A discussion of whether or not nature has legal rights, and the implications thereof, was the focus of a presentation offered as part of Niagara University’s fall 2022 Social Justice Speaker Series. Tish O’Dell, a community organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Ohio, explained the burgeoning movement and how it might impact communities as it gains momentum.

She noted that the concept originated with the desire to enable an ecosystem to legally defend itself against actions that might cause it harm, such as degradation resulting from corporate development or climate change. She said that the idea looks to make a cultural shift that views nature and humans as interdependent, rather than positioning humans above nature and able to use its resources for their own self-interest, and that it is grounded in Indigenous wisdom.

The social justice speaker series, which is sponsored in partnership with Burning Books, has presented “activists, educators, resisters across a spectrum of political and social issues,” said Dr. David Reilly, NU professor of political science, who organized the event. “The purpose of our series has been, and will continue to be, to engage the campus and the broader community in these struggles by introducing the ideas of the individuals who have been active participants and who have led them. We believe we’ve been able to contribute to important dialogue on and off campus and to motivate our students and our community to work for social justice.”