Increased Interest in Rights of Nature: Between visionaries and pragmatics

Publicerad: 02 maj 2019
En advokat med två klienter sittande bakom honom - ett träd och en flod. Illustration.

A workshop on the Rights of Nature, hosted by the Division of Environmental Communication on April 10th 2019, drew interdisciplinary attention.

What’s the best way to empower nature in the current ecological crisis? One controversial suggestion, which is now being implemented in several parts of the world from New Zealand’s Whanganui River to Ecuador’s Pachamama is to make nature into a legal entity with corresponding rights. The Rights of Nature approach may now make its way to Sweden: possibilities of granting legal rights to Lake Vättern are currently being explored.

In an interdisciplinary workshop hosted by the division of Environmental Communication at SLU, researcher Erica von Essen together with research assistant Wouter Blankestijn and Environmental Communication graduate Anna Martin, invited 25 researchers and practitioners to chart ways forward in working with, and for, Rights of Nature becoming a reality. Legal scholars, researchers in environmental communication and ecologists, activists, lawyers, environmental ethicists and social anthropologists attended.

En man håller upp ett blädderblocksblad med anteckningar och en kvinna står bredvid och talar. Foto.
Photo: Wouter Blankenstijn.
En undervisningssal med bord i u-sittning och människor som samtalar. Foto.
Photo: Wouter Blankenstijn.
En kvinna framför en projektorduk med orden Rights of Nature på. Foto.
Photo: Wouter Blankenstijn.

The workshop concluded that Rights of Nature may be understood both as a legal tool and as catalyzing a societal shift. However, a difference between pragmatics and visionaries could be identified. On the one hand, by giving humans substantive rights to nature instead (such as a clean environment) the same conservation measures might be secured with a less subversive and more ‘comfortably’ anthropocentric approach. On the other hand, proponents of Rights of Nature argued that until now policy is often overruled by anthropocentric interests – and hence the power of law should instead set the ‘right societal example’ of framing nature as a subject rather than object. How could pragmatics and visionaries go hand in hand here, tackling the ecological crisis in an adequate manner?

These are important questions for Environmental Communication as it has implications on how people relate to nature as well as how we speak on behalf of it.

On May 10-11 the Earth Rights Conference will be held in Sigtuna elaborating more on Rights of Nature and these challenges, including a Tribunal on the Rights of Lake Vättern.

Read more about Rights of Nature in the Centre for Biodiversity’s latest issue of Biodiverse.