Environmental laws

Lee Hall
Saturday, Nov 11, 2023

Environmental laws codify our right to kill. They sanctify our mechanical and chemical warfare against systems that sustain life. They enable the undoing of the formation of a unique and irreplaceable living world. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution can be spoiled in the time it takes to print a pile of paper.

Enabled by laws, businesses impose cattle ranching on public lands. They stamp out savannahs and woodlands for feed crops. They’re still drilling sensitive ecosystems for oil and gas; they’re still exploding mountains for coal. They’re wrecking sacred places, even mining the ocean floor, seeking metals and minerals for electric vehicle components. Roads proliferate. Drivers come and go, spreading fumes, rubber, microplastics, and oil as they move.

The Endangered Species Act nods begrudgingly to nonprofits that scrimp and save up for their last-minute flurries of activity, usually to save a single species, and sometimes after the fact. Intermittent pauses in the human plundering project take years to apply, case by case. In contrast, billions of dollars for murderous, ecocidal wars and occupations are fast-tracked and shepherded behind the political scenes.

And we compound our going-forth and our multiplication through the purpose-breeding of other animals. And in our sprawling cities, towns, and animal husbandry operations, we create a standard of living that’s well beyond our due. Some scientists call this overshoot. Some politicians have noticed it, too, but they are considered outliers by the self-styled masters of the political world.

As for humanity as a whole, our exploitive treatment of nonhuman life is suffocating oceans, damaging atmospheric systems, and driving an extinction crisis. Two of every five known amphibian communities are at risk of disappearing forever. We’re trafficking bees at staggering rates in international commerce, yet neglecting indigenous bees at the brink of collapse. There’s an urgent need for political work that moves our energies and our subsidies from animal agribusiness to animal-respecting agriculture. In other words, to support systems based on growing food – not grazing, not feed. Can nonhuman rights make environmental law more powerful? Could nonhuman rights – not based on iconic species but rather for interconnected, untamed communities – bring about a humanity that could ever hope to honestly call itself sustainable? That is the question.

To be meaningful, nonhuman rights must be culture-shifting. But legal rights operate within human-created systems – infusing nonhuman rights with an inherent contradiction. The idea of animal liberation has deeper, broader potential, as animal liberation is a challenge to human supremacy. Liberation suggests we stop confining, tormenting, and purpose-breeding others.

Excerpted: ‘Environmental Law Is Losing the Plot. What Now?’ Courtesy: