Farmer Rights, Nature Rights, and Community Rights
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the twenty-sixth annual Public Interest Environmental Conference at the University of Florida. The subject of the conference: The rights of nature.
The rights of nature and the rights of farmers are inextricably intertwined. Nature’s rights are farmers’ rights. Farmers’ rights are nature’s. More than anyone, farmers know that their fates, the future of food, and the rights of nature are insuperable. Farmers are the key defenders of nature. Farmers’ indispensable role as stewards of the land has been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Farmers are also defenders of food. To protect our food, we need to protect our farmland—which comprises half of all land in the United States. As Zippy Duval, the President of the Farm Bureau has said, the farm bill is really the “food bill.” The same bill that helps farmers manage risks also maintains the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
The food bill illustrates the overlap among farmers’ rights, the rights of nature, and the rights of communities to protect health, safety, and welfare. Local communities have recognized our shared fates.
For example, the Pittsburgh Code enacted a Community Rights ordinance, to protect itself from the impact of fracking. The ordinance speaks to both human rights to nature, and also the independent rights of nature. In the ordinance, the Pittsburgh City Council found “that the commercial extraction of natural gas in the urban environment of Pittsburgh poses a significant threat to the health, safety, and welfare of residents and neighborhoods within the City.” The same ordinance also recognized the rights of nature: “Natural communities and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifiers, and other water systems, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Pittsburgh.” Toledo, Ohio recognized the legal rights of Lake Eerie in response to chronic nutrient pollution. The people of Toledo declared the lake’s right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”
Several sovereign countries have recognized not only our rights to nature, but also the rights of nature. Nepal has recognized the rights of the Himilaya. Australia has recognized the rights of the Great Barrier Reef. Ireland, Bolivia, England have also recognized the legal rights of nature.
To protect the rights of nature, and our rights to nature, we need reform that is economically viable and ecologically sound. Grassroots organization is crucial to protect these rights. So is the success of small-scale and sustainable farms. When farms need legal support, I will be there to serve.