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ANIMALS ARE ‘PERSONA NON GRATA’: Legal rights of ‘personhood’ recently given to rivers in Florida and Quebec

The movement to recognize 'rights of nature' parallels efforts to elevate animals’ legal status beyond mere property or resources, whose value is determined only by their worth to humans.

NICOLE PALLOTTA: In February 2021, in a first for Canada, the Magpie River in Quebec was granted legal personhood via parallel resolutions adopted by a local municipality and a First Nation band. And in November 2020, voters in Orange County, Florida, approved a charter amendment granting legal rights to all waterways, including two rivers, in the county. With Florida’s ordinance, which passed with 89% of the vote, Orange County became the most populous jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt legislation recognizing rights of nature. The Whanganui River in New Zealand was the first river in the world to be granted legal personhood in 2017. Since then, similar efforts have been increasing around the world…

The movement to recognize rights or legal personhood for features of the natural world has roots in both philosophy and practical concerns about environmental degradation. In light of the failure of governments and existing environmental laws and regulations to provide adequate safeguards against pollution and other harms, formal recognition of rights of nature is a relatively new pathway to ensure protection for the environment, and the humans and nonhumans who live there…

The philosophical underpinnings of rights of nature can be traced to indigenous world-views that view humans in relationship with, rather than separate from, the natural world. This focus on interconnectedness and interdependence stands in contrast to the anthropocentric worldview that conceives of humanity apart from, and in dominion over, nature and animals… Rights of nature laws are also grounded in an emerging paradigm shift away from viewing the environment and the animals who live there as economic resources to be exploited by private interests and toward one of stewardship and respect…

The movement to recognize rights of nature parallels efforts to elevate animals’ legal status beyond mere property. Both are responses to the substantive and procedural inadequacies in existing environmental and animal protection laws, and to the flawed conception of nature and animals as property or resources, whose value is determined only by their worth to humans. A more just legal and social construction perceives nature and animals as entities with inherent value and their own rights to exist and flourish. Rights of nature laws also help animals on a practical level. Securing legal protections via tangible and enforceable rights for features of the environment, such as rivers and forests, protects the animals who depend on these complex ecosystems to survive as well as thrive. SOURCE…

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