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There’s a white oak tree in Athens, Georgia, that is not owned by anyone. It’s an autonomous entity – known as the “Tree that Owns Itself.”
Around the 1820s, the owner of the property wrote a formal deed proclaiming: “…in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection, for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides.”
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Age finally took its toll, though, and a 1942 windstorm downed the tree. Yet, its autonomy lives on! Residents took a seedling from the original and planted it in the same spot – and that offspring is still there, known as the “Son of the Tree that Owns Itself.”
What if all trees and other natural ecosystems had a legal right to exist, thrive, evolve, and regenerate? This concept of nature existing in its own right as living entities is the essence of a rapidly spreading Rights of Nature movement.
All across our country (and around the world), people wake up to find that faraway financial elites have come in by stealth, using legalistic ruses to poison local waters, strip forests and fields, defile the air, and otherwise destroy our natural surroundings. But what if the law was balanced to let those natural surroundings have their own say and redress the harm done to them? Just as corporations have lawyers, rivers, forests, etc. could be provided with legal counsel to sue corporations and governments that mindlessly contaminate and even kill them.
The idea is taking hold. Last November, a whopping 89 percent of voters in Orange County, Florida – fed up with decades of industrial pollution of their waterways – shouted YES! to a Rights of Nature initiative.
To learn more, go to Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund: celdf.org.