Ever since I discovered the existence of environmental personhood I have been extremely interested in it + a huge advocate of it. The more we can do to grant nature personhood in the eyes of the law, the better. I’ve created this to share some basics about environmental personhood: what it is, examples of it around the world, + resources for further reading + exploration.
What is environmental personhood?
Definition of Environmental personhood:
Environmental personhood is a legal concept which designates certain environmental entities the status of a legal person. This assigns to these entities, the rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities and legal liability of a legal personality.
Example of environmental personhood: Ecuador
Ecuador became the first country to include the rights of nature in its constitution. In 2007 there was a revolution “La Revolucion Ciudadana” + Rafael Correa became president. With the help of National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador + other Indigenous groups, the country’s new constitution included a section titled “Rights of Nature” recognizing nature as a legal entity with rights.
Example of environmental personhood: Bolivia
Indigenous groups in Bolivia also demanded rights for nature and in 2010 the Bolivian government created the “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” which included rights related to life, regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, + restoration. It recognized Earth as “collective subject of public interest”. A more complete version of the law was created in 2012 called “The Framework Law of Mother Earth + Integral Development for Living Well”.
Example of environmental personhood: New Zealand
In 2014 Te Urewera, the ancestral home of the Tuhoe people (formerly a National Park) became New Zealand’s first environmental legal person. For over 140 years the Maori fought for recognition of the Whanganui river as their ancestor. In 2017 the river received legal status and harming the river would now be considered the same as harming the Maori. In 2018 Mount Taranaki, a volcano sacred to the Maori also became recognized as a legal person.
Example of environmental personhood: Bangladesh
In July 2019 all rivers in Bangladesh were granted the same legal rights as people. The goal is to protect the rivers from pollution, encroachments, + illegal dredging. Bangladesh’s National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) was appointed the legal guardian of rivers. Chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader says “Protecting the rivers also means protecting the entire ecosystem”
Example of environmental personhood: India
In 2017 India ruled that the two rivers, Gangotri + Yamunotri are “living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties + liabilities of a living person.” The ecosystem around the rivers was also awarded legal rights. In 2018 the animals in Haryana received the status of “legal person or entity” to promote the welfare of animals in the state. In 2020 Sukhna Lake was also given legal rights.
Example of environmental personhood: Athens, Georgia
There is a white oak in Athens, GA known as “The Tree That Owns Itself”. The deed reads: “For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides—William H. Jackson” Sadly, the tree fell in a windstorm in 1942. A seedling of the original tree was planted in its place and is known as “Son of the Tree That Owns Itself”.
Example of environmental personhood: Eufala, Alabama
There is an oak tree in Eufala, AL known as “The Tree That Owns Itself” aka the “Walker Oak”. A “deed of sentiment” was granted in 1935 stating that the tree was “a creation and gift of the Almighty, standing in our midst—to itself—to have and to hold itself, its branches, limbs, trunks and roots so long as it shall live.” In 1961 the oak fell in a windstorm. 10 days later, a local business planted a new oak in the same spot and ownership rights were transferred to the replacement tree.
pg 2: definition via wikipedia
pg 3-7: Jurist.org “Environmental Personhood: Recent Developments + the Road Ahead” by Sanket Khandelwal
pg 5: BBC “The New Zealand river that became a legal person” by Kate Evans
pg 6: NPR “Should Rivers Have Same Legal Rights as Humans? A Growing Number of Voices Say Yes” by Ashley Westerman
pg 8: Atlasobscura “The Tree That Owns Itself”
pg 9: Atlasobscura “The Tree That Owns Itself (Alabama)”
Additional reading: “Should Trees Have Standing? – Toward Legal Rights For Natural Objects” by Christopher D Stone