Know your rights: Earth jurisprudence and environmental politics

Humphreys, David (2015). Know your rights: Earth jurisprudence and environmental politics. International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, 10(3-4) pp. 1–14.



Two Andean countries – Ecuador and Bolivia – have politically recognized the rights of nature, an idea that is also gaining traction at the sub-federal in the United States. The origins of the concept can be traced to the cultures of indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as to the work of American legal scholar Christopher Stone. Recognition of nature’s rights holds out the possibility of an alternative approach to environmental management and politics, as well as to a fundamentally redefined relationship between nature and society. However, upholding rights of nature in practice may conflict with four other sets of rights in environmental politics: the sovereign rights of the state, human rights, property rights (or, more accurately, claims by people and organizations to property), and the rights of business corporations. Even in Ecuador and Bolivia, the first two countries to recognize what is now known as Earth jurisprudence, the rights of nature do not necessarily prevail over these other rights. For example, the private property rights granted by the state may conflict with the idea that nature has rights that trump those of humans. The challenge for those who support rights of nature is how to promote both a wider uptake of the idea among political leaders and civil society, and a clearer long term vision of how upholding nature’s rights may be operationalized in practice.

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