More legal rights could mean less deadly algae for Lake Erie

Laws focused on natural spaces often hone in on protecting what humans can gain from the natural resource, rather than protecting the space itself. However, “Rights of Nature” laws, which give natural spaces protection as legal entities, are beginning to crop up in an effort to change the narrative from one of protecting human interests to protecting nature for its own sake. 

The Whanganui River in New Zealand and other examples in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Bangladesh have all experimented with granting legal sovereignty to natural spaces. Now, Lake Erie is attempting to achieve legal protection of its own via “Rights of Nature” proceedings. 

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is a citizen-led movement which gained enough petition votes to earn a spot on the ballot and eventually pass. The law would more strictly regulate agricultural pollution, which causes deadly algae blooms in the water. In opposition, local farmers and some politicians favor funding for a pollution prevention fund instead.

Re-categorizing natural spaces as entities with legal rights will likely face many roadblocks on its way to being written into law, but the effort has produced benefits of its own. Awareness about the lake’s pollution levels have increased dramatically, and it is helping encourage citizens to view nature, not as a commodity, but innately beautiful in its own right. We applaud the citizens of Lake Erie for taking action and agitating for change.

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