The “Rights of Nature” in Times of Conflict and Transition

ANTH 031

Kristina Lyons

Tuesday 3:00-6:00 PM

In less than half a decade, the idea that "nature" possesses inalienable rights akin to human rights has gone from a strictly theoretical concept to the basis of policy changes in several countries and U.S. municipalities. This first-year seminar will introduce students to current legal, political, ethical, and practical debates about the implementation and impacts of granting “rights to nature” in these different contexts. We will begin by examining how the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) supported citizens of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania to write the world's first local "rights of nature" ordinance. We will then go on to compare the politics of "rights of nature" cases in Ecuador, New Zealand, India, and Colombia, and beyond. We will pay particular attention to the way biocentric constitutional moves may transform concepts and understandings of environmental justice and socio-environmental conflicts. In particular, how the recognition of "nature" as a victim of war may transform understandings of violence, and hence, approaches to constructing peace and engaging and reparative and restorative practices within the larger framework of planetary and community efforts to mitigate climate change. Lastly, we will explore the possibilities and tensions between community decision-making, the "rights of nature," and national level policies regarding the intensification of extractive activities, questions of territorial ordinance, struggles over environmental racism, and the colonial impacts of pollution.  Beyond social science or legal documents, we will also engage with literary texts and films to help us explore these issues. The final project for this seminar will integrate multimodal methods with contemporary environmental issues to experiment with doing public engaged environmental humanities work.  

This seminar fulfills the Sector 1 (Society) General Education requirement.

Spring 2020