Today’s Solutions: May 19, 2024

It’s hard to describe the growth of an environmental movement without an inappropriate natural disaster metaphor: a wave of legislation, laws spreading like wildfire, or a mighty wind of change. None of those feel quite right, but the wave — darn it — for nature’s rights is moving fast and has now reached India. 

The High Court in the Indian state of Madras has just ruled in favor of nature, giving it the same legal status as humankind. 

From legal dispute to natural law

The court ruled that nature has “all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.” It also states that the natural environment is part of a human right to life and that humans have an environmental duty to future generations. 

“The past generations have handed over the ‘Mother Earth’ to us in its pristine glory and we are morally bound to hand over the same Mother Earth to the next generation,” Justice S. Srimathy said in a 23-page opinion. 

The decision actually was an escalation of a case of a retired government official deeding some land to a private individual that was protected forest, known as “green peak” and “high wavy mountain.” The official, who originally had his pension revoked, got a reduced sentence of a six-month suspension for an “act done against nature,” but Justice Srimathy decided to take it further. 

She invoked “parens patriae jurisdiction,” which is usually used by guardians and parents on behalf of minors who cannot legally act for themselves, and applied the law to a proposal that humanity has a responsibility to care for “mother nature.” 

The law is the latest in a movement across the world — with Ecuador, Panama, Bolivia, and even governments within the United States — and also throughout India. Other Indian states have granted “personhood” to glaciers, animals, and important rivers such as the Ganges and the Yamuna. 

While there are existing environmental protection laws on the books in India, such as the “polluter pays” law, these have often been worked around or exploited in some way. Adding new presidents and laws gives environmental advocates and lawyers more means by which to fight in a global movement of meteoric momentum.

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