“…the work we call cultivating ecological consciousness…involves becoming more aware of the actuality of rocks, wolves, trees, and rivers–the cultivation of the insight that everything is connected.”

– Bill Devall and George Sessions, “Deep Ecology”





At Emergent Law we are committed to reinvigorating that connection and manifesting it in transformative legal structures.

Nature as object

From the origins of liberal political theory through the “conservation” movement in the U.S. at the dawn of the 20th Century to modern day environmentalism, in the Western mind Nature has always been an object. Either to be consumed for human benefit or to be preserved and protected from human encroachment. Both mindsets presuppose a distinction between humans and Nature that doesn’t actually exist.

The question has always been how much can we take from Nature, and even modern environmental laws merely regulate acceptable levels of pollution, extraction, and ecological loss. They do not prevent it.

We seek to reverse that trend by addressing the fundamental assumption that Nature is an object, instead promoting new legal frameworks in which Nature itself has fundamental rights and stands as an equal subject before the law.

Rights of nature

Fundamentally, recognizing the ‘rights of nature’ means moving from an anthropocentric to a biocentric view of law. An aspect of what some call ‘wild law,’ it means building our systems of government on a foundation that acknowledges our inherent connection to the Earth, and our obligation to live alongside the more-than-human world, not at its expense.

As a matter of legal procedure, this means that Nature would have legal “standing.” Lawsuits could be filed against a polluter on behalf of a river itself, for instance, rather than on behalf of a group of riparian landowners. What’s more, the damages to be awarded would be measured not by the loss to the economic value of each landowner’s riverfront property but rather by the loss to the ecological value of the river itself.


Rights in action

The Rights of Nature movement is still relatively young, but it is gaining momentum in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S. it is an intensely local endeavor, driven by groups of citizens in small towns and counties working to pass community bills of rights that recognize the fundamental, legal rights of all beings, including Nature, to co-exist, thrive, and evolve.

Internationally it is proceeding on a different scale. Ecuador wrote these rights of nature directly into its constitution in 2008. In 2017, the New Zealand government granted legal standing to the Whanganui River, and a court in Northern India ruled that the Ganges River, and its main tributary the Yumana, are legal entities.

Our Approach

Emergent Law is moving the conversation forward through original content promoting a rights-based approach to protecting the natural world (check out our blog, for starters) and through events that bring folks together to learn about and discuss this groundbreaking work.