Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The standing of trees

There are many lovely words that describe a group of trees - copse, grove, thicket, wood, coppice, stand. And when the soft, wet snow clings to every twig, as it is doing today, a thicket of oaks becomes thick with loveliness, a grove is grave in its new white clothes, a stand has new standing in its ceaseless, seasonal transformations.

I'm reminded of an old article I recently ran across, published in 1972 in the Southern California Law Review by Christopher Stone. Its title is “Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.” Whether nature has rights is a relatively new subject in philosophical discourse, coming to a little prominence alongside the great environmental legislation of the 70s. People tend to laugh at the notion in these shell-shocked and unimaginative days, and even though there are some minor advances (a dozen US towns have passed some kind of natural rights ordinance for the environment and against the corporation, and Ecuador in its recent new constitution has some bold language written in response to the predations of the oil companies), I don't see Poland Spring's (ie, Nestle's) water miners or HydroQuebec's dam builders quaking in their boots. But I'd love to come back to life in a couple of hundred years and see trees and vistas and lynxes in court, defending their rights and winning. (If corporations can be people, why not mountaintops?) After all, it was only 150 years that women and slaves were considered to be property to be exploited.

Maine is 90% forested. That's a lot of votes in the campaign to elect our future judges.

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