The likes of Thomas Paine, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes articulated how government and the individual’s realization of natural rights could co-exist. That was about 250 years ago. Last Tuesday night, the Santa Monica City Council discussed how the local government could embrace a different set of rights – the Sustainability Bill of Rights.
A document drafted by the Santa Monica Task Force on the Environment, council members approved the Bill of Rights in an effort to create a world where plants and other ecosystems can co-exist with humans.
That document was presented to the City Council and the full dais approved a resolution materializing the efforts of the Task Force on the Environment to recognize the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate, and flourish.
Just as the first leaders of the United States said humans were born with certain inalienable rights, the residents of Santa Monica now have a document protecting local sustainability rights.
“The plan recognizes that a healthy environment is integral to the City’s long-term societal and economic interests and that collective decisions made by the City must allow the economy and community members to thrive without destroying the natural environment upon which they depend,” a staff report to council members stated.
The staff report continued that the Sustainability Bill of Rights “also recognizes that local environmental, economic and social issues cannot be separated from their larger context and therefore commits the City to development programs and policies that will serve as models for other communities.”
The Sustainability Bill of Rights aims to protect: cleaner air, energy, and water; limiting the effect of fossil fuel emissions on the climate; and, a more sustainable food system.
“This natural rights movement is based on the belief that Earth is a community whose members are humans, other animals, plants, rivers, streams end eco-systems and that all members of the community must have rights to ensure the sustainability of the whole,” the staff report stated.
Even more, the Task Force on the Environment hopes the Sustainability Bill of Rights will be trendsetting for other communities in shifting the mindset away from the way we currently define land use.
“The movement seeks a paradigm shift away from current economic and legal system classifications of land and natural things as ‘property’ and towards a more holistic view that would place the interest of long-term sustainability ahead of short-range individual and corporate economic goals,” staff wrote to council members.
The Task Force on the Environment established four provisions under the Sustainability Bill of Rights: the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish; individuals may sue to effectuate the rights of the natural world; corporate rights would be subordinated “insofar as those rights threaten sustainability;” and, Santa Monica would meet “specified environmental goals by specified dates and take other specified actions to fulfill the commitments made in the Sustainable City Plan.”
With an approved resolution, council members will next be presented with an ordinance that would officially put the Sustainability Bill of Rights into effect.
While the Sustainability Bill of Rights was unanimously approved, council members did not support another resolution where the U.S. Constitution would be amended to say people have more rights than corporations.