Environmentalists have long dreamed of granting enforceable legal rights to nature, and their vision has recently become reality. Governments in the United States and abroad are enacting Rights of Nature laws, and many scholars have championed this burgeoning movement as one of the best hopes for preserving the environment.
Legal rights for nature seem visionary, but policymakers and scholars are overlooking considerable problems with this approach. This Article spotlights these problems, including the vague and incoherent content of nature’s rights, the difficulty of defining the boundaries of natural entities, the absence of limiting principles for the rights, and the legislation’s lack of guidance for humans. Because the Rights of Nature movement relies on ad hoc litigation to enforce nebulous rights in court, it will likely lead to arbitrary and oppressive outcomes for humans while under-protecting nature. For these reasons, Rights of Nature is a wrong turn in environmental law and policy.
While showing why the Rights of Nature project is likely to be ineffective and even unjust, this Article also examines possible reforms to make it palatable. I conclude that none of the reforms are workable. Rights of Nature offers a resonant battle cry for activists, but it is the wrong approach for addressing the global environmental crisis – and it could take us backward to a more polluted, degraded environment.
Noah Sachs, A Wrong Turn with the Rights of Nature Movement, 36 Georgetown Environmental Law Review (2023).