In the summer of 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, announced that the city’s tap water was no longer safe to drink. A toxic algae bloom caused by fertilizer runoff had poisoned Lake Erie, the primary water source for the area’s half-million residents, sickening more than 100 people . Stores emptied of bottled water within hours. For three days, “it was just total panic,” recalls Markie Miller. “People were fighting over it.” Miller joined Toledoans for Safe Water , a group of residents who had been trying to convince officials to clean up the lake, to no avail. Then, in late 2015, members of the group attended a presentation put on by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund about advancing the “rights of nature”—the idea that ecosystems, like humans, have legal rights. After the presentation, some Toledoans met in a pub and drafted the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. This past February, voters chose to amend the city charter to grant the lake the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The amendment allows any resident to sue governments or businesses that infringe upon the lake’s rights—for example, by polluting it with fertilizer. The White Earth Band of Ojibwe codified […]

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