Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Death of the Blue Springs: A Horror Movie


Could it happen here?

OPENING SCENE

A Young Woman stands with an Older Man on the bank of a beautiful clear blue freshwater spring. Other people—the Young Woman’s classmates on a geology field trip with their college instructor, the Older Man—are milling around at some distance. Young Woman and Older Man are silently gazing into the depths of the spring, looking pensive.

“You know,” Older Man says, “if these springs ever get polluted, it will take Mother Nature hundreds of years to clean them up.”

Young Woman laughs at the absurdity of the thought.


CAST OF CHARACTERS

Anthropologist:  An intelligent, beautiful and intuitive young woman who is grounded in an unidentified spiritual Asian path (Taoist? Buddhist?). A specialist in political and corporate power structures, she is trained to see the interconnections (not always obvious to others) between the environmental, economic, spiritual, scientific and political sectors of a society. She’s introverted but not shy and is unafraid to ask tough questions or to speak out against injustice directed toward other people or Mother Earth.

Scientist:  A Ph.D. at the local university who is an expert on freshwater springs and is documenting the reasons for their decline. He has identified a pattern of failing springs on the local river that alarms the Anthropologist and gets the attention of the TV Reporter, but he is ignored by Officials and most of the public. (Doesn’t every good horror movie begin with a scientist who is being ignored?)

Artists:  A painter and a photographer who have, intentionally or unintentionally, depicted the decline of the springs over years of bad political and environmental decisions.

Lawyer:  A brilliant, handsome law professor who is also a member of the board of directors of a local springs defender group. He has researched state and federal laws extensively and leads a small statewide “fringe” effort to change current laws. He has received anonymous death threats that he suspects come from some major industrialists.

Writers:  A journalist who covers big environmental stories for a large metropolitan newspaper and a rural resident who writes books set in the Springs Heartland, similar to the ways that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote about Cross Creek and Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote about the Everglades.

TV Reporter:  A springs defender at heart, the Reporter uses every opportunity to bring the story of degrading springs to the attention of the public.

Cave Divers:  A man who began cave diving as a youth and the woman who is his video production partner. By filming, mapping, writing and lecturing about the underground aquifer that feeds the springs, they try to raise public awareness about the connections between springs, aquifer and drinking water supply.

Officials:
·      Chairman of the Board of the local water management agency, a businessman with a string of ethics complaints about his conflicts of interest.
·      The Executive Director of the same agency, an agriculturalist who has forged good communications with and seems sympathetic to the springs defenders.
·      The Secretary of the State Department of Environmental Permitting, who walks a tightrope between his business and political supporters and the springs defenders. A supporter of the Governor.
·      The Governor, who poses as an “environmentalist” solely to win votes and whose actions give lie to that label.
·      Two state Legislators who have crafted laws that create the illusion that the State is saving the springs and who take steps to keep local municipalities from enacting stronger springs protections.
·      County Commissioners and their Lawyers who, when approached by the Anthropologist and her friends, prevent local legal changes that might help to save the springs.


PLOT SYNOPSIS

After some years away, an Anthropologist (the Young Woman in the opening scene) returns to take a higher education teaching job in the mid-sized town where she spent her college years. The town is centered in an area called the Springs Heartland, the largest concentration of freshwater springs on the planet.

On a weekend visit to go swimming, the Anthropologist discovers that the area’s blue freshwater springs have begun to turn green. She chances to meet two Cave Divers emerging from the spring and begins to question them. She becomes very concerned and because she is trained to look at the holistic “big picture” of social situations, she begins to investigate what has caused the greening of the springs.

In her spare time, the Anthropologist meets with the Scientist, Artists, Writers, the TV Reporter and Officials who have various roles in defending the springs and in maintaining water quality and water supply. When she attends the meeting of a local nonprofit springs defender group, she meets a sympathetic Lawyer with whom she develops a romantic relationship.

The Anthropologist also attends state water management agency and legislative delegation meetings. She interviews state and local Officials. With coaching from the Lawyer, she discovers how laws are written, at the expense of the springs, to support the wealthy that hold political power. Banding together with the Lawyer and other friends she has made while doing her research, she mounts effort to hold Officials accountable and to change the laws. Those efforts are blocked at every turn and she finally realizes that the Officials who hold power are completely unwilling to make changes that might save the springs.

