Swedish National TV on Rights of Nature
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Swedish National TV on Rights of Nature

October 28, 2019

Can Nature really have rights and go to court to get protection? This is an issue which has grown stronger in recent years, as a way to stop environmental destruction. Last month there was a breakthrough as rivers in both New Zealand and India was granted status as legal persons. The holy but polluted river Ganges was in March given rights as a legal person by a state court in India. To damage the river will be similar to hurting a human, and a representative for the river can go to court to protect it. Just about a week earlier, a more than a century old struggle was settled in New Zealand where the river Whanganui, of great importance for the indigenous Maori, also got rights as a legal person. The Maori and the State can now represent the river in court. These decisions are viewed as ground-breaking for the idea to grant nature rights. That nature, or Mother Earth, has rights is an old idea present with indigenous peoples, but this movement has grown stronger the last ten years as a new way of protecting nature. The concept now exists in constitutional law in Ecuador and Bolivia, and in many local laws in the US. Today nature is viewed as something humans can use, as property without rights. Environmental law assumes that nature is to be exploited, it just deals with how much exploitation is allowed, the movement argues. And much as human rights successfully protects humans, rights in law for nature would protect nature against destruction and exploitation. There are environmental laws which prohibits certain environmental crime, but those laws are neither sharp nor comprehensive, and have not succeeded to stop extinction, climate change or destruction. Hence a whole new way of viewing nature is necessary, advocates say. Welcome Pella Larsdotter Thiel from Lodyn and Rights of Nature Sweden. Thanks. There are laws but it is said that they are far from enough. In what way? Above all, these laws are developed from a perspective where humans are separated from and users of nature, thus they regulate our use of nature and not the relationships between humans and nature. They are not made to enable cooperation or relationship; you can’t have a healthy relationship when only one of the parts has rights. You have to elaborate a bit on that, I am not sure I understand what you are saying about relationship, how do you mean relationship between humans and nature? Well… How would that be mirrored in rights? Right… this means you have to look outside of the legal systems, to the greater system our laws operate within. We have good preconditions in Sweden where environmental organisations can represent nature in court, but there is an imbalance in the relations, in what is possible. An environmental organisation seldom has the resources to do that, for example. That is about the Nature not having legal rights, as humans do, Therefore we treat it as something you can exploit more or less. That the laws can regulate. But nature cannot be a legal entity in the existing legal system. But say that nature would have stronger rights, that would influence us humans a lot, it would have an impact on economic growth, it would affect welfare, isn´t that something to consider? Yes, that is an interesting issue, what do we mean by welfare? Today, in many parts of the world, though we may not feel it in the flesh here in Sweden, welfare is seriously under threat because of the destruction of ecological systems. I would say that is one of the gravest threats against human rights, that our habitats are getting destroyed. This leads to conflicts and violence and that people have to flee their homes. We can probably not uphold human rights if we don´t grant rights to nature. Very short, how will you and others make Donald Trump or Xi Jinping in China to accept this argumentation? I don´t think we will do that, but this is a paradigm shift, and we will have to consider the long term. People in power in a system which assaults nature will not shift, but we the people will, since we don´t have any alternative. Just like Cormac Cullinan said. That is what you think, at least. Yes, that is what I think. The drop that erodes the stone. Thank you for coming! Thank you.

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