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New Zealand Gives River Status of “Legal Personhood”

Susanne Kite sent me this fascinating story and video from the BBC. It chronicles the fight of an indigenous Polynesian tribe, the Maori, to gain “legal personhood” status for a river they revere as ancestral.

See the video embedded in the BBC News Story.

The 160-Year Fight

The tribe fought for more than 160 years to get legal protection for the Whanganui River. In 2017, New Zealand granted legal personhood to the Whanganui River. Since then, other nations have followed suit in an effort to protect the environment.

The author’s article, Kate Evans, says, “Environmental personhood has been studied as a way of protecting nature since at least the 1970s. In his book Should Trees Have Standing?, American law professor Christopher D. Stone argued that environmental interests should be recognised apart from human ones. His work influenced Maori academics James Morris and Jacinta Ruru, who wrote Giving Voice to Rivers, making a case for why waterways in New Zealand should be seen as legal people.”

India Grants then Revokes Legal Personhood Status

Evans says that following the decision in 2017, the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India and all rivers in Bangladesh also received legal rights – although, in India, the decision was later revoked.

Evidently, personhood status can backfire in some places. If the river is a person, and the river floods someone, the river can then be held liable. That’s the downside. But on the plus side, the river can sue polluters.

Protecting Essential, but Voiceless Elements in Nature

The latest edition of Stone’s book continues to serve as the definitive statement as to why trees, oceans, animals, and the environment as a whole should be bestowed with legal rights. The argument: to help protect the voiceless elements in nature for future generations.

Think enough people in Texas would support legal personhood for the San Jacinto River? It’s not unheard of in the U.S.

In Ohio, Lake Erie, which supplies much of the state’s drinking water, was given limited legal rights a few years ago.

The San Jacinto supplies much of our drinking water.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/23/2020

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