Riverkeeper Webinar Explores the Rights of Nature Movement

On March 12, CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore, Thomas Linzey of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights and attorney Steven “Owl” Smith of the Ramapo Munsee Nation headlined a thought-provoking discussion, “Rights of Nature: From Anthropocentrism to Ecocentrism.”

“There is a counter-balance that is substantial enough to make a difference, and it is a shift to ecocentrism,” said Gore as she opened the program.

This online discussion was organized by Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the Hudson River in New York.

The webinar delved into the urgent need to recognize the rights of nature, challenging the long-standing misconception of a separation between humanity and the environment. The broader work of shifting contemporary societies from an anthropocentric mindset to an ecocentric one framed the discussion. Gore highlighted the profound consequences of the false dichotomy between humanity and the environment, emphasizing the failure of GDP and other conventional metrics to take into account critical factors such as population, depletion, inequality and long-term sustainability. In contrast, the concept of rights of nature offers a paradigm shift by acknowledging nature’s intrinsic value and its interconnectedness with human well-being. 

There is a counter-balance that is substantial enough to make a difference, and it is a shift to ecocentrism.

Lindzey expanded on this perspective, highlighting the all-pervasive tendency to treat nature as mere property, subject to exploitation and harm under existing legal frameworks. He cited precedent-setting cases that challenged this dominant perspective from Bolivia, Ecuador and Indigenous tribes in the United States, all of which underscored the imperative of safeguarding nature’s rights against corporate and governmental interests. 

Smith shared profound insights into the deep spiritual connection with the mountains, rivers and valleys of his Ramapo Munsee homelands. He stressed his community’s commitment to defending their land and water resources, emphasizing the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. 

The discussion was a powerful call to action to embrace a holistic approach to life that recognizes and upholds the rights of nature alongside human rights. By fostering greater legal and societal recognition of nature’s intrinsic worth and interconnectedness, initiatives like the Rights of Nature movement offer a promising pathway towards a more sustainable and harmonious relationship between humanity and the Earth.

“It is not the Earth that needs fixing,” said Gore. “It is us.”