The Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia)  [Printer-friendly version]

January 8, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania is asserting

the rights of nature in a unique law intended to curb corporate


By Silver Donald Cameron

Hardly anyone noticed it, but one of the most important events of 2006

may prove to have been the passage of the Tamaqua Borough Sewage

Sludge Ordinance, a law enacted by the 7,000 brave souls who inhabit

the community of Tamaqua, Penn.

Tamaqua's revolutionary ordinance does two things. It denies the right

of corporations to spread sewage sludge as fertilizer on farmland,

even when the farmer is willing, and it recognizes natural communities

and ecosystems as legal persons with legal rights. It is among the

first "wild laws" to be passed anywhere in the world.

To understand the importance of wild law, consider this. The law

recognizes as "jural persons" various bodies that are abstractions --

corporations particularly, but also governments, foundations,

universities, churches and other groups. These entities exist in our

collective minds -- you can't touch them, smell them or see them --

but they all have legal rights, particularly property rights.

Yet other entities that are absolutely real in every sense rivers and

trees and animals have no legal rights at all. If Foulwater Mining

Corp. dumps tailings in the river, the downstream town of Feckless

Flats can sue for damage to its water supply. Both the corporation and

the town are fictions, but they have standing in the courts. The river

does not and neither do the plants, fish and animals in the stream.

What if they did? A decade ago, researching The Living Beach, I ran

across a brilliant 1971 essay by Christopher Stone, a law professor at

the University of Southern California, called Should Trees Have

Standing? Towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects.

Stone's essay began at the dividing line between property, with which

we have no ethical relationship, and things-with-rights, with which we

do. There is no "natural" boundary between the two, though we usually

think there is. But, wrote Stone, the history of Western law shows a

steady migration of items of property into the category of things-


In Roman law, a man had absolute power over his children. He could

even put them to death. In 1858, a U.S. court could say explicitly

that "a slave is not a person, but a thing." Natives, Jews, Chinese,

women (especially married women), animals all of these have at various

times been considered property, and have been denied the most basic of

rights. But today, all of them have a substantial basket of rights.

Stone argued that natural objects should have at least three basic

rights: the right to institute legal action at their own behest; the

right to have injuries to them taken into account in determining legal

relief; and the right to benefit from that relief. Since trees and

birds and beaches cannot exercise those rights themselves, individuals

or groups should be able to apply to the court for legal guardianship,

and for the right to litigate on behalf of the natural object.

Stone was arguing for an ethical relationship with nature, and

pleading that we start to think in less "homocentric" terms. We are

not protecting natural objects for future human generations; we are

protecting them for themselves. The environment does not exist for

man; it may be that man exists for the environment.

In 2003, a South African lawyer named Cormac Cullinan expanded these

ideas in a book entitled Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice.

Humans are members of an earth community, Cullinan noted, and we

cannot ignore the rights of that community, which makes our own

existence possible. We need a new body of law whose first priority is

to protect the ecological community in which we live.

This is not a cozy idea. Under such a regime, Nova Scotia Power could

be sued on behalf of polar bears, whose habitat is being destroyed by

the degradation of the air. Since NSP's coal-burning plants are among

Canada's worst polluters, the bears might win the case and you and I

would have to find other ways to generate electricity. That would be

"wild law" with a vengeance.

Wild law could give ocean-bottom plants the right to challenge

Clearwater's bottom-trawling, or a bog the right to an injunction to

block a drainage project. It might allow trees to demand that this

newspaper be published only electronically.

Wild law will not soon gain that kind of traction or will it? Without

rapid and radical change, the days of our own species may be numbered,

and the fundamental justice and sanity of wild law is indisputable.

Once begun, the process of legal change can move surprisingly quickly.

Twenty years ago, who would have thought that an almost universal ban

on smoking in public lay within the realm of possibility?

Peer deeply into the sewage sludge of Tamaqua. It may contain the

future of the law.

Visit Silver Donald Cameron's website at www.silverdonaldcameron.ca

OP 7-Year 2 #1-LIPD Links:   Right Brain Wins    My Elf Replies  Megaphone Links   Rights

Rights 4Nature   Sunset Rights?   HowlTimeMovie    

OP7-Year 2 #1-LIPD    Contents    Specifications    Megaphone Reaches Left Brain   

Megaphone Reaches Right Brain    my support web    My Goals   report 1    Movie  

Report 2    Conclusion   Digiphon   Supporting Evidence  

‘Da OP7 Meta Blog   Process Reflection

Home Page      Integrative EcoSocial Design

OP1A    OP1B      OP2    OP3    Links 3&4      OP4     OP5     LInks 5    Op6 LR    GU          

7-Year2 #1-LIPD     7-Year2 #1-LIPD Links         8-Year2 #2       

Links WW 8&9 Year2 #2 & #3       9-Year2 #3 Regenerative Healing

Right Brain 10-Year2 #4 Art in earth        Left Brain 10-Year2 #4 eARTh

Links 10-Year2 #4        11-Year2 #5        Nicole’s Elf reWrite 11-Year2 #5  

Abandoned 11-Year2 #5        12 LR Mahara    12LR i-web