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Understanding legal options to protect natural world

“Rights of Nature” event held for students

Linzey suggests legal amendments to current state law to protect the rights of nature.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann – The Sentry

On April 29, the CU Denver Political Science Student Union and the Auraria Student Sustainability Club hosted an event confronting the legal rights of nature, featuring Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Club.

The CELDF is, according to their website, an organization committed to advancing environmental rights—“building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level” as well as “assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.” The majority of the subjects and ideas that Linzey referenced reflected this mantra. 

Linzey began by addressing the difference between his suggestion of nature having legal, defendable rights and the environmental protection laws currently in place. By this he meant, “legally enforceable rights for ecosystems” or treating an ecosystem as its own defendable entity, rather than  owned property, referencing a case in Ecuador in which a couple argued for a nearby stream in the name of that stream itself opposing the corporation polluting it. Linzey also mentioned that the country of Ecuador has since gone on to adopt a series of Rights of Nature articles into their constitution, protecting their ecosystems. 

Linzey then acknowledged the ineffectiveness of the current measures in place to protect ecosystems worldwide, stating, “Most of the regulations that control the oil and gas extraction industry are written by the oil and gas companies themselves,” and “corporations have weaseled their way into the constitution of this country.” He spoke frequently on the feeling of having to face an impenetrable bureaucratic system, offering the statistic that there are “only 200 full-time environmental lawyers in the US right now.” 

However, Linzey was also able to offer some optimism and reveal his approach to the shifting environmental law field. He suggests that legal amendments and arbitrations to the current state of environmental law should be instituted first at the local and municipal levels and then carried all the way up the legal chain. He’s coined this idea with the term “collective non-violent civil disobedience,” which he also believes will contribute to “a new emerging international norm.” 

The evening’s discussion on legal rights also included Diane Thiel of the Right to Survive initiative, as she encouraged the watchful patrons to vote yes on Initiative 300, which involves “protecting the rights of homeless people until Denver does something.” She then illustrated the direness of the homeless issue in Denver, quoting that over 2,000 students in Denver public schools are homeless. Thiel added that many shelters are “not viable, safe, or even healthy options for many people.” 

Linzey also took questions from his audience, which delved into politics, including a discussion on Gov. Jared Polis and the recently proposed Senate Bill 181, which grants municipalities planning powers regarding where to place fracking wells in the community. Polis failed to convince Linzey of the effectiveness of this bill, as Linzey said of the governor, “He made these grand proclamations. He said, ‘This is the end of the oil and gas wars in Colorado,’ and I said, ‘You’re nuts.’”

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