This paper formed part of the Green Institute Report ‘Rebalancing Rights: Communities, Corporatations and Nature’.
Around the world, people are working hard to protect their local communities and local ecosystems from the destructive impacts of excessive industrial developments. One strategy that is receiving growing attention is changing the legal status of nature from being human property or, at best, a protected ‘object’, to being recognised as a living entity with its own legal rights – a subject of the law. But can this approach make any difference to the legal protection of nature?
In this essay, I’ll outline criticisms of traditional environmental law that are used to argue that a paradigm shift is needed in western industrial legal systems and trace the origins of the Rights of Nature movement and the developments around the world that have now seen the Rights of Nature shift from being a “fringe” legal issue, to one that is capturing the imagination of courts, lawyers and communities around the world. While the concept is potentially open to many of the same problems faced by ‘traditional’ environmental law, it also represents an exciting and optimistic development in legal theory and practice that is being embraced by a range of communities, and can offer an effective way to advocate for Earth democracy.