Join 3,439 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve..."
July 19, 2009 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Sued by the forest: Should nature be able to take you to court?
posted by homunculus (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.
posted by homunculus at 10:11 PM on July 19, 2009


Yes. Although our prisons would be packed full in short order.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:11 PM on July 19, 2009


Master Shake seemed to be able to get out of it.

Well, eventually.


(sorry, I couldnt resist and am ashamed)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:13 PM on July 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Forget court, nature's gonna take us to the woodshed.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:15 PM on July 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


No. But advocates should be able to take on cases on behalf of the natural world.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes. The People should be able to represent Nature in a Court Action against Misuse of Resources and/or Endangerment of Human Ecology, ie. gonna end up harming us all if we let you keep doing that.

We people need to pretect ourselves from corporate misuse. Corporations consider humans a sustainable natural resource, and do not particularly care about the fate of any one individual, just as one doesn't much care about the fate of any one tree in a forest.

So when a "natural community or ecosystem" is under threat, it's up to humans to protect it, especially in cases where the continued existance of that "natural community or ecosystem" is vital to the interests of the local community.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


c/pretect/protect/, and what OverlappingElvis said in a tenth the space.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 PM on July 19, 2009


Chief Counsel.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:21 PM on July 19, 2009


This lawyer knows that the chief use of a system like this would be for rich people to keep dumps away from them and in areas where poor people live.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:31 PM on July 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


This lawyer knows that the chief use of a system like this would be for rich people to keep dumps away from them and in areas where poor people live.

I'm a Berkeley resident, and we just approved a new downtown area plan that includes five or six buildings over 150' in height. (These are rare in Berkeley.) I can already smell the lawsuits coming. This would just be another tool in the NIMBY arsenal.

There was recently a fantastic editorial in the East Bay Express calling these people out on their shit. The one-sentence summary, for those of you who would tl;dr it, is "You can't call yourself an environmentalist if you're also a NIMBY."

(New construction is the third rail of Berkeley politics, and I absolutely hate it. City council and the people who show up to talk there are dominated by NIMBYs, BANANAs, and CAVEs. If you haven't heard the second two, they stand for "build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything" and "citizens against virtually everything", respectively.)
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:38 PM on July 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Thin end of the wedge. Next thing you know, fucking glades will want the right to marry.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:39 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nature should only be able to sue if it can be shown that Nature has given informed consent to the lawyers that represent it.

In other words, "No".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:41 PM on July 19, 2009


With a corporate non-person taking a natural non-person to court to exploit it, all we need is a robotic judge as a non-person to rule in the corporate non-person's favor.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:42 PM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


“Old Man River might want to do something for a change, other than just rolling along.”

f I were a river, I'd totally want to do something useful.
Not sure how I'd feel about a dam, though. I mean, I'm just trying to get from here to there and you stick a big concrete thing in my way? Not cool, man.

And while we're at it, can we talk about those damn tubers? A 4hour tube ride, a case of beer, and no bathrooms? Exactly where do you think they're gonna go?
Rafters though? Man, tossing those guys over is one of the highlights of my day! More of those please.
posted by madajb at 10:58 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can the next of kin sue the forest for allowing a loved one to fall off a cliff or get lost and die of exposure?
posted by codswallop at 11:00 PM on July 19, 2009


This is a rather silly way of saying that all persons have a right to some reasonable experience of nature, and/or collective ownership of natural resources, and that anyone offended by the nature-damaging activities of another has standing to bring suit against the destructive party, and ask the court to weigh up the competing interests involved.

It's a similar question to whether people have standing to force local, state and federal governments to properly enforce laws against a third party, whether or not personally affected. In this example, it's the zoning and environmental protection laws that are to be properly enforced, and the idea is to declare that anyone has standing to ask that they are. Which seems entirely reasonable to me.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:38 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


homunculus: "Should nature be able to take you to court?"

Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue
posted by Rhaomi at 11:59 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I could totally see Denny Crane taking this case. Against nature, of course.
posted by FireballForever at 12:09 AM on July 20, 2009


If a forest sues someone in the woods, does it make a precedent?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:11 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fine, as long as I can sue that acorn tree that defaces my yard with leaves and nuts every fall.
posted by vapidave at 12:57 AM on July 20, 2009


A long, protracted court case in which I'm sued by a bunch of trees would still be more interesting than The Happening.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:04 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


FireballForever: I actually came in here to say that I can see Alan Shore taking the case. Here is what Denny says about environmental lawyers in an episode where he takes Alan on a fishing trip to British Columbia:

They’re evildoers. Yesterday it’s a tree, today’s is a salmon, tomorrow it’s ‘Let’s not dig Alaska for oil cause it’s too pretty?” Let me tell you something. I came out here to enjoy nature. Don’t talk to me about the environment.
posted by inconsequentialist at 2:11 AM on July 20, 2009


"Your honour, the defendant is charged with witness tampering."
"Eh? It says here he cut down a bunch of willow trees with a chainsaw."
"Yes, your honour, but those trees were scheduled to testify against him next week..."
posted by kaemaril at 2:14 AM on July 20, 2009


How do the courts handle something like an animal cruelty case? Are you suing on behalf of the horse when you sue the owner for harming the horse?
posted by pracowity at 3:35 AM on July 20, 2009


No. Have you seen some of the idiots that claim to speak for abstract concepts, non-human animals, and inanimate objects?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:22 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is a bizarre conceit that somehow humanity stands apart from the "natural" world. The whole point of the modern environmental movement is that we exist as part of a whole system; any legislation that seeks to empower "Nature" as something that stands apart from man and his actions is poorly considered.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:07 AM on July 20, 2009


How do the courts handle something like an animal cruelty case? Are you suing on behalf of the horse when you sue the owner for harming the horse?

