Legal rights for nature: workable or flawed idea?

I’ve been hearing more and more discussion about this ‘movement’ lately.

What are your thoughts?

Coming at this from my political theory background, it seems to me that granting legal personality to non-humans isn’t anything new (cf. the whole of corporate law, Roman and medieval ways to characterise collections of things or people, or even the State as a concept). From a practical standpoint for particulars, it’s more a matter of shifting our legal narrative about nature from human rights and national interest to intrinsic rights of nature, many of the protections sought could and were already granted under those regimes. It might make advocacy easier and change the discourse but I don’t think legally it would be all that impactful either way on the short term.

That said, long-term this could be a paradigm shift comparable to the emergence of the State (from interpersonal rights and contracts to impersonal institutions). These legal fictions end up shaping our representations, expectations and behaviour in extremely profound ways and I’m hoping a form of thinking ourselves as “custodians” could help us solve some of the big problems looming over us, beyond even environmental questions.


My gut reaction is that this would draw an even deeper separation between us and Nature, making her a legal counterpart, wich is the wrong way to go.

And people who break the old laws about environment will break the new ones too.


it’s a beautiful idea.

Unfortunately the places that need the help the most, largely tend to lack the sovereignty to enact any meaningful legislation to actually enforce discouraging consequences (the penalty for crimes against nature in Ecuador is only about 25 years in prison, even in extreme cases, this is the same penalty as the equivalent of capital murder) to provide consistent protection across their territories. There will always be someone with needs great enough to justify the risk of these penalties, at least on a basis of an individual violator, like a mammal poacher for example, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of the large scale environmental destruction occurring by “artisanal” national, and international mining firms both with and without legal concessions in south america.

The same folks signing legislation to “protect the rights of nature” are in the next breath, renewing, and in many cases expanding existing mining concessions, despite massive public opposition to these measurably harmful operations.

with respect to the wonderful folks of both countries, unfortunately both Bolivia and Ecuador are perfect examples of this dichotomy of mentality.

Shareholders desires for continuously increasing profits that rely on destroying habitats for humans and wildlife will unfortunately, likely always outweigh public opinion and/or reason.


That’s my fear. Much of the environmental degradation that’s happened (and will continue to happen) is by powerful players who have powerful legal teams to defend themselves against their environmental crimes. If anything, they’ll just get better at hiding/destroying/buying-off evidence and creating new delay tactics.

The assumption that strong international laws will correct corporate and human misbehaviour and create fair justice results for all, well… look around.

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New Zealand had begun this already. Respecting the Maori tradition.

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And I notice that many of the strongly anti-government people also seem to lack any sense of interpersonal responsibility. I have no reason to think that the case would be different in regard to nature.

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