Just as the Anthropologist begins to realize the futility of her efforts, the springs go dry, saltwater intrudes into the increasingly polluted aquifer and the water becomes poisonous for drinking or irrigation. As large numbers of people get sick, the local health care system collapses alongside the water supply. These failures lead to a crash in the local economy, after which public chaos and an increasingly violent societal breakdown rapidly follow.

To save herself and to be able to share at the national level what she knows about the causes of the collapse, the Anthropologist—accompanied by a few friends—makes a daring escape from the chaos and destruction that have been caused by ignorance and greed.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Fluffy Bunnies, Dying Springs and the Rights of Nature (Part 3 of 3)

The Santa Fe River seen from Rum Island Spring

The idea that Mother Earth and Her ecosystems have the right to exist and to thrive is not a new idea. Indigenous people have lived this view for thousands of years, but relatively modern European law (upon which U.S. law is based)—law developed largely by landed gentry—has subverted the idea of humanity's relationship with the natural world by relegating Nature to the status of "property." And in property-based law, only certain people are allowed to have legal "standing" to defend natural systems in court.

Christopher Stone's landmark article, Should Trees Have Standing?, was published in 1972 and makes the argument that natural systems should have their own legal rights. The article is often cited as the inspiration for the current rights of nature movement. (Stone has since expanded the article into a book with the same title.)

The nonprofit group I work for, the Ichetucknee Alliance, was granted standing to defend the Ichetucknee in one legal challenge but was denied standing in another. So there is no guarantee that even groups whose mission is to restore, protect and preserve specific natural systems can fulfill that mission through our courts of law.

I have watched other environmental groups challenge actions by state agencies and corporations that harm Florida's springs and rivers. Those groups are sometimes denied standing, as the Ichetucknee Alliance was, but even if they are granted standing, they invariably lose their challenges.

The Florida Rights of Nature (RON) movement is a response to this crisis of legal standing that leads to the destruction of Nature, but it is more than that:  It is also a response to a crisis in our democracy in which state governments and the federal government can deny people the right to govern their local communities.

Like many people who are worried about what we humans are doing to Mother Earth, I am committed to doing what I can to reverse our current destructive trends. When I had the opportunity to get involved with a campaign to amend Alachua County's home-rule charter by having a Bill of Rights for the Santa Fe River placed on the 2020 ballot, I jumped on board.

At the first public information session we held for this SAFEBOR (Santa Fe River Bill of Rights) effort, one young man asked, "How long do you think it will be before the State of Florida preempts you from doing this?" My answer was quick:  "Until the next legislative session." (Everyone laughed because they knew that was true.)

Sure enough—the Florida Legislature is now in session and language to preempt local governments from enacting rights of nature laws is sailing through committees. Those of us involved in SAFEBOR and Florida's RON movement knew this was coming and we see it as validation for our efforts, because as Thomas Linzey said recently, "The fact that they're trying to preempt you means you already have the right to do what you're doing."

At the recent Florida Rights of Nature Convention (RONcon) held at the University of Florida's Law School, I asked Linzey:  "If Alachua County wants to put SAFEBOR on the 2020 ballot and the State preempts us from enacting rights of nature laws, what should the County do?"

Linzey's answer:  "Do it anyway."

Do it anyway because our springs and rivers are being destroyed.

Do it anyway because our current regulations and laws are not preventing our springs and rivers from degrading.

Do it anyway because Florida needs to recognize nature and ecosystems as having that highest level of protection that can be afforded by law.

Do it anyway because ecosystems need substantive rights that can be enforced.

Do it anyway because people in communities have a constitutional right of local self-government that enables us to enact stronger environmental protections than those set by the state.

Do it anyway because that same constitutional right of local self-government limits what laws the state can override.

Do it anyway because the Declaration of Independence reads:  "...That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Do it anyway because the Florida Constitution reads:  "Article I, Section 1. Political power. – All political power is inherent in the people. The enunciation herein of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or impair others retained by the people" and "Article II, Section 7. It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources."

Do it anyway to get a challenge into the courts that will enable resurrection and expansion of the Cooley Doctrine that asserts certain municipal lawmaking cannot be preempted by state law.

Do it anyway because even though a court challenge will be costly, there are some things that are more important than money.

Do it anyway because now is not the time for baby steps. Now is the time for brave people to stand up strongly to the forces that are destroying Mother Earth.

Do it anyway because it's the right thing to do.


