Dozens of Vermont towns last year supported resolutions calling for the reversal of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that gave corporations the same rights as people.
Nothing’s changed, although there are several proposals pending in Congress to overrule the decision. But there’s a new effort to expand the idea by giving the Earth "rights."
During Town Meeting last year in Strafford, Stephen Marx proposed a petition to give the natural environment of Vermont – its forests and ground waters – certain inalienable rights. He was frustrated with the Citizens United decision, but he wanted to do something positive.
"When the Supreme Court said that corporations were people, I decided that it’s just not fair. So instead of making it a fight, I decided to make it fair," Marx says.
Now, Marx is coordinating the grassroots Vermont Rights of Nature Campaign. He’s drafted an amendment that would change the Vermont Constitution to recognize the rights of natural Vermont, and he’s collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot in Strafford.
Of course, changing the Vermont Constitution is complicated – it takes a vote in the House and Senate, then support from Vermont voters.
Stephen Marx is realistic, though. Speaking from his home in Strafford, he says the idea is to galvanize lawmakers in Montpelier to draw up a constitutional amendment – and to spark a healthy debate about protecting the environment.
"Who are we responsible to, really? Are we really responsible to corporations or are we responsible to the Earth?," Marx says. "This would make it an even playing field."
The effort in Vermont echoes another initiative called the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, which has been advocating for constitutional amendments.
"We treat nature as property to be bought, sold and consumed," says Robin Milam in this online video outlining the goals of the program. "The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is a grassroots worldwide movement advocating for the recognition that [our natural resources] have the right to exist."
The Constitution of Ecuador already includes such language, and several American cities have passed similar measures, including Pittsburgh.
At the University of Vermont, the Gund Institute is also studying ethics and ecology to develop solutions to environmental problems.
Meanwhile, the Strafford-based campaign has announced its plans to collect enough signatures to get the petition on ballots in other towns, including Norwich, Thetford, Sharon and Barnard. It doesn’t have much time, though: the deadline is January 15th.