Did you know Lake Erie once caught fire from all the crap floating in it?
Yeah, it’s pretty gross in there. But hey, imagine if we treated nature the way we treat corporations? Imagine if, instead of the idea that nature is just a bunch of untapped resources for us to plunder, we treated it like a person. That means crimes could be reported against Lake Erie, and it would have the same legal protections as people. Well, guess what, courts in Topeka are working to enact the law It’s a great first step in protecting our natural resources.
After years of poisonous algae, invasive fish species, runoff containing fertilizer and animal manure, and other threats to the lake that have had a negative impact on the health of local residents, Toledo voters on Tuesday approved a ballot question asking whether Lake Erie should be given rights normally associated with a person, “to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The measure got 61 percent of the votes.
This is another step in a movement which has been growing in the past few years to give natural spaces more protections, as they’re currently being underserved by the laws that are already in place. If the law takes effect, people can sue on behalf of the lake to prevent harm from coming to it.
Of course, there’s already someone countersuing, in this case it’s local farmers who produce much of the agricultural runoff that feeds the toxic algae in the lake. Farmers say that if the measure passes thousands of small farms could be sued for damages for polluting the lake and driven out of business.
In case you don’t think this is necessary, there was a three day stretch in 2014 where the water in Lake Erie was undrinkable. Stores closed. Hospitals accepted only the most seriously ill patients. Restaurants were empty. And some 500,000 people depended on bottled water in the middle of a brutally hot August.
“The city of Toledo shut down,” said Crystal Jankowski, 31, who was in a hospital delivering her daughter during the water crisis. “They were having to cancel surgeries because they couldn’t sterilize equipment.”
While the notion of making corporations have the same rights as people has been around since 1880, the roots of personhood for nature has much more recent precedent. In 1972, Sierra Club v. Morton, as providing much of the impetus for current efforts. It established “zone of interest” precedent that has been a big part of current legal efforts.
Other places around the world have enacted similar laws, including Pittsburgh’s move to prevent fracking, and Santa Monica passing an ordinance to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish.”