Many thanks to Thomas Linzey for tutoring on these legal issues.







Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Fluffy Bunnies, Dying Springs and the Rights of Nature (Part 2 of 3)



For the next seven years, I talked about the rights of nature idea to anyone and everyone who seemed even slightly receptive. I bulldogged the idea because I knew that Florida was on the fast track to lose our priceless freshwater springs—the largest such concentration of springs on the planet—and because I couldn't stand by and do nothing as the springs were damaged by overpumping from the Floridan aquifer and pollution by people and industry (including, but not limited to, agriculture).

Florida's Eden, a group of artists who had joined forces in Gainesville to create awareness of springs problems, produced the "Dead and Dying Springs" graphic above. The list of dead and dying springs is a reminder for anyone who needs it that we human beings are playing an active role in the destruction of these ecosystems.

I felt like I was talking into empty space for most of those seven years. When I mentioned rights of nature, people would smile and nod; sometimes a more engaged person would ask a question or two, but that would be the end of it. The impression I got from these conversations was that people thought it was a novel idea but they didn't think it was something that would ever catch on. Every now and then, though, I'd run into someone who would resonate with it. Those people gave me hope.

Fast forward almost seven years from 2013, and I saw a Facebook post from Chuck O'Neal in the Orlando area, who—coincidentally or not—I had met at Democracy School when we sat next to each other. Chuck was musing about the idea that he might want his activist's legacy to be the establishment of a rights of nature movement in Florida. I immediately messaged him, "You need to get in touch with Thomas Linzey."

I had been in touch with Thomas about the possibility of having the Ichetucknee Alliance, the group I work for, get involved with RON, but the directors of that small group weren't interested in taking up the rights of nature banner and had several good reasons for not doing so.

I exchanged several more messages with Chuck, and in each one I stressed, "You need to talk to Thomas Linzey." I gave Thomas's contact information to Chuck, and eventually the two connected—and what a connection that turned out to be!

Chuck arranged for Thomas to come to Florida and hosted a meeting at his house in which Thomas gave a crash course in RON to a small crowd of people who were intrigued with the idea. It seems like things moved really fast after that, but actually it took almost a year for the big event to unfold:  the Florida Rights of Nature Convention (RONcon), held in February 2020 at the University of Florida Law School's annual public interest environmental conference.


I've heard from one person who attended those events in the past that the second day of that conference, which was the day RONcon was held, usually has an attendance of about 35 people. This year, we filled a large lecture hall to standing room only capacity!




Following RONcon, a group of people who were particularly interested in and committed to starting a rights of nature movement in Florida got together and with Chuck's leadership, we formed the Florida Rights of Nature Network. There are now people working on bills of rights for local rivers in all areas of Florida, from the Panhandle to the southern part of the state!

And the person who called these ideas "fluffy bunnies" has now admitted that the rights of nature movement has momentum in Florida.

But what exactly are these bills of rights for natural systems supposed to do? Stay tuned for Part 3 of this blog series.


Fluffy Bunnies, Dying Springs and the Rights of Nature (Part 1 of 3)



Back in 2013, I attended a Democracy School that was led by Thomas Linzey and Mari Margil of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) at Barry University Law School's Center for Earth Jurisprudence in Orlando. The school was a crash course in what I didn't learn in high school civics or any of my college classes—namely, how the USA's laws have been structured, since the Constitution was written, to benefit business and commerce at the expense of Mother Nature who sustains us. Even the landmark environmental protection laws that were passed in the 1970s have failed by enabling individual landowners and corporations who own property to receive permits for activities that can lead to the destruction of that property and nearby natural systems.

I had two major takeaways from Democracy School. The first was a quote by Jane Ann Morris, a corporate anthropologist who said, "The only things environmental laws regulate are environmentalists." As a water defender working primarily for the Ichetucknee River and its associated springs, I can vouch for the fact that Morris's statement is true. We activists are extremely limited in what we can speak about—usually only minor problems and never the "big picture"—and limited in whether or how we can challenge activities that cause harm to ecosystems.

