the federal level, turns the tables. No longer can industry and government pollute and destroy the Earth and ignore Climate Crisis while millions of citizens scramble to stop it and try to restore what is left. A constitutional amendment forces government and industry to answer to the people and stops them from violating these rights before they happen. It is a game changer.

It is important to remember humans don’t “grant” rights, laws only enforce the rights already there.

They are rights that humans and Nature already have, they are inherent, we just don’t recognize them.

The decision humans have to make is not whether Nature has rights or humans have a right to a clean environment, they do. The decision humans have to make is will we honor those rights.

It is time we stood up and demanded these rights be honored, recognized, and protected.

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature states:

Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights.  It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world.  It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined. “

With the Green New Deal in Washington this is a good time to introduce a constitutional amendment recognizing these rights in this New Deal.

As Maya K. van Rossum writes in The Green Amendment,

“Imagine if we passed a federal constitutional provision to our bill of rights -a Green Amendment to the Constitution- guaranteeing that the government has no more ability to harm your environment than it does to deny you due process or overturn your right to free speech. In courts of law constitutional protection would change wishful thinking abut the environment into a clear and well-deserved entitlement.”

Just imagine what the world would be like…

Now get out and join the movement!

Note: Forgotten Nations is proud to sponsor a community discussion with Maya K. van Rossum on April 23, 2019 for Earth Week. This will be an exciting talk on galvanizing the environmental and animal rights movements. Environmental, animal rights and pet rescue organizations have all been invited to network with the public and make this inspiring talk more than just a memory. Making it a movement. Please join us if you can or invite friends and family living in the area. Sign up at our Facebook Event page to get updates.

Green Amendment Flyer Horiz Revised

 

One Comment on “The Right to a Clean Environment for Humans and Nature

  1. Pingback: Earth Day, Climate Crisis and Me | A Dog's Blog

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