Give nature a seat at the governors table, by Jim Hightower

As an old axiom notes, “mighty oaks grow from little acorns.” From coast to coast, millions of these long-lived gems have graced our landscape, but one powerful specimen in particular has recently become a robust symbol of a growing environmental movement. The significance of this oak tree – rooted on a small plot at the corner of Dearing and Finley streets near downtown Athens, Georgia – is that no one owned it. It was an autonomous being, known locally as “the self-possessing tree”.

The tree was already a few centuries old in 1832 when William Jackson, landowner and prominent resident, expressed his “great affection” for the tree he had long enjoyed and proclaimed his “great desire to see it protected”. Thus, Jackson officially ceded “to said oak tree full possession of itself (and the land surrounding it)”.

Alas, age and decades of storms took their toll, and though grateful locals had lovingly tended it, the 100-foot-tall, self-controlling oak tree finally toppled in 1942. End of the story ? No! It was common in Athens for people to collect and cultivate acorns from the tree, causing its offspring to grow in their yards. So, in a city-wide effort, a sturdy five-foot-tall direct descendant was quickly located, donated, transplanted to the original plot, and granted the same self-possession status. And he stands there today, now over 50 feet tall and officially adopted by the city as “Son of the Owning Tree”.

It’s more than just a heartwarming story, as this oak’s self-reliance and ancestry has become emblematic of a transformative new legal concept: “Rights of Nature.” It’s a simple idea: rather than continuing to rely on the corporate-controlled model of environmental regulation, why not grant self-protection rights to our precious natural systems? In a 1972 article, University of Southern California law professor Christopher Stone first pushed this simple and profound idea into public debate by “seriously proposing that we give legal rights to forests, to oceans, rivers, and other so-called “natural objects” in the environment – in fact, to the natural environment as a whole.”

His argument was that these living beings, no less than humans, have intrinsic worth and an inherent right to exist, regenerate, thrive, and defend themselves against exploitation and death. Current legal theory, however, generally recognizes that nature is nothing more than “property”, and those who injure or even kill it can only be prosecuted if it can be proven that the damage injures humans. In short, harming nature is not in itself illegal.

Thus, under the current regulatory regime, nature’s well-being is irrelevant and environmental cases are reduced to fussing over micro-details, such as the parts per billion of a chemical contaminant. in a river that is safe for humans. Establishing nature rights would give the river itself the power to sue for its loss of life, as well as damage to fish, plants and other organisms that depend on the health of the river. river.

But, you will ask me, how trees, lakes, etc. can they plead in court? The same way we do, Stone explained: Lawyers could sue on their behalf, and groups from Greenpeace to local coalitions could serve as legal guardians. No less a judicial eminence than Judge William O. Douglas endorsed Stone’s proposal in a dissenting opinion in a landmark 1972 Supreme Court case. In Sierra Club v. Morton, Douglas asserted:

“Contemporary public concern to protect the ecological balance of nature should lead to giving environmental objects the right to sue for their own preservation.”

The fundamental truth that underpins this legal approach is that we humans and our environment are one organism. After all, we cannot live without nature; indeed, we are nature, and nature is us.

Such an obvious truth, however, is not only inconvenient, but repugnant to profiteering exploiters of the environment. They immediately ridiculed Stone and the idea of ​​the rights of nature, but the concept caught on anyway, so now, 50 years later, corporate interests are hyperventilated and on the attack. Last July, the Koch brothers’ political operative, David McDonald, warned owners to rally against the move. “Streams don’t have rights,” he barked. “The rights … belong to the people, not to environmental artifacts or natural wonders.”

Seriously? Is a tree just an “artifact”? Don’t “natural wonders” – from rainforests to coral reefs – have more intrinsic value to the Earth, our own health and our posterity than the short-term profits of certain societies?

And what a hoot it is for this representative of corporate supremacy to declare that rights “only belong to the people”. He is, after all, an official of the greedy financial powers who have spent years perverting law, logic and reality to promote the absurd fiction that companies (artificial constructs without life, without organ systems, without pulse or brain, without any sentient existence) are “persons” with the legal rights of “personality”.

Populist author, speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing struggles of American citizens against the power of plutocratic elites. Register at

Photo credit: RegalShave on Pixabay

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