On the Rights of the Natural Person: The Unhealthy State of the Human Animal, the Environment, and Regulation.

During college Summers and for a couple years after graduation, I spent considerable amounts of time traveling around the world, camping in forests, hillsides, and beachfront campgrounds; shepherding sheep, goats, and cows; and working on an organic farm and orchard. I was then and am still very much an environmentalist who cares deeply about nature, organic farming practices, and conservation. After graduating from law school, I spent time working with non-profit environmental justice and environmental law firms — work that was very ethically centered and satisