Defending the Rights of Nature

The Colorado Supreme Court this week refused to reconsider its ruling in the Martinez Case that asserted that oil and gas regulators do not have to make health and environmental protection their top priority.

The plaintiffs in the case, including young indigenous and Latino activists, had argued that a lower court judge might have been biased against them. Judge Laurie Booras resigned from the court this month after a disciplinary panel found that she used racial slurs for a Native American woman and a Latina who was a fellow Court of Appeals Judge.

The Martinez Case is one of several similar lawsuits around the country that asserts that the health and safety of people and the environment need to be considered before oil and gas permits be given out. Another legal tactic to protect the environment that is gaining traction around the country and the world is asserting the Rights of Nature.


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photo: The Colorado River – the Colorado River was the subject of a recent attempt to legally assert the Rights of Nature.


A Rights of Nature symposium  will happen at the Lafayette public library this Saturday February 2nd. Grant Wilson of Boulder Rights of Nature, organizers of the symposium, and the Directing Attorney at the  Earth Law Center says Rights of Nature is a response to a global and environmental crisis.  “People are desperate for solutions as we see climate change, biodiversity loss, and sea level rise; Rights of Nature is one elegant solution to elevate the status of nature under the law and hopefully solve some of the exceedingly difficult environmental challenges.”

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature defines the idea as “the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights.”

“The first country to constitutionally recognize the rights of nature was Ecuador in 2008, and since then, Nature has been in the courts fighting for its own rights… In the last few years, we’ve seen rights recognized for specific ecosystems. In New Zealand, the Whanganui River is recognized as a legal entity possessing rights… The Whanganui decision also sparked a precedent in other countries. In Colombia, there was a judge who without a rights of nature law to look at declared that a river, the Atrato River, is a legal entity with rights. The judge made this decision because he recognized that the right to clean water for humans is dependent upon healthy ecosystems, and we’re not gonna have clean rivers if these rivers aren’t being recognized as themselves having rights.”

Wilson says the US only sees human beings and corporations as having person-hood, with things like land and animals being viewed as property. “We see in our legal system as with most legal systems across the world nature is defined as property to be bought and sold by humans, it’s treated as a commodity to be exploited for profit and environmental protections are often treated as a cost in our legal and economic system.”

Hailey Hawkins, a board member with Boulder Rights of Nature, says there are many speakers presenting at Saturday’s symposium that will connect the dots between many different environmental issues. “At the symposium we’re going to learn what Rights of Nature is…we’re going to really dive into that. We’ll also look at what the implementation would mean for us here in Boulder…and we’re also going to explore how it is being implemented in other places around the country and how other communities are benefiting from it. If folks have ever been even slightly interested in the Rights of Nature, this is the event that they should be at.”

The Boulder Rights of Nature Symposium is this Saturday, the second, at the Lafayette Public Library. The event starts at 10:00am-4:00 pm, with a silent nature walk beginning at 8:00 am, Meet at Flagg Park trailhead by Cole Creek – 12390 Flagg Dr., Lafayette.

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