Valuing Newry State Forest – natural rights or respect, 3 April

A short essay I wrote for FEA has just been uploaded onto their Facebook page. FYI!

Valuing Newry State Forest – natural rights or respect (extract)

In 2017, New Zealand’s parliament passed a bill declaring the Whanganui River system to be a legal person with, ‘all the rights, powers, duties and responsibilities of a legal person’. [i] The Māori tribes have viewed this river as sacred and having mauri (life force) for over 700 years. They respect this river.

This forest is alive, so could it be classed as a person like the Whanganui? Our evolutionary processes are aligned, our ancestors lived up in the arboreal world. We share atoms, DNA (50%) and metabolic processes with every tree here, what Roger Deakin calls the ‘fifth element’.

Christopher Stone had argued back in 1972 in a legal article ‘Should Trees Have Standing?’ that trees, forests and rivers have rights: ‘It is no answer to say that streams and forests cannot have standing because streams and forests cannot speak. Corporations cannot speak either; nor can states, estates, infants, incompetents, municipalities or universities. Lawyers speak for them . . .’ [ii] Stone’s work is still relevant, and is still discussed. It posits an alternative to humans as naturally at the centre of the legal world.[iii]

Somehow, we have to stop the disastrous momentum of environmental vandalism. Guillaume Chapron says we need a re-think: ‘We are well aware of the global biodiversity crisis that shows no sign at all of slowing down, so it’s time to have a complete rethink. As Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem with the mentality that created it. The most radical shift we can envision is to consider nature as a person…and then to treat nature accordingly.’[iv]

. . .

Love, respect, wonder and aesthetic appreciation are nourished by intimacy, by simply being in forests. Persian poet Hafez wrote, ‘Beauty is a waving tree’. The long view is the indigenous view, the Dreaming is past, present, future. We need to continually remind ourselves that we are dwelling in Gumbaynggirr Country, and that we share this one home with all other peoples, fauna, flora and habitats.

We have to feel that truth.

Newry State Forest – tree growth


[i] Abigail Hutchison, ‘The Whanganui River as a Legal Person’, Alternative Law Journal, September 1, 2014.

[ii] Christopher Stone, ‘Should Trees Have Standing?’, 1972, p464.

[iii] Christopher Stone, ‘Should Trees Have Standing? Towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects’, Southern California Law Review 45. 1972. In a new edition of the related book, he discusses climate change. Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing? Law, Morality, and the Environment, OUP, 2010.

[iv] Guillaume Chapron, ‘A rights revolution for nature’, Science, 14 March 2019.

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