That's a matter of criminal law, not civil law. The horse has no standing in court, but the state has laws about mistreatment of animals, and prosecutes (not "sues") because of violation of those laws.

A private citizen can't sue the owner of a horse because the horse is being mistreated. That private citizen doesn't have standing. (At least in the US.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:41 AM on July 20, 2009


sure, but effectively, the law is only ever about property. read the clean water act, in the U.S., then research water pollution and loss-of-wetland issues.

that will give you a feel for the effectiveness of the law to protect the integrity of natural services and systems.

the law is no quick fix.
posted by eustatic at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2009


This might not be the best solution, but knowing the area in question (Shapleigh was one of the towns that kept coming up over and over as we've been looking for land to buy in Maine), I am not at all surprised they've resorted to something like this.

Depending on your position on bottled water and other related topics, Nestle (who owns Poland Spring) has been exploiting the hell out of Maine's natural resources and paying next to nothing for the privilege, or is getting unfairly tarred with the naughty brush, especially compared to, say, the paper mills...

(See the "Controversies" section of their Wikipedia entry, or this op-ed for the opposite position, or their own website).

Is it the best legal solution? Maybe not. People have had to get creative when it comes to defending what they see as public resources that need to be preserved for the future.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:29 AM on July 20, 2009


The ancient Taoists in China (and probably other regions/nations) used to assign protectorate duties to particular scholars and martial masters. Protectorates might cover a woods or a forest or a lake or lake region. They would patrol and/or make wishes known to the locals about how far they could go exploiting the natural resources.

I would provide references if I could, but a quick Net search doesn't reveal any support. I read it in a book (or two). :)

This seems to me to be partially in keeping with that philosophy.
posted by kalessin at 8:53 AM on July 20, 2009


Well in the Middle Ages, they used to try animals in court for various offenses, and hang critters guilty of crimes. I particularly like this:

In France in the early 1500s, a lawyer named Bartholomé Chassenée was appointed to represent some rats that had eaten and destroyed some barley (a felony). Chassenée used a series of clever legal maneuvers to delay the trial as long as possible. At one point he convinced the judge that it was too dangerous for his clients to come to court on the appointed day because of the many cats in the neighborhood. Chassenée became famous throughout France for his excellent legal skills.
posted by binturong at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The ancient Taoists in China ...

Unfortunately, the modern Dow-ists just do what makes them money right now.
posted by pracowity at 9:05 AM on July 20, 2009


Water rights and water law are old and complex, and are the oldest sort of environmental laws, though these laws and rights are generally associated with people's use of water. Broader environment laws in the US go back to 1970, with the formation of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). These primarily focus on planning and development of land and resources, with NEPA focusing on larger projects while CEQA having the potential to address any "development" (the definition of which is important when looking at the scope of a project). The CEQA page on Wikipedia notes that as of 2005, 14 states as well as the District of Columbia have CEQA-style laws requiring impacts be reported for development.

In California, environmental groups and concerned citizens have been using the process proscribed in CEQA act on behalf of the environment since the 1970s. Granting natural communities and ecosystems inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve is a step beyond what California provides, but I think it's a great balance to the rights of corporations.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:12 AM on July 20, 2009


No. Have you seen some of the idiots that claim to speak for abstract concepts, non-human animals, and inanimate objects?

Careful, there. The Lorax has been seen participating in ELF activities...
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


What about invasive species? Can one ecosystem sue another?

(if not, they do not have rights analogous to those of people, or even analogous to the purported rights of corporations)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:59 PM on July 20, 2009


"Damn squirrels! Stealing the nuts out of my yard. I'll show 'em. Martha, hand me my BB rifle. I'll teach them a lesson or...."

"Harold, shut up."

"What's gotten into you Martha? I'm just going to sting 'em a bit. Keep them from..."

"Harold, please, shut up about it, I think they can hear you!"

"Who cares if they do hear me? They're stealing my nuts, I planted those trees myself..."

"Harold, they're suing us for harassment!"
posted by JHarris at 1:24 PM on July 20, 2009


Counter sue 'em. Negligently harboring known menaces to society - bears, rabid raccoons, chiggers, deer ticks, poison ivy and oak, those guys from Deliverance. Oh yeah, and letting trees fall, thus driving thinking people crazy in trying to figure out if a noise was made.

Natures got a lot to answer for.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:08 PM on July 20, 2009


« Older I started reading about alternative uses for olive...  |  The ultimate exam.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments