When does a tree have
SILVER DONALD CAMERON
The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, Nova Scotia
HARDLY ANYONE noticed it, but one of the most
important events of 2006 may prove to have been the passage of the Tamaqua
Borough Sewage Sludge Ordinance, a law enacted by the 7,000 brave souls who
inhabit the community of Tamaqua,
Tamaqua’s revolutionary ordinance does two
things. It denies the right of corporations to spread sewage sludge as
fertilizer on farmland, even when the farmer is willing, and it recognizes
natural communities and ecosystems as legal persons with legal rights. It is
among the first "wild laws" to be passed anywhere in the world.
To understand the importance of wild law,
consider this. The law recognizes as "jural persons" various bodies
that are abstractions — corporations particularly, but also governments,
foundations, universities, churches and other groups. These entities exist in
our collective minds — you can’t touch them, smell them or see them — but they
all have legal rights, particularly property rights.
Yet other entities that are absolutely real in
every sense rivers and trees and animals have no legal rights at all. If
Foulwater Mining Corp. dumps tailings in the river, the downstream town of Feckless Flats can sue
for damage to its water supply. Both the corporation and the town are fictions,
but they have standing in the courts. The river does not and neither do the
plants, fish and animals in the stream.
What if they did? A decade ago, researching The
Living Beach, I ran across a brilliant 1971 essay by Christopher Stone, a law
professor at the University
of Southern California,
called Should Trees Have Standing? Towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects.