Toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie, USA, due to pesticide residues leaking into the lake. Photo: Flickr


Nature's rights - a path to better climate awareness

The climate issue is more relevant than ever. Concepts such as flight shame and climate anxiety dominate today's debates, which shows that the focus is primarily on the individual and on the emotional relationship to the threatened climate. Biologist and activist Pella Thiel instead wants to move our eyes and work for Sweden to give nature its own rights.

Lake Erie in the USA, the Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Amazon rainforests in Colombia. In recent years, they have all been given legal rights. FUF has talked to Pella Thiel about this, who is a biologist and activist. She works with change work within the association Lodyn, the network End Ecocide Sweden and the UN initiative Harmony with Nature.

- Legal rights for nature mean concretely that they can be represented in court and that human interests need to take into account their interests and needs. On a broader level, nature's rights are a bridge to a completely different way of relating to the living world, Thiel explains.

It is not the legal rights themselves that are important. Rather, they serve as a means of changing people's attitudes towards nature and their own role in the world. Thiel believes that it can make us understand that we are part of a living whole. Human impact on the climate is part of a general attitude towards nature, where we see nature only as a source of resources that can be used. Pella Thiel believes that this view of the world leads to the destruction of ecosystems, which contributes to climate change:

- If nature is not perceived as a legal subject with rights, forests, seas or other living entities can never assert themselves against human interests. Nature itself is not considered to have interests, but is seen as resources for humans. There is nothing that balances human development that focuses on expansion and control of nature, she says.

The fact that parts of nature have already been granted rights in court is largely due to the dissatisfaction of civil society in different parts of the world. Residents around Lake Eyre in the United States were tired of the lake being constantly polluted, leading to many complications for residents in the area. Extensive protests ensued, and eventually Lake Eyre became the first ecosystem in the United States to have legal rights. In Colombia, a group of young activists sued the state for deforestation, believing that deforestation affected the climate and threatened their rights to a clean, healthy environment. Now Pella Thiel and Lodyn hope to be able to draw attention to the issue in Sweden as well, and are investigating today whether it is possible to give Lake Vättern legal rights in the same way:

- Lake Vättern is one of Sweden's most important water sources and it is threatened by several destructive activities. For example, the Armed Forces recently received permission to greatly increase its practice firing in the lake. There is an active commitment to Lake Vättern's health among the people in the region.

Pella Thiel is aware of the many challenges that exist with this type of adjustment, but still thinks that a clear vision gives more energy in the work. When I ask if the Greta Thunberg effect has simplified her and Lodyn's work, she explains:

- So far, the commitment during the climate strikes has above all been a reaction. People have begun to perceive the climate issue and the effects in nature as real and acute threats. But the discussion is mostly about reducing emissions. We work, so to speak, with the step after: if what we do now does not work, what should we do then? What new models do we need to create a society in interaction with nature?

The social adjustment required to prevent climate change thus takes different forms. One aspect is the strikes, individuals' feelings of guilt and the demands for urgent action. Another aspect is the long-term vision of how nature can be institutionalized in the judiciary to be protected while changing people's attitudes towards nature. As in all processes, each step is equally important, but characteristic of the process towards a more environmentally conscious world is the great power of civil society and the individual to make a difference.

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