Earth Day has come and gone, and most people, if they even participated in any activities, have probably moved on with other things. It’s great to celebrate Earth Day, but the time has come for something beyond just a single day. Something that will make a lasting difference.
What would make a difference is recognizing rights of nature. There is a growing movement in support of this right, especially as environmental degradation worsens, the impacts of climate change become more severe, and more people are calling for healthy and empowered communities.
The city of Santa Monica, California just passed by unanimous vote a Bill of Rights for Sustainability, which authorizes the city to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish.” What this really does is empower citizens to sue on behalf of their local environment. According to Mark Gold, chair of Santa Monica’s Task Force on the Environment, “It was time to shake things up, recognize the existing environmental laws just weren’t doing the job and that sustainability wasn’t actually possible as long as we treat nature as a thing to be exploited.”
This is a step in the right direction that more communities and countries should consider. As noted in previous posts, Ecuador, Bolivia, and over three dozen U.S. municipalities have passed rights of nature laws.
In India, the rights of nature movement is coalescing around cleaning up and protecting sacred rivers such as the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna. The National Ganga Rights Movement has formed over concern that over 3 billion liters of pollution – namely toxic chemicals and sewage – are dumped into the Ganga River.
One-third of India’s 1.2 billion people live near the river, and most depend on it for drinking, cooking, and washing. It is also home to the Ganges river dolphin. According to World Wildlife Fund, the river dolphin “is threatened by removal of river water and siltation arising from deforestation, pollution and entanglement in fisheries nets.”
Despite being one of the world’s most polluted rivers, in Hindu mythology the Ganga is the embodiment of all sacred waters, and therefore to bathe in it is a holy act.
The National Ganga Rights Movement is calling for a National Ganga Rights Act which would, among other things, establish, secure, and defend the inalienable and inherent rights of the Ganga River, its tributaries, and watershed, and the rights of the people of India to a healthy, thriving river basin. And, it “establishes the rights of the people of India and their governments to defend and enforce the rights of the Ganga.”
You can read more about it at Avaaz, and sign a petition in support of the Ganga and rights of nature.
Lest you think there is no precedence, last year New Zealand granted the rights of personhood for the Whanganui River.
In the U.S. we accept corporations as people, so why not extend rights to nature? If we are to truly protect ecosystems in India and around the world, we need to start thinking outside the proverbial box, as well as for the long-term.