When faced with questioning or openly challenging environmentally harmful activities, activists at state agency meetings find themselves trapped in scenarios that play out like this:

1. Agency staff members present a slide show and describe their “process.”
2. During public comment, people point out substantive flaws in the agencies’ positions and/or flaws in scientific methodology and findings. People decry lack of meaningful action, beg for substantive change, and ask pointed, simple questions that put agencies on the spot.
3. Agency representatives hem and haw with answers to simple questions. Often there are comments about the need to do more studies.
4. An email address for written comments is projected on a slide.
5. The meeting is adjourned.
6. Nothing ever changes, except for the harm to Mother Nature, which increases.

The results of those meetings seem to be inevitable. After public feedback, which is sometimes received patiently and sometimes not, the individuals or corporations eventually get the permits they've requested or the state agency moves forward with its planned actions. Water defenders are left feeling like we're behind a big truck that's dumping trash (or worse!) at us as we desperately try to shovel it away, only to be buried by the contents of the truck at the end of the road.

My second takeaway from Democracy School was a lot more positive:  It was the idea that by granting legal rights to individual natural systems like the Ichetucknee or Santa Fe rivers, we could level the playing field between business/commerce and Mother Nature in our courts of law and possibly provide much-needed protections for vulnerable ecosystems.

I saw this rights of nature (RON) concept not as a magic bullet, but rather as a "helicopter idea" that enabled us to get out in front of that trash truck to spark a paradigm change and a change in our culture. Instead of treating Mother Nature as an object, people could be encouraged to treat Her as a subject with whom we're in a healthy instead of an abusive relationship—not as a "thing" that can be destroyed for private profits, but as a living system that we, and many other animals and plants, depend upon for our survival; as a benefactor, to whom we owe acts of kindness in reciprocity for all She has given us.

And I was thrilled to learn from CELDF's representatives that rights of nature laws were being adopted in various parts of the world!

I came home from Democracy School determined to spread the word as widely as I could about this new approach to defending Mother Earth. One of the first people I told was the head of an environmental organization I was working for. "Giving rights to the river?" he laughed. "That's some real fluffy bunny stuff right there."

He might have even rolled his eyes.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Heart of My Heart



Heart of my heart
Going up in flames
You are a lamp
Even in death

May your lovingkindness
and compassion—
like the
Buddhadharma
you taught—
blaze
forever
throughout the
10 directions
and 3 times

as this profound
emptiness
gives way to
fullness

of gratitude and
transformation


-Karma Norjin Lhamo, on the occasion of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s (her refuge lama's) cremation
in the season of Halloween
October 20, 2019



Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Gathering of Ghosts and Demons: Generosity and Realization in Tibetan Buddhism

Demon

Show me a culture without ghosts and spirits, and I’ll show you an alien culture—something not of this Earth—because stories of things spooky and strange, seen and unseen, are found everywhere, in all belief systems. And the explanations of such haunting phenomena are as varied as the cultures that give birth to these magical stories.


The banshees of Ireland and the Scottish highlands, who warn families of impending death with otherworldly cries and laments, are thought to be the ghosts of women who died in childbirth. The Japanese yurei, also female ghosts, are trapped by powerfully gripping emotions in an intermediate state between life and death. In the Voudon tradition of Haiti, zombies are acknowledged to be reanimated corpses brought back to a kind of life by skilled magicians. And of course, there are the countless stories of vampires who suck the life force from their victims—perhaps a reflection of the universal experience of being around people who drain us of our energy?

So it comes as no surprise that the world of Tibetan Buddhism is populated with its share—if not more than its share!—of ghosts, demons, ghouls, and otherworldly beings. What is different in the Buddhist tradition, however, is the explanation of these phenomena.

One of the best windows into the sometimes-spooky world of Tibetan Buddhism was opened to us by the Tibetan woman, Machik Labdron (or Machig Lapdron), who lived in the 11th century.  Machik, whose name means “One Mother,” fused the Indian Buddhist tradition of chod with her own visionary experiences to create a special practice, the Chod of Mahamudra.

Machik Labdron

The most spectacular part of the practice, lu jin or “charity of the body,” is an eerie visualization that involves offering one’s own body as food for worldly and otherworldly beings—an extreme, supreme act of generosity. The aims of the practice, however, are eminently practical:  to benefit other beings and to overcome the self-fixation that Buddhists hold to be the source of so many of our problems.

Machik herself is a magical being, a wisdom dakini—a human embodiment of the essence of enlightened mind. And her popularity in modern times begins with a ghostly story. Here is how Tsultrim Allione, the author of Women of Wisdom who has recently been recognized as an emanation of Machik Labdron, describes one of her first experiences with this dakini.

