From communities in Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Massachusetts, to the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia, people are striving to protect themselves and their ecosystems by establishing rights for the natural world. One of the first successful efforts was in Tamaqua Borough, in Pennsylvania. Where efforts to dump sewage sludge in the community led to the establishment of a new ordinance that says, in part:
“It shall be unlawful for any corporation or its directors, officers, owners or managers to interfere with the existence of natural community or ecosystems, or to cause damage to those natural communities or ecosystems. The Borough of Tamaqua, along with any resident of the Borough, shall have standing to seek declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief for damages caused to natural communities and ecosystems within the Borough … ecosystems shall be considered to be ‘persons’ for purposes of the enforcement.”
Some of these communities are also discovering that, just because a law has been passed, it doesn't automatically assure a desirable outcome.
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Efforts like these mark an important opportunity for humane educators and citizen activists. Not only are concepts such as rights, property, legal standing, and other issues worthy of discussion and exploration, but this growing reframing of our relationships with the natural world provides us with a chance to help students of all ages expand their circle of compassion and to empower them to create greater positive change both in their own lives and in the global community.
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