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Part 2: Lecture Explores ‘Rights of Nature’ Perspective

Environmental conversation examines possibilities and obstacles for movement to thrive on Maui. “We’re in a hurry--no time to waste.”

June 7, 2012
Trisha Smith , The Maui Weekly

I remember reciting Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" as a youth with obligatory pride, never fully realizing until later the folk classic challenged the definition of liberty, individual rights and property ownership, and predicted the path of social injustice our nation was heading down.

But what about environmental injustice? Perhaps his protest ditty could now carry the title, "This Land is Their Land," and be rewritten to tell the tale of government and corporate control here in Hawai'i and elsewhere in the U.S. When did we forget about our natural ecosystems, and how each prospered for centuries without humankind? When will there be a balance of what is beneficial for humans with what is good for all other species and the Earth?

The intellectual world movement "Rights of Nature" is seeking to do just that, with those holding the reigns believing Maui could take part in the revolution.

Article Photos

Kuleana in session. Hawai‘i’s environment and natural ecosystems are all too familiar with battles regarding rights and have suffered greatly from the legal precedent set forth over the years, ranging from indigenous land ownership and instream flow standards to the controversy over Monsanto. Esteemed environmental lawyers Kapua Sproat of Kaua‘i (left) and Thomas Linzey of Pennsylvania joined moderator Lucienne de Naie for an educational discussion on Tuesday, May 15, in the McCoy Studio Theater regarding the “Rights of Nature” movement.

East Maui nonprofit Ala Kukui recently received permits to host renewal-and-transformation retreats, Hana-community Hawaiian cultural programs, and to launch two new initiatives in 2012, including four public conservations known as "Man/Woman and Nature: Restoring the Balance."

Presented by Ala Kukui at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, the series of talks began on Tuesday, May 15, in the McCoy Studio Theater with the "Rights of Nature" dialogue.

Lucienne de Naie, a passionate Maui voice, acted as moderator, welcoming to the stage a few professional representatives that "speak up for nature" and its fragile ecosystems.

Thomas Linzey, co-founder, executive director and chief lawyer of the nonprofit Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and a hero in the "Rights of Nature" movement, continues to assist global communities to work with their elected officials to "craft and adopt new laws that change the status of natural communities and ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities."

Linzey, who shared how tired he is of all the talking and "lack of walking," considers himself a recovering environmental lawyer on a mission.

"We're in a hurry--no time to waste," said Linzey.

Corporate trumps community, Linzey explained, since our country's "black letter laws" work against us, including corporate constitutional rights as far back as the Fifth Amendment. He also mentioned preemption laws within such issues as geothermal or seed regulation here in Hawai'i.

"The law has been structured to allow corporations to come into community," he said, adding how in Hawai'i, the system has the county as "a child to the state."

"Thought processes are the problem," he said. "Nature is seen as a property concept, not a rights concept."

Linzey said over 140 communities across eight states have used this new understanding to take courageous actions where they live, and he's anxious for "others to wake up."

"We realize there needs to be a revolt, and soon," he said, suggesting we rewrite constitutional documents and create blueprints of new sustainability constitutions.

"Global warming and deforestation were not issues when these documents were created," Linzey said. "The structure 37 white guys in a room created doesn't work anymore."

"Communities need to build a new reality... sustainability is illegal in this country by policy standards, and we need to make drastic changes or we're burned," he said.

De Naie introduced local environmental lawyer Kapua Sproat, also a professor at the Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the University of Hawai'i. She heard her kuleana calling as a child on Kaua'i and works to protect native lands and natural flow, but struggles remain as resources are "used as property."

A self-proclaimed political pragmatist, Sproat believes that are still "persons of conscience" in our systems, such as herself, and they will continue to "draw a line in the sand in many communities."

"Provoke the right kinds of fights," suggested Linzey. "We're so obedient in this country break free of those rules."

While Sproat endearingly suggested we all "need to turn into Lucienne de Naies" to protect and maintain our nature's rights, Linzey called for action by ordering us to "just do it," with no shortcuts.

"Seize your municipal structure," he said.

Linzey insists the "Rights of Nature" movement can thrive and push back government regulation.

"What are we waiting for?" he asked.

Linzey said that with extra jurisdiction utilizing the perspective, communities do have the possibility of working with state, then federal government, to change systems to protect the rights of the natural world here.

"But, we're talking about a movement," he stressed.

"National change is too difficult in our environment," said Linzey, calling the Occupy events "somewhat unfocused movements." "It's up to municipalities; community."

The series continues on July 26 with the "Journey of the Universe" program, followed by "Biomimicry" talk on Aug. 16 and a "Food Security" discussion in mid-November.

For more information, visit and, and explore CEDLF's work via



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