Did you know a river has the right to sue you?

Environment | The push to give nature ‘personhood’ status is gaining ground around the world
by Julie Borg
Posted 4/20/17, 11:21 am

A rose is a rose, I suppose, but who knew glaciers, rivers, and forests can be persons?

New Zealand’s parliament recently granted legal personhood to the Whanganui River. Four days later, the High Court in India declared the rivers Ganga and Yamuna are living entities. Now two glaciers in the Himalayan region that feed the Indian rivers, as well as nearby forests, lakes, meadows, and other natural features, have joined this special class of legally protected persons, the India Times reported.

India is highly motivated to protect the Ganga and Yamuna rivers from environmental damage because Hindus worship them just as some indigenous people of New Zealand worship the Whanganui river. But this isn’t about religious beliefs in India or New Zealand, Wesley J. Smith, program chair for Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, told me. These surprising legislative acts reflect a radical and dangerous environmental movement, called Rights of Nature, that is growing worldwide.

According to the Indian court ruling, the rivers’ and glaciers’ rights are equivalent to the rights of human beings, and any harm caused to them will be considered harm to an individual. The rivers and glaciers now have court-appointed legal guardians—and they have the right to sue, the Delhi newspaper Mint reported.

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature sums up the underlying philosophy of this movement on its blog: “Our ecosystems—including trees, oceans, animals, mountains—have rights just as human beings have rights.”

Rights of Nature laws have been incorporated by more than 30 cities and municipalities in the United States, and Ecuador and Bolivia have also adopted such laws. 

Smith calls the movement anti-human and said it begs the question, what does it mean to be human? What is our value, our purpose, our meaning? These laws make humans just another part of the flora and fauna in the world.

“It is, in essence, a right to life for nature by the very people who tend to deny the right to life to humans,” he noted.

Radical environmentalism has become a religious worldview perspective, Kenneth R. Samples, author and senior research scholar with Reasons to Believe, told me.

“Secular people need religion, too,” he said. “They want to reject God and hold God at the same time, so they worship the creation rather than the creator. It’s an idolatry of rejecting the true God and exalting nature.”

Smith warned the full implications are difficult to fathom: “If the river has the right to flow unimpeded from the sea, can California be prevented from creating new reservoirs because of its drought? Does Hoover Dam have to go because the Colorado River has a right to flow unimpeded and in a natural state to the sea?”

The Rights of Nature movement stands against the Christian belief that human beings have a unique and important purpose on the planet to treat the earth properly, but also to take human need into account, Smith said. We can protect nature without personalizing it.

“We have protected Yellowstone very well, and yet we didn’t give Old Faithful credit as a person with rights,” he said. “Radical environmentalism is a cancer on proper environmentalism and is in danger of taking it over.”

Julie Borg

Julie is a World Journalism Institute graduate. She covers science and intelligent design for WORLD and is a clinical psychologist. Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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  • VT
    Posted: Thu, 04/20/2017 05:32 pm

    So a fetus in a woman's womb is not human, but inanimate objects in nature are?

  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Fri, 04/21/2017 10:20 am

    When you think you've heard everything ...

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Sat, 04/22/2017 02:00 pm

    I hope that "World" is also indicting "corporations as persons" as interpreted in U.S. law.  Corporations as having the rights of persons is monstrous! Right? Agree?

    If we understand "nature rights" rightly, that is, through the prism of God's intention for creation, then we should acknowledge the right for species to have certain space, substrate, and opportunity to thrive (Genesis 1:22), and that water, air, and soil be sufficiently clean to sustain rather than destroy life. That the beauty and wonder of creation glorifies God. And that destruction of God's creation through apathy, greed, or malice is sin.
    A vibrant, clean, life-verdant creation and healthy, vibrant human communities should not be in opposition as in some sort of zero-sum calculus, but rather complementary.
    Obviously a river cannot itself go to a court of law to address grievances such as pollution or allocation of limited quantity. Someone has to advocate on its behalf. Nature is not a person, I agree. But persons in standing up for nature, especially those who understand nature as creation and gift and responsibility before God, should advocate for its integrity against degradation.