The only thing that environmental laws regulate are environmentalists.” ~ Thomas Linzey, 2014 Earth at Risk conference
Thomas Linzey co-founded the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in the early 1990s to help communities seeking environmental justice as they fought against factory hog farms, fracking, and pipelines moving into Pennsylvania.
At the 2014 Earth at Risk conference, Linzey laid out how he and his team of lawyers wasted 10 years thinking that American environmental regulations were the best in the world and just needed more lawyers to enforce them.
As he worked to help communities — free of charge — he found that the laws related to pipelines, huge hog farms and fracking had been written by the very groups he was fighting. High-paid lawyers for the 20,000-hog farm and the pipeline thanked him for finding flaws that allowed them to bill more hours and write more ironclad laws.
“The environmental regulation machine is about permitting what would otherwise be illegal,” says Linzey. Filling wetlands, manure pools, nicitinoids, poisons and sewage applied to food crops, massive killing of animals using packs of dogs, lead shot poisoning wildlife, and steel jaw traps — all these atrocities are put into law by the few to benefit themselves.
After 10 years of working within the legal system, the group was stopping nothing. In fact, Linzey describes 40 years of the environmental movement made stagnant, unable to bring proportionate action to the crises we face. Environmentalists and animal activists are banging their heads against laws that were crafted to exclude them from any power.
Activists have bought in to pressure politics, hoping some legislator or famous person or group will descend to help us. It does not work.
Linzey says we have to force change: “The problem is our own governments. The problem is our own state. The problem is the apparatus of law that has been put into place. You actually have to break it.
“We think everything has to be rooted out. Something has to be built anew.”
As people in Pennsylvania faced unbearable conditions, Linzey educated them that the Constitution of the United States is based on English common law, which is not democratic at all. It was designed to impose colonial control on the many by the few.
“The United States Constitution is one of the least democratic governing documents on the planet…. It gives rights of property and commerce above the rights of people, communities and nature. Nature is not mentioned. People are only mentioned as bonded labor.”
He found it very difficult to get it through people’s heads that until they forced change in the structure of law, they would never make progress to protect themselves or their land, air, water or wildlife.
The state of Pennsylvania illuminated the problem by sending in the attorney general to a little township as a show of force against the community. The women of the citizen group escorted that attorney general from the room and said, “We have passed a law and we do not need your help.” Next, the state sued, and 48 hours later, the township passed a law prohibiting the attorney general from intervening. It was all caught by photographers and the press and circulated widely, exposing the state acting against citizens’ best interest.
CELDF was able to force change with rural conservative Pennsylvania people only when they had been given no quarter and had enough.
Now, the law firm has helped over 100 communities draft the rights of nature into law.
Today, farm animals, wildlife, public and private lands are all property. Under current law, that gives owners the right to destroy them. Linzey says, “A property-based system is why everything is going to hell in the first place. Ecosystems have to have rights … a big part of the transition that has to take place is to shift them from being property to being rights-bearing.”
CELDF has worked with Ecuador and Nepal to draft constitutions acknowledging nature rights. Bolivia expanded rights with the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and All Beings.
“Article 3: Every being has:
“(a) The right to exist;
“(b) The right to habitat or a place to be;
“(c) The right to participate in accordance with its nature in the ever-renewing processes of Mother Earth
“Every animal has the right to live free from torture, cruel treatment or punishment by human beings.”
It is not just the humans within the community that must have rights — the rivers, the streams, forests, oceans Was , farm animals, pets, the bears and the wolves and the deer have rights too. They have been abused and slaughtered for centuries. They cannot do this for themselves.
Linzey gave a final outraged call to arms: “People say, ‘We just want a voice — a seat at the table…. We OWN THE F—— TABLE — It’s our table. We decide who gets served. It is about making the rules, writing the script. Coming to grips with a system that is not democratic.” *
ALERT: The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is sponsoring its First U.S. Rights of Nature Symposium Friday, Oct. 27, in New Orleans, Louisiana, at Tulane University. The all-day program will be livestreamed and is free0 to attend. I hope all of you who care about wildlife and this fragile planet will attend or listen to the livestream to learn how to break the deadlock that has excluded us from protecting our beautiful wildlife and this fragile earth.
Please help create the Wisconsin Sacred Bear Sanctuary and Education Center. More information: Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic
* This column was originally published in the Madison CapTimes on October 22, 2017.