Youth Blog Series: Nature's Rights

Be the Change’s Youth Blog Series highlights blogs written by university student interns at Be the Change Earth Alliance. In the blogs, the interns reflect on their experience completing “Action Packs,” which are learning resources that guide students in research, critical thinking and tangible action related to a global sustainability topic.

Action Pack Summary

This Action Pack describes what bestowing nature with rights means, how it’s already being done in Bolivia, our society’s contemporary stance on nature, and why our contemporary stance needs to be altered so our current trajectory towards a planetary crisis can be regulated. 

If legal systems were to bestow actual rights to nature and grant legal protection to our natural world, environmental degradation could be halted. Society is continuously pushing our planetary boundaries, and our natural world is succumbing to a perilous state. It has become essential to respect nature's boundaries and limits through the recognition of legal protection. 

At face value, bequeathing nature with actual rights- the highest legal protection- may seem outlandish and difficult to put into practice. However, the national government of Bolivia enacted the “Mother Earth Rights Law” in 2011, which has made massive strides in recognizing nature as a rights-deserving entity. This legal framework encompasses interesting- albeit necessary- rights such as: “the right to not be polluted,” “the right to pure water and clean air,” “the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration,” and (of the most relevance to our context here in British Columbia) “the right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect ecosystems and local inhabitant communities.”

Human’s current mindset of nature being merely our object to utilize creates rippling effects throughout ecosystems. This Action Pack touches on the importance of keystone species- which are species that define, support, and sustain an entire ecosystem. For example, the cute sea otter is actually a saviour to Pacific Ocean nearshore ecosystems. Basically, sea otters eat sea urchins. If there’s too many sea urchins, then the abundance of kelp forests vastly diminish. Kelp forests absorb large amounts of CO2 and are thus vital to everyone. 

Providing nature with rights would require a shift in our contemporary approach to nature. Currently, we perceive nature through a “shallow ecology” lens: seeing the natural world as worth preserving but not equitable to our own humanistic value. We only work to preserve, conserve, and take care of nature and species for our own utilization and amelioration. However, society needs to deviate from this mindset and adhere to one of “deep ecology,” where nature is given a rightful place and we recognize its deep, intrinsic value. Entrusting nature with legal rights is acknowledging that all of the millions of species that reside on this planet have the right to live undisturbed, unpolluted, and uncontaminated.

My Reflection

One action I chose to take was to examine my personal habits and see if my everyday actions had an effect on the lives of keystone species. It was difficult at first to find links between my personal habits and keystone species. I considered my eating habits, transportation modes, and purchasing choices. Ultimately, what helped me uncover the impacts was researching local keystone species themselves and tracing back what’s causing their proliferation and how I may be contributing to that. There are several keystone species in British Columbia: starfish, salmon, beavers, and sea otters. The easiest link to draw was from the impact of my habits upon salmon because they seem to be the most vulnerable to human action. Salmon are affected by a number of things, however, two are relatable to me: climate change and the building of dams. Despite my best efforts, I still contribute to climate change. I may not build dams, which have an affect on many species, but I do utilize BC Hydro’s power and their dams affect salmon. I looked into which department of the government was responsible for the care and protection of the environment. I found out that it was the “Ministry of Education & Climate Change Strategy”. I then wrote an email stating my concerns about the environment. It felt good knowing that I was able to “shake my fist” at someone of power. Overall, I found this Action Pack to be very eye opening and insightful.

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