…I was in California at a group retreat given by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. One night we were doing the Chod practice, and at a certain point, when we were invoking the presence of Machig, visualizing her as a youthful white dakini, a wild-looking old woman suddenly appeared very close to me. She had grey hair streaming up from her head, and she was naked, with dark golden-brown skin. Her breasts hung pendulously and she was dancing. She was coming out of a dark cemetery. The most impressive thing about her was the look in her eyes. They were very bright, and the expression was one of challenging invitation mixed with mischievous joy, uncompromising strength and compassion. She was inviting me to join her dance.  Afterwards I realized that this was a form of Machig Labdron.1

Machik advises us that the best places to practice chod—also known as severance, as in severance of self-fixation—are the wild and haunted places that create an atmosphere of isolation and fear. Among the guests we invite to the practice are more than a few terrifying apparitions.

Who among us would not be frightened by the antagonizing enemies, those “unembodied gods and demons who manifest sights and various weird apparitions to the eyes and cause fear and terror and then alarm and horror, with trembling and hairs standing on end”?2

Who wouldn’t feel intimidated by the body demon, an entity that connects with us in the womb and remains with us until our skin and bones separate after death? “It is the lord or owner of this outcaste body made of flesh and blood, a vicious inhuman spirit that says, ‘This is I,” Machik explains. “That bad spirit leads us around by the nose and makes us engage in bad karma.”3

Which of us would not be chilled by contact with nagas, snake-like animals who inhabit waterways and springs, or the eight classes of gyalsen, male king spirits and female demonesses who together symbolize attraction and aversion, two of the Buddhist poisons?

Who wouldn’t be scared silly by the sight of various male and female devils, planetary spirits, death lords, harm-bringers, belly-crawlers, personifications of types of disease, lords of epidemics, and black magic spirits?

And perhaps many of us have felt the unease that comes from bad spirits of haunted places, those spirits who dwell in unsettled places where we may visit or live.

But if we could help them, who among us would fail to offer sustenance to all sentient beings, from beings in hell where they experience unimaginable torture, through the realm of the hungry ghosts—with their huge bodies and tiny throats that deny them the sustenance they crave—up through the animal and human realms to the realms of the gods?

All these frightful and awe-ful beings, and more, are the guests Machik Labdron urges us to invite to the feast of severance.

This emphasis on demons and ghouls in Machik’s practice is no accident—it’s quite deliberate, because directly facing what terrifies us is one way we can awaken from our ignorance, one way we can realize the unbounded wisdom and compassion that are our birthrights as beings who possess, hidden deep in our hearts, the very same nature as the buddhas.

There is a famous story about Milarepa, another Tibetan Buddhist saint who was, coincidentally (or not!), a contemporary of Machik Labdron’s.

Tseringma and her four sisters were female deities. When they first met Milarepa they tried to scare him and they did all kinds of magic tricks to try to frighten Milarepa, but Milarepa was never frightened. He knew that these demons were like demons in a dream when you know you are dreaming. He did not take them to be truly existent and so then they were so impressed with Milarepa that they developed faith in him. They became his students; they became his Dharma Protectors, the protectors of his teachings and they also offered Milarepa siddhis, special powers…

But that is the difference between demons when you don’t know their true nature and demons when you do know their true nature. They go from being malicious to being protectors.

In the end, in fact, there is no such thing as a demon. That is what you recognize in a dream when you dream of a demon and you know you are dreaming. You recognize that there really is no demon there. That is the ultimate nature. There is neither any deity that helps you nor any demon that harms you. Sometimes these supernatural beings are called god demons because if they like you they are like a god and if they do not like you they are like a demon. They can decide. But when you recognize you are dreaming it does not matter what they appear to be. You know their true nature.4

So in the Vajrayana—the form of Buddhism taught in Tibet—we learn that the appearance of demons and ghouls, when not seen through, is a mara or obstacle to enlightenment. Seen through—when we experience our minds directly—these same demons and ghouls become protectors (dharmapalas) and sources of spiritual powers (siddhis) and realization.

Apparitions of male and female demons and ghouls
For as long as your guise has not been seen through are maras.
Obstacle-makers who nothing but trouble spell
If their guise is seen through obstructors are dharmapalas
A hot bed of siddhis of such a variety
In the end, in fact, there are neither gods nor goblins.
Let concepts go as far as they go and no more.
This is as far as they go and no more, he said.5

The appearance of demons and ghouls is, finally, revealed as nothing other than the self-projection of our own minds.

How precious now the idea of seeing a ghost.
It reveals the unborn source, how strange and amazing!6

So this Halloween—when numerous ghouls and devils and demons and ghosts appear at your door—recognize these frightful sights as reminders of your own mind’s clarity and spaciousness. And then—in the generous spirit of Machik Labdron and Milarepa—offer them some candy.



Sources
1Women of Wisdom, Tsultrim Allione, Snow Lion Publications, 2000, pp. 28-29.
2Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod, translated by Sarah Harding, Snow Lion Publications, 2003, p. 141.
3Ibid., p. 141.
4Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Tampa, Florida, Halloween 2005 (private transcript).
5“Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive in the Context of Mahamudra,” a realization song that was taught by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in Tampa, Florida, Halloween 2005 (private transcript).
6Ibid.

Karma Norjin Lhamo is a student of teachers affiliated with the Tibetan Karma Kagyu lineage. She has recently had the good fortune to attend a series of teachings about Machik Labdron given by her refuge lama, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York. Halloween has always been her favorite holiday. She urges people who are interested in learning about Buddhism to seek out a qualified teacher.


-->

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Florida’s Springs and Rivers Need Their Own Legal Rights (Part Two of Two)


The source of laws that currently constrain our ability to save Mother Earth is the U.S. Constitution. But our country has another primary founding document, the Declaration of Independence, from which CELDF has drawn inspiration and ideas to build a new democratic movement that empowers citizens to fight for granting rights to living natural systems such as springs and rivers.
This Rights of Nature movement is now gaining traction not only here in the USA, where over 220 communities have embraced it, but also throughout the world in places such as New Zealand, India, Ecuador and Bolivia. Click here to find a timeline of this movement on CELDF’s website.

CELDF’s strategy is modeled on the rights-based struggles to abolish slavery and grant full citizenship rights to people of color, to grant voting rights to women, to grant marriage equality rights to gays and lesbians and, more recently, to grant legal rights to animals.
All of these social movements, including even the American Revolution, began with courageous people who were willing to challenge or even break existing laws in order to change those laws. All these movements started small, grew over time as more people became aware of them, and eventually resulted in widespread social change and changes to our laws.
CELDF believes that same strategy can work to grant legal rights to natural systems. Their staff is actively working to help citizens push their local governments to enact bills of rights for iconic natural features. The strategy recognizes that once the word is out about this movement—which has now accelerated to the point that citizens of Toledo, Ohio, have voted to grant legal rights to Lake Erie, following an incident of severe and widespread drinking water contamination—citizens of more and more communities will decide to get involved. And the more people who get involved, the more people will learn about how our current legal system is failing to protect the living systems that we need to sustain us and many other forms of life.
Is this approach a “magic bullet”? No. CELDF acknowledges that there will be pushback at the beginning of such an effort not only from city and county commissions and their lawyers (because new ideas always meet resistance!) but also from corporations and business organizations in the form of threats of lawsuits and actual lawsuits.
Even when local municipalities are courageous enough to enact Rights of Nature laws, the final legal outcomes of the sure-to-follow lawsuits are far from certain. That’s because this movement is so new and so few cases have made it to court yet. It will be up to the courts to make decisions about how Rights of Nature laws affect current laws, and this will be a long process. The alternative, however, is to keep doing what we’re already doing, and to keep getting the same ineffective results.
I’m thrilled to report that the Rights of Nature movement now seems to be taking off here in Florida. Following the weekend in Apopka with Thomas Linzey, activists in Central Florida have created a project they’re calling WEBOR. That acronym is stands for Wekiva Econlockhatchee Bill of Rights for those two rivers that straddle the Orange and Seminole county line. Early plans call for this to be a citizens’ initiative that will gather petitions to put the Wekiva-Econ Bill of Rights onto the ballot in an upcoming election, so the citizens of Orange and Seminole counties can vote on it.
Other citizens are considering attempts to have the county commissions in home-rule counties (with charters) act directly to put Rights of Nature laws into county charters when those documents are revised.
Is the Rights of Nature movement an effort whose time has finally come in Florida? I’ve been spreading the word about this approach for the last six years, so I certainly hope so!
“We’ll know more later,” as my mom always said.