Rights for Forests, Rivers, and Nonhumans

I thought we were at the end of all the dreadfulness for one week, but apparently not. For a change of pace, perhaps this news from New Zealand—lovely home of hobbits and Na’vi, not to mention the Notorious RBG’s chosen anti-Trumpian refuge—will interest and delight:

A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon. The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features….

The park is Te Urewera, and the river, Whanganui (NZ’s third largest). The proximate goal is, “that lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself, with no need to show harm to a particular human.” More broadly, the hope is that the legal concepts of nonhuman rights and personhood will be strong tools in the fights against climate change, mass extinction, and other forms of ecocide.

The idea that ecological features merit consideration in the legal and social sphere is both cutting-edge and incredibly ancient:

The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features.

Chris Finlayson, New Zealand’s attorney general, said the issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. “In their worldview, ‘I am the river and the river is me,’” he said. “Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”…

“The settlement is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” said Pita Sharples, who was the minister of Maori affairs when the law was passed.

In her brilliant book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein focuses on indigenous communities as key players in the fight against climate change: “What is changing is that many non-Native people are starting to realize that indigenous rights—if aggressively backed by court challenges, direct action, and mass movements demanding that they be respected—may now represent the most powerful barriers protecting all of us from a future of climate chaos.” (Also, check out the schedule for 2016 Bioneers—lots of events focusing on indigenous cultures and strategies.)

Lovely Te Urewera

Lovely Te Urewera

New Zealand isn’t even the first! Bolivia and Ecuador have already granted rights to nature (called “wild law”). These laws lack specifics, though, and it’s not clear whether they have any teeth. (Bolivia’s law, for instance, hasn’t stopped oil company depredations.) Still, even if a “wild law” is just a symbol, it’s a powerful and potentially game-changing one.

NZ’s laws are honest-to-gosh enforceable laws-with-teeth. (And the article reports that NZ is in discussion with Canada, which is considering similar ones.)

Meanwhile, there are also multiple legal efforts to grant personhood status to select nonhumans, especially great apes. The most famous effort here in the U.S. is the Nonhuman Rights Project, of which I’m a proud long-time supporter. A new film about their work, Unlocking the Cage, has just been released by celebrated filmmakers D A Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back) and Chris Hegedus (The War Room). Check it out!

Other countries, including Argentina, Balearic Islands, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, and Switzerland, have passed strong animal-welfare legislation guaranteeing great apes and other species life, liberty, a decent standard of care, and/or the freedom to use one’s natural capacities. These are not, strictly speaking, “rights” laws, but they do provide a strong foundation for them.

Obviously, as forests, rivers, and nonhumans gain real rights, others lose the right to exploit them. And some good people, including veterinarians, dog groomers, and pet sitters, will have to proceed more carefully since, if they screw up, we’re no longer just talking about property damage, but actual pain and suffering incurred by individuals. (Ten years ago, a groomer told me that this was already a big concern in her industry.)

On the other hand, nonhuman personhood will make things MUCH tougher for animal abusers, as a ruling last month in Oregon demonstrated. (Again, we’re not yet talking about rights but a strong move in that direction.)

In a blurb for Unlocking the Cage, Jon Stewart (yeah, that one—he now runs a farmed animal sanctuary) says the movie makes him, “proud to be a primate.” Me, too! We humans do an awful lot of bad things to each other and other species, but I hope you agree that there are times we shine. We can be repositories not just of order in an entropically accelerating universe, but of compassion and generosity in an often heartless one.

The issue of rights for nonhuman entities is obviously profound, with vast implications. So what say you, Juicers? How would it affect you or those you know personally? When you answer, please consider the way we discuss our animal friends on this site. Do we discuss Steve, Rosie, Thurston, Lovey, Max, etc.–not to mention, the late, great (in every sense of the word!) Tunch–as if they were “things” or “people?”

Looking forward to your ideas…

How NOT to be a Pundit

I don’t even know what’s happening. Seriously, what just happened?

On today’s #TWiBRadio, we learn some gossip about Sean Hannity, Awkward Dacia is Awkward, and we discuss regional bias and humor in listener feedback.

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And this morning on #amTWiB, #TheMorningCrew spent more time discussing the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, the State Department goes into full panic mode on Twitter, and “Hey Girl”-ing with STD testing.

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I have a scheme

The right-wing blogosphere reports that 500,000 people showed up to Beck’s MLK-appropriation rally. The mainstream media has a slightly different count. But don’t let facts fool you – obviously the only numbers that matter are the ones that we make up out of thin air.

Besides, 87,000 people is actually pretty good for a rally organized by a radio talking head turned Fox news messiah. Really, it’s quite sizable compared to many other cults.

Beck may yet come down as one of the great grifters of our time. The question is – if the people at this rally knew how badly he was scamming them – in it for fame and fortune and not for some higher vision – would they care? Would they even admit to themselves that they’d been suckered? Even if evidence of his insincerity were to surface? Would it matter so long as he served his purpose?

Probably not. Beck is too much the catalyst of delusion – like any good conman must be. And really, if this is what the people want, well, this is what they deserve. What sad nonsense. Jon Stewart is naturally the best source to turn to in times like these (though I imagine his Monday bit will be far better…):

It’s only a matter of time before Beck hires Shepard Fairey to do his (Beck’s) portrait. (Edited for clarity) Read more

Jon Stewart on Park51 and the NRA

Balko describes Jon Stewart in this clip as ‘brilliant’. He writes that Stewart was:

Eloquent, earnest (in a good way), and funny. He even showed some humility, pointing out his own inconsistency, and admitting he was wrong about the NRA-Columbine controversy.

Stewart is so often so good but this really is excellent.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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