No 141 Posted by fw, March 24, 2011
“The Lorax asked, ‘Who speaks for the trees?’ The people of Ecuador, Blaine, Barnstead, Nottingham, and a dozen other communities have answered, ‘ We do.’
And now I ask all of You. Will you speak for the trees? For if not you, then who? And if not now, then when? Thank you.” Mari Margil, October 2009.
Continuing with the third and final video (7:50-minutes) of Mari Margil’s address to the Bioneers, followed by my transcript:
Barnstead bans corporations from privatizing their water — a first for the nation
Adopting the ordinance at a town meeting, by a vote of 135 to 1, Barnstead became the first community in the nation to ban corporations from privatizing their water. Folks still struggling to protect their water in neighboring Nottingham soon called us. They wanted us to draft them an ordinance modeled on Barnstead’s. Gail Mills, who, with her husband, Chris, became leaders in the campaign to pass the ordinance explained their decision to turn their back on the environmental regulatory system that they’d fought for so long. She said: “We have to go out and make our own history and not let others define it for us.”
Nottingham, NH follows suit
In March of last year , the people of Nottingham made history. They voted to adopt the ordinance at their town meeting, banning corporations from privatizing their water, recognizing the inalienable rights of ecosystems, and stripping corporations of constitutional rights.
Stories of David (the people) vs. Goliath (the corporations) spread
This work is spreading in New England as the threat from Nestle and other corporations grows. Following in the footsteps of Barnstead and Nottingham, the towns of Shapleigh and Newfield recently became the first communities in Maine to ban corporations from privatizing their water and to recognize the rights of ecosystems.
Ecuador embeds rights of ecosystems in its new constitution (with help from CELDF)
These stories from communities in Pennsylvania, New England, and elsewhere were shared with folks at the non-profit Pachamama Alliance, with its offices in San Francisco and Ecuador. In 2007, Ecuador began the process of drafting a new constitution. For centuries the people’s and landscapes of Ecuador have been exploited by outsiders, and in recent years it was revealed that Texaco had dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the Ecuadorian rainforest.
The Pachamama Alliance invited us to Ecuador to meet with selected delegates to the Constitutional Assembly. Now we were not experts in Ecuadorian law but there are similarities which cut across international lines. There, like here, the law treats nature as property.
We told the delegates stories of Blaine and Barnstead and how the people in those communities understood that without fundamentally changing how we treated nature in law, they could not protect it. And how we worked with them to draft and adopt new laws recognizing legally enforceable rights of ecosystems.
We also had the opportunity to meet with the president of the Constitutional Assembly, Alberto Acosta. We thought that we’d have an uphill battle trying to explain to this former minister of energy and mines why communities in the U.S. were adopting laws recognizing ecosystems’ rights. But before we had a chance to say anything, he told us that to his mind the law treats nature as a slave with no rights of its own. We had found a meeting of the minds in one of the unlikely but most critical of places.
We were asked to draft language for the delegates. And offer a series of months they shaped and expanded that language and just over a year ago the people of Ecuador approved a new constitution becoming the very first country in the world to recognize, in its constitution, rights of ecosystems to “exist, persist, regenerate and evolve.”
In Spokane, a setback but not a surrender
We’re now working with communities from Maine to California, from Virginia to Spokane, Washington. After failing to clean up the Spokane River, one of the most polluted in the nation, folks like Dr. John Osborne, a physician at Spokane’s VA hospital, had given up hope that our environmental laws could protect the river, he, with others across the city, have drafted an amendment to the Spokane City charter which will recognize legally enforceable rights for the Spokane River. And if adopted this November , Spokane will become the first city in the U.S. to recognize rights of nature. [Sadly, a ballot proposition to amend Spokane’s Home Rule Charter failed to pass. For the full story of this setback, read Mari’s account in Yes! Magazine].
Those engaged in any kind of rights movement “are deemed treasonous and radical”
In 1973, Professor Christopher Stone penned his famous article, Should Trees Have Standing? – [Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects]. He explained this idea of rights of nature and why it’s so hard for us to think about those without rights, the right-less, as possibly having rights. And why every time a movement is launched to recognize rights for the right-less – like the abolitionists did and the suffragists did – the movements and the people involved are deemed treasonous and radical. Stone writes:
“The fact is that each time there is a movement to confer rights on some new entity, the proposal is bound to sound odd or frightening or laughable. This is partly because until the right-less thing receives its rights we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of us — “us” being, of course, those of us who hold rights.”
“A movement for nature’s rights is necessary” in order to change the laws of the land
The people in the communities we work with recognize that the structure of law was never intended to protect the environment, but instead to regulate its exploitation and that they must write new structures of law – maybe writing their own constitutions – to replace it. These are not people who call themselves activists, or for that matter environmentalists. But they recognize that in order to change the existing structure of law a movement for nature’s rights is necessary. And it’s time we heard their voices and joined their cause.
Will YOU speak for the trees?
The Lorax asked, ‘Who speaks for the trees?’ The people of Ecuador, Blaine, Barnstead, Nottingham, and a dozen other communities have answered, ‘ We do.’
And now I ask all of You. Will you speak for the trees? For if not you, then who? And if not now, then when? Thank you.”
[Followed by a ringing affirmative applause and standing ovation]
- New Paradigm for Nature Turning our Values into Law, by Mari Margil and Shannon Biggs, posted on CELDF website, Dec. 15, 2010, and also published in CELDF’s 2010 report, Does Nature Have Rights?
- Barnstead NH Lives Up To Its State Constitution: The towns of Nottingham and Barnstead, published by CEDLF, [no date, no author]
- Citizens of Barnstead NH Used Local Law to Keep Corporate Giants Out of Their Water, by Doug Pibel, Yes! Magazine, July 29, 2007