Earth Law

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Contextual Quotes

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community; it is wrong when it does otherwise."

— Aldo Leopold (1949) [1]

"What if there were another system and jurisprudence, based upon the concept that the planet and all of its species have rights — and they have those rights by virtue of their existence as component members of a single Earth community?"

— Thomas Berry (2001) [2]


Osprey Orielle Lake:

"I believe one of the most critical areas of work that we can focus on is Earth law. The idea of Rights of Nature or Rights of Mother Earth can address our dire need to truly become “civilized” in the highest sense of this word—meaning to live civilly with each other and our Earth, respecting both natural laws and the Earth’s ecosystems.

Around the world, and in almost all non-indigenous systems of law, nature and ecosystems are treated as property. Our life-giving rivers, forests, and mountains are treated as property to be sold and consumed, often protected under commerce laws. As property, these natural communities and ecosystems are not recognized as rights-holders. In our legal systems, because nature is property, it is invisible to courts.

Beyond the legal frameworks, this nonrecognition of the inherent rights of nature has dangerously contributed to distancing us culturally and personally from our living planet. I think we should consider this old, property-based legal system as highly uncivilized.

That said, what is very encouraging right now and brings promise is that for the past three decades, environmental lawyers and visionary thinkers around the globe have been developing a new theory of jurisprudence to change that system.

The “Rights of Nature” approach promotes a structure of law that recognizes that our living planet has rights of its own. If a Rights of Nature legal framework were implemented, activities that harm the ability of ecosystems and natural communities to thrive and naturally restore themselves, would be in legal violation of nature’s rights.

The Rights of Mother Earth framework recognizes the inherent meaning, sacredness, and value of the natural world: that which is not tradable or subject to commerce.

These rights along with respecting human rights are what being civil means." (


Osprey Orielle Lake:

Practical Applications:

"Can Rights of Nature take hold? Yes! In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to recognize Rights of Nature in its constitution. In a remarkable step that could begin to alter the way we understand the natural world, Chapter 7 of the Constitution of Ecuador now explicitly states that nature has the right to exist, the right to be cared for according to its natural life cycles and ecosystems, and the right to restoration in the event of environmental harm. In broad language that requires repair of past damage as well as regulation of future potential harm, Article 72 states:

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Additionally, Bolivia has established eleven new Rights of Nature laws after hosting The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April 2010, which also produced the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Before these national developments in Ecuador and Bolivia, a vital shift had taken place in 2006 in the rural U.S. community of Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, when the community with the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund passed an ordinance recognizing nature as a rights bearing entity. Since then over twenty-four communities in the United States have passed local ordinances, which recognize Rights of Nature to protect their ecosystems. We can change our laws—think civil rights, suffrage, and the end of Apartheid." (


Daniel Christian Wahl:

"In order to share the gifts of life cooperatively we also need transformative innovation in national and international law. Laws provide enabling constraint and attribute rights and responsibilities. Ideally, they need to incentivize cooperation as appropriate behaviour and limit competitive behaviour that jeopardizes systemic health. What kind of laws and policies would facilitate the transition to regenerative cultures?

By asking this important question and inviting others to explore it with him, Thomas Berry catalysed a global-local conversation that is reaching more and more people and institutions. Berry understood that for the “universe story” (Swimme & Berry, 1992) to continue in ways that would allow our young and immature species to grow into mature membership of the community of life, we have to accept the responsibility that comes with the gift of self- reflexive consciousness and safeguard the rights of all the participants of that community.

In order to enable the creation of regenerative cultures everywhere “there is a need for a jurisprudence that recognizes that the well-being of the integral world community is primary and that human well-being is derivative” (Berry, 2001).

The ‘original participation’ expressed by the worldview of indigenous cultures means their members are born into that integral world community. They have been encouraged to speak on behalf of the four-legged-ones, the winged-ones, the finned-ones, the forest, the mountain, the river or the Earth. We label this practice as ‘primitive culture’ at our peril. It is in fact a sign of an evolved ecological consciousness that will be as vital to our future as it has been in our past, before the narrative of separation clouded our judgement.

The Great Work (Berry, 1999) of co-creating humanity’s transition into the Ecozoic Era (Swimme & Berry, 1992) requires us to create a legal basis for speaking on behalf of and defending the community of life. Our current laws are based on the narrative of separation and still enable corporations and governments to criminalize opposition to crimes against nature. Berry’s vision of an Earth Jurisprudence has inspired many others that are working in the same direction. From Cormac Cullinan’s Manifesto for Earth Justice (2011), to work by Vandana Shiva (2005) and Polly Higgins (2010)[Eradicating Ecocide … The story of how she managed to initiate a UN-level dialogue about including ‘ecocide’ as a 5th international crime against peace is an inspiring account of the power of commitment and an individual’s potential for leveraging culture change.], and thanks to organizations like the Gaia Foundation, the Pachamama Alliance, Navdanya, and EnAct, the conversation about Earth Law has deepened and broadened. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is now working for “a universal adoption and implementation of legal systems that recognize, respect and enforce Rights of Nature” (GARN, 2010).


In 2010, a gathering in Patate, Ecuador, brought together people from all over the world living the questions “why does nature not have right?” and “what if we redesign our legal systems to declare and enforce those rights?”. The result was the creation of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN).]

Encouraged by the state of Ecuador, in 2008, including rights of nature in its new constitutional document and the draft for a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth that had come out of an earlier gathering in Bolivia, GARN declared that “universal adoption and implementation of legal systems that recognize, respect and enforce Rights of Nature” is “an idea whose time has come” (GARN, 2010).

Just as most people today would regard not awarding rights to someone on the basis of their sex, sexuality, ethnicity or the colour of their skin as an act of apartheid that is fundamentally unlawful and unjust, the regenerative cultures of the not-so-distant future will question how it was possible to believe that nature had no rights." (


Working Toward an “Earth Community Economy

Osprey Orielle Lake:

"Around the world, we are seeing the emergence of creative alternatives to destructive economic paradigms. The good news is what is healthy for an ecosystem is also good for people: key ingredients are localization and regionalism. The best economic and environmentally sound solutions are place-based, diverse according to region, and are responsive to local communities and social needs. Instead of fearing a transition to an Earth Community Economy, we can support and enjoy local organic food, vibrant local businesses, a healthy local economy, jobs with justice and the development of clean decentralized energy.

I’m not talking about utopias, but rather regenerative, functional, local communities. Already we are seeing many creative, self-organizing groups and their ideas on the move with this concept: Transition Towns, Eco-builders, Cool Cities, Eco-villages, Eco-Cities, permaculture communities, food sovereignty groups. The list grows daily with working concepts and models in every part of the world.

History and logic dictate that transitioning away from a globalized economy will not always be smooth or easy. Yet our survival depends on our ability to do so, and quickly.

We must change the way we think about what an economy is for, and how we measure it. Today, we measure economic well-being using flawed instruments such as the GDP. Yet even the generation and dumping of toxic waste is part of the GDP—a wildly inaccurate measure of progress. We must begin to develop new metrics like the Gross National Happiness Index, which assesses economic performance based on the health and well-being of people living in balance with each other and nature.

Cultures living close to the Earth have shown a balanced way of life quite unlike newer, consumer-driven notions of simply having more. “Living well” in the Kichwa language of the Indigenous people of Ecuador, is called sumak kawsay; in Spanish, it is buen vivir. The Buryat people of the Lake Baikal region express it this way: “To live a life of honor is to live with tegsh,” meaning to live in appreciation and balance with all of life. An Earth Community Economy envisions a future that has not come from enslaving Nature and treating all other life as mere resources for human exploitation and unchecked material growth.

A Rights of Nature legal framework would foster human well-being in harmony with the integrity and functioning of the entire Earth community, thus prompting economic incentives and disincentives aligned with this purpose. An Earth Community Economy recognizes the inherent meaning, sacredness, and value of the natural world: that which is not tradable or subject to commerce. To this end, in order to truly protect our Earth, we must stop the commodification and financialization of nature.

While a Rights of Nature framework does not solve all of our daunting problems, it does offer a foundation upon which healthy economic principles and sustainability can be built. Advocating for a systemic economic alternative that balances the rights of human communities with the rights of ecosystems should be at the heart of all international sustainable development and climate negotiations. As we look to completely transform our responsibilities and relationship with the natural world, this Earth Community Economy based on Rights of Nature is an idea and a necessity whose time is now." (