Community-Led Rights of Nature Initiatives For Protecting Ecosystems

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Kevin Stark:

"In 2008, Ecuador's leadership rewrote its constitution to include the rights of nature, effectively awarding legal rights to the environment. This change was led by many grassroots environmental advocates, including Natalia Greene, an organizer and environmental activist who played a key role in the development of the constitutional changes. In a 2015 talk about her experience, Greene said the changes were very bold: "It is very important because this means we don't necessarily depend only on the state to guarantee the rights of nature. Anyone in Ecuador can guarantee these rights."

Indigenous communities have recognized the rights of nature for thousands of years, but Ecuador was the first country to make it a constitutional right by awarding ecosystems legal rights to protect the environment and its people. It was a seminal moment for the fast-growing environmental movement. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), based in Mercersburg Pennsylvania, has been at the forefront of the rights of nature movement since its inception. In 2006, the group worked with the Pennsylvania community of Tamaqua Borough to pass a rights of nature law to protect against toxic sludge being dumped on local farmland. The group has been involved in dozens of grassroots campaigns till date, including in Ecuador.

Mari Margil, the organization's associate director, says there are many communities across the U.S. that are pressing the issue of rights of nature through law making, community mobilization, and within the court system. The communities are building a movement and advancing a new paradigm for protecting the environment. "It's a movement that in the past 10 years has accelerated rapidly," she said. " (