Turning the Tables, Part I: Ecosystems over Corporations
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (www.celdf.org)
Decades of vigorous effort by thousands if not millions of people concerned about ecological problems have failed to improve the overall situation. While progress has occurred in limited contexts, all but a very few aspects of environmental quality have worsened, and continue to do so at an accelerating rate. One reason for this failure is that environmentalists have not focused enough on fixing certain basic assumptions that have long governed our relationships to nature and to each other. One of these assumptions is that corporations are "persons" with many of the same constitutional rights as "ordinary" citizens. Another is that nature, in contrast, has no rights whatsoever. Both of these assumptions severely restrict the scope of possible action on behalf of nature and the environment.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) seeks to overcome previous failures by attending to the root of the problem as represented by the assumptions noted above, even as they advise citizens on legislative remedies for very specific, immediate, and local ecological challenges. The CELDF has achieved remarkable success at working with local governments to pass laws that do three things: deal with a particular environmental problem facing the community, deny corporations the rights of natural persons, and ascribe to natural ecosystems the right to exist and flourish. They have also developed an educational program on the pre-history and history of such efforts to move society in the right direction, called Democracy School. And more recently, they have begun advising communities much larger than the small Pennsylvania towns where they started, such as the city of Spokane, Washington and the country of Ecuador.
The CELDF would like to be in a position to help interested communities in Canada who face the same kinds of challenges as those encountered in the US where the organization is based. Canada and the US share not only a legacy of British law, but also many parallel developments since each became a separate country. This ENVR 401 project will help the CELDF begin to identify the relevant differences in the laws of these two lands, with a focus on the Democracy School course pack. After familiarizing themselves with the current course pack, students in this ENVR 401 group will perform historical and legal research sufficient to suggest Canadian alternatives to particular US readings. In the process, all of those involved in the project will deepen their knowledge of the similarities and differences between Canadian and US law relating to democracy and the environment.
Cullinan, C. 2008. If nature had rights. www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/500.
Kaplan, J. 2003. Consent of the governed. www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/132.