Rights of Nature

Rights of Nature is a global movement to recognize that ecosystems and species have the right to exist, thrive, flourish, and regenerate. Rather than viewing nature as property to use, this perspective sees humans and nature as interconnected and interdependent.

More than three dozen communities in the United States and many communities and nations around the world have already passed laws that recognize these legally enforceable rights for ecosystems. Here in Duluth, we are working to do the same to obtain the legal authority to advocate for our ecosystems, specifically the water and species of the St. Louis River Estuary.

Sourced in Indigenous wisdom and consistent with systems-based science, the Rights of Nature approach works at a local level to expand who and what has legal rights. This strategy is grounded in rights-based law, which works with our democratic rights to ensure that the people have the legal authority to advocate for that which gives us life: water.

We can look to the past for precedent: our legal system has already evolved to include women, enslaved people, children, and corporations as rights holders. Now we seek to include the ecosystems upon which life depends.

Map of Rights of Nature and Earth Law Around the World

 by Addison Luck for the Earth Law Center

Why do we need this?

Our current environmental regulations stem from that mindset that nature is property to use and control. These regulations were never meant to stop pollution. They were designed to regulate how much pollution is legal. In other words, regulations legalize harm. These harms are cumulative, and can’t simply be “fixed.” Instead, we can choose a new kind of law that puts our interconnection with nature at the forefront.

It’s urgent that we do so, as despite a decade of work and $3 million dollars worth of clean up, 1 in 10 babies born today in the Lake Superior Watershed have elevated levels of mercury, causing potential neurological damage and lifelong health issues. We can’t eat many of the fish from the Estuary, and in some places we can’t even go in the water. And while we pour resources into cleaning up the legacy pollution of the past, there are current and future threats that far exceed what has come before.

We tend to believe that someone out there is regulating pollution in a way that protects health and natural systems, some organization or agency. That “someone” is us. With Rights of Nature, we have the opportunity to take an active role in protecting our natural systems as citizens, together.

How does it work?

Here in Duluth, our goal is to amend the Duluth city charter to include a rights of nature law protecting the St. Louis River’s right to exist, thrive, flourish, and regenerate. We are working on a ballot initiative to vote for this change to the city charter in the 2022 election.

During winter and spring of 2022, we’ll gather signatures for a petition to get this on the ballot, and in summer 2022 we’ll campaign for the election amendment.

Once the amendment passes, we the people of Duluth will have the legal authority to make sure that the rights of the Estuary are upheld.

Get Involved

This is a community effort to support the estuary’s right to flourish, thrive and regenerate. Please sign up here to stay informed and learn about opportunities to get involved.

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Map of Rights of Nature and Earth Law Around the World

by Addison Luck for the Earth Law Center

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