Does nature have rights? Growing up this question seemed both obvious and ludicrous. Ludicrous because growing up the grown ups focused on the planet and land as something to be used to make profit. The land was to be used, it should be profitable. So the idea that nature had rights was a crazy one.
Yet, I grew up with a forest as a playground. I literally grew up playing every day in the woods, chasing fox and rabbits and turtles, stuffing my pockets with a gartersnake or caterpillars. If you had asked me if nature had 'rights,' rights to exist, rights as a living place filled with living things, I would have yelled, YES!
With the climate crisis now upon the globe and causing serious damage and claiming lives, habitats, and with many species in danger of extinction, the question rises now urgently. Does a river need a 'use'? Is it only for profit? Or does a river have a right to be as it was created to be, wild, free, beautiful, and full of life from the river banks to the fish?
Some communities have recognized the right of nature to exist for generations. Others are noticing that using the planet for 'profit' has had some very deadly outcomes. A movement is growing to actually assert the rights of nature, to make it clear and unequivocal that use-profit-destroy has led to an absolute crisis. The trauma to communities and species and land that humans have cause in pursuit of profit will not be undone without new teaching and new effort.
A handful of organizations and even governments have started to declare and codify the Rights of Nature. The UCC (United Church of Christ) in July of 2021 was the first church denomination to do so. Read more about that effort at Faiths4Future.org: In 2021, the UCC became the first denomination to affirm the Rights of Nature. We spoke with the lead author for that resolution, Rev. Bob Shore-Goss, about kin, spirituality, and the rights of nature “We made the Earth a member of our Congregation.”