Rights of Nature, Laws of Man (Part One)
J'ai arrivé! I have arrived! In Paris. There were a few themes that popped up in the morning and then echoed throughout the day. One was the idea of what's intuitive vs. counter-intuitive. I was trying to buy a ticket for Paris' wonderful subway system and just couldn't seem to get the machine to work. What seemed like the way to get it to work just didn't, and I thought to myself, "This machine is counter-intuitive". The station did not have a live-person booth to inquire with, but a few people trickled in. I was going to ask for help however, my mind went blank and words could not escape my mouth. I don't know enough French to ask for help. As fate would have it, some people couldn't get through enter with their tickets, so they hopped the turnstile. Parfait! I didn't follow right away because I wanted to see if I could successfully meet the challenge of the stupid ticket machine. To no avail - I decided to jump the turnstile. It was fun actually as I was just tall enough and skinny enough to slide up and over like
a graceful champion hurdler. Or a ninja urban gazelle. Or as my friend Larsen called me.... "a business hippy". So the idea of what's intuitive vs. counter-intuitive was established for the day.
The second apparent theme was the notion of laws of man vs. laws of nature. If Paris is anything like New York, jumping the metro turnstile/not paying to ride is probably against the law. The law created by (hu)man. And by the way, I will be using the term "laws of man" as encompassing all genders because I like the way it sounds and don't feel like changing it. Alan Watts, one of my favorite philosophers, talks about laws of man vs. laws of nature. About how many truths are only truths because man made them true. About socially-constructed ideas. Jumping the turnstile is illegal because man or the man made it illegal. So this second theme slid its way into my head as I trotted down to the train.
I arrived for the second half of The International Rights of Nature Tribunal. Experts in different fields from around the world (many indigenous) testified about different crimes happening in their communities against both the environment and the people living there. It was extremely compelling and quite the tearjerker, to be honest. "Tribunal" is basically a fancy word for a court of justice; this is a collection of worldwide organizations and individuals that have formed an alliance to create the "universal adoption and implementation of legal systems that recognize, respect and enforce the 'Rights of Nature' ". To some this may sound boring, but let me state that it was not. This group/court wants nature to be treated “as a fundamental rights bearing entity and not as mere property to be exploited at will”. Initially, I looked at this idea from inside the box, and thought “no….it can’t be done”. But if one knocks down the walls of the box and steps out, the idea makes perfect sense. Think about how corporations have recently been granted “rights” and how laws are being made to protect these companies as if they are individuals. If that can happen then why the fuck can’t our living and breathing Mother Earth have laws to protect it? Intuitively or rather instinctually, it makes sense to want our planet to be treated without right. What's counter-intuitive is the ability for companies to destroy it without consequence. Some words/phrases for this include “ecocide” and “financialization of nature”. Private profits with public risk.
I reflect on another thought I had inside the box: who would listen to this International Rights of Nature Tribunal? Why do they deserve authority and who gave it to them? Back to laws of man vs. laws of nature. Who gives anyone authority? Authority is a person or organization having power or control. Currently, as far as the Earth is concerned, much of the authority lies with the same mechanisms that harm it. But who is to say we can’t take authority away from them? It already happens, town by town, when laws are passed to protect the interest of the Earth.
For example, consider styrofoam. I am sitting here in bed with a seriously sub-par crepe that I got down the street. I asked for it "to go", and they packed it in styrofoam. As I carried it back to my hotel, I literally said to myself “Oooh Paris, you're so hip and cool in many ways but you got to get with the times!" How lucky I am to live in Ulster County where we have politicians who care about the environment enough to make laws that protect it”. For real, this was the voice inside my head. I remember last year watching County Executive Michael Hein sign the styrofoam ban into law, a law introduced by Tracey Bartels, County Legislator for the Town of Gardiner. If place after place bans styrofoam then the companies that produce it will be forced to make something else.
Most companies will not change their unhealthy and irresponsible practices until they are pressured or ultimately forced to do so. Legislation (laws of man) and/or public pressure effects have the power to change things. Lead paint. Water fountains for “whites only”. Kids working in factories. An international court that protects the rights of our home, our living, breathing home, is possible if we make it possible. We can foster the process by creating and enforcing local and international laws. International Courts have been established before (The Nuremburg Trials, the International Criminal Court, etc.). As the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature puts it, we must go beyond “human-centered limitations of our current legal systems by recognizing, respecting and enforcing Rights of Nature as one of the most transformative and highly leveraged actions that humanity can take to create a sustainable future for all". We can make laws of man that are for nature.
End note: Besides fuel for philosophical ponderings, today delivered a lot of information regarding specific socio-ecological struggles happening around the world. I will talk about that in Part 2 of this article.