Should trees have standing?

By From page A6 | November 15, 2013

Those advocating to save the mature valley oaks and cedars at The Cannery make the case that these trees have “value” — different from clearing the site, building a profitable project for the developers and providing the city economic benefits.

Implicit in the comments that these trees are mature, 50 to 150-plus years, have thrived without special care or irrigation, provided habitat for various species, and provided other eco-system functions such as absorbing CO2, is another value — that these trees just have the inherent right to exist as they are. Furthermore, it seems to me that those who want to save these trees are also implicitly saying these trees are part of the living commons of nature of which we are the guardians for present and future generations.

The legal concept that trees — nature — have the inherent right to exist was proposed by USC law professor Christopher Stone in his path-breaking 1972 article, “Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects,” arguing that individuals or groups should be able to apply to the courts for legal guardianship and the right to litigate on nature’s behalf.

Today, Cormac Cullinan, a South African environmental lawyer, deeply affected by the writings of eco-theologian Thomas Berry and indigenous people’s understanding of the interconnectedness of all life, and Thomas Linzey, founder of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, have advanced Stone’s work. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine communities have passed rights of nature ordinances so local ecosystems may exist and thrive.

In 2008, Ecuador was the first country to codify traditional indigenous wisdom that recognizes Mother Earth as a living being with which all people have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship into a new system of environmental protection based on the rights of nature.

Short of a legal mandate, all parties should work together to create a revised Cannery site plan to retain the trees. We need to set an example to the community, especially to the young, that we recognize nature has an intrinsic right to exist, and that we, the present generation, will enact our responsibility as stewards of nature for future generations.

Nancy Price

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