Rights of Nature

photo by Nancy Sefton

Rights of Nature

In the United States of America, nature has no rights. Nature has no agency. Nature has no standing in a court of law. This comes as a surprise to many of us.

This is the result of the common paradigm we have in this country—the belief that nature is property.  A property owner may extract or harvest any product from nature with no legal responsibility to the air, or to the water, or to the soil, or to any natural life that may be impacted. Our country’s environmental laws were derived from this paradigm. The inability of Standing Rock to protect the water in North Dakota from the construction of an oil pipeline through a river is an example of the power of this paradigm.

The Kitsap Environmental Coalition is drawing from a different paradigm; a belief that we don’t own nature but we are all a part of nature. The nature of nature is to abundantly thrive by all working together. Together means considering the welfare of all aspects of nature. This paradigm is in keeping with that of the beliefs of Native populations.

The 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 being 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.”


Thomas Berry wrote, “If each part of nature had a vote, humans would be voted off the planet.”

Change is slow but it is beginning:

  • Ecuador was the first country to place the rights of nature in their constitution.
  • New Zealand allowed a river to flow free, a river slated to be filled in by road
  • construction. The road found a different route.
  • In 2006, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania banned the dumping of toxic sewer sludge as a violation of the Rights of Nature. Tamaqua was the first U.S. location to recognize the Rights of Nature in law. Since 2006 dozens of communities in ten states in the U.S. have enacted Rights of Nature laws.
  • Toledo, Ohio, animated by 3 days without water, passed an initiative for the rights of Lake Erie, only to be sued the next day by the State Attorney General and the Farm Bureau. The challenge was that Toledo’s initiative was not legal.

The Kitsap Environmental Coalition seeks to recognize nature’s rights locally and more broadly within the northwest ecosystem.

Expect continued attention to this issue globally.