Tamaqua, Pennsylvania made history in 2006 by becoming the first US municipality to recognize legal rights for nature, giving nature legal standing similar to that of an individual or a corporation. Before this landmark decision, the law regarded natural environments as non-entities that could not experience harm or expect restitution.

Over the last two decades, campaigners and communities around the world have secured rights for nature in a variety of contexts, guaranteeing natural environments the right to exist and regenerate free of harm from human activities. Once established, the Rights of Nature provide a basis for defending the environment in court.

Efforts to clinch Rights of Nature provisions—part of a branch of jurisprudence known as Earth Law—often aim to prevent or limit damage to ecosystems from destructive extractive industries such as mining and manufacturing. This was the case for Tamaqua residents, for example, who voted to recognize nature’s legal rights to fight the dumping of toxic mud linked to the local coal industry.

The industrial food system, another example of an extractive industry, is responsible for many environmental harms and is the leading threat to global biodiversity. Recognizing food production’s impact on the environment, recent Rights of Nature initiatives have sought to safeguard the natural world from agriculture, particularly from the negative impacts of intensive animal farming. Building on recent successes, Earth Law and the Rights of Nature represent a promising new legal tool to combat the expansion of industrial animal agriculture.

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Featured image via Jmll / Wikimedia, cropped to 694×700, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0