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Nature Rights: A Lake in Florida Sues to Stop Development on its Shores


The nature-rights agenda keeps growing in visibility. It has now reached the New Yorker, where Elizabeth Kolbert writes about Mary Jane Lake, which is “suing” to stop developments on its shores. From “A Lake in Florida Suing to Protect Itself“:

Like most of the rest of central Florida, Mary Jane is under pressure from development. Orange County, which encompasses the lake, the city of Orlando, and much of Disney World, is one of the fastest-growing counties in Florida, and Florida is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. A development planned for a site just north of Mary Jane would convert nineteen hundred acres of wetlands, pine flatlands, and cypress forest into homes, lawns, and office buildings.

In an effort to protect herself, Mary Jane is suing. The lake has filed a case in Florida state court, together with Lake Hart, the Crosby Island Marsh, and two boggy streams. According to legal papers submitted in February, the development would “adversely impact the lakes and marsh who are parties to this action,” causing injuries that are “concrete, distinct, and palpable.”

Of course, the lake does not really have personal pronouns. And it is not suing. People are — radical environmentalists who want to elevate the natural world to the equivalent of human beings, which is to say, they want us to self-perceive as just another animal in the forest.

Typical of advocacy journalism, Kolbert does not give much of a voice to opponents of this subversive idea. Instead, she talks to the radicals. And she swallows the nature-rights hokum whole:

From a certain point of view, granting nature a say isn’t radical or new at all. For most of history, people saw themselves as dependent on their surroundings, and “rivers, trees, and land” enjoyed the last word. Only in the past few hundred years has it become possible—and come to seem normal—for people to mow down forests, fill in wetlands, and blast away mountains because it suits them. This way of operating has resulted in unprecedented, if unequally distributed, human prosperity. It has also brought melting ice sheets, marine dead zones, soaring extinction rates, and the prospect of global ecological collapse. As António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it last week, when the latest international climate report was released, we are “firmly on track towards an unlivable world.”

And, of course, she closes with some typical old-fashioned anthropomorphism:

A wood stork arrived and started poking its beak into the muck at the lake’s edge. More storks swooped down and similarly began poking. One of them bent its legs, dipped its white-and-black wings into the water, and then held them out, as if airing a blanket. Another stork did the same, and soon they were all rolling around in the water and stretching their wings. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, they were doing, but it looked like fun. I took off my shoes and waded in. As I approached, most of the storks flew away. The water, around my ankles, was the golden brown I had seen in Dierdorff’s exhibit. I spent a while listening. I didn’t hear any blips from Mary Jane; still, it seemed to me, the lake’s wishes were pretty clear, as were the wood storks’. What they really wanted was to be left alone.

No. The lake is inanimate and insentient. It has no opinions.

Bah. What about the lost jobs if these development projects get scrapped, the consequences of preventing natural resources from being harnessed for human benefit, and the greater deleterious impact on humankind if environmentalist radicals are empowered with the legal standing to impose their ideology on the rest of us by court order?

For a certain class of liberal journalist, such practical concerns are of little consequence — or perhaps, just not as much fun to write about — and they rate only a bare mention from Kolbert. But as the nature-rights movement grows in influence, the rest of us had better ponder what its success would mean. Our future well-being depends on ensuring that the “rights” remain exclusively within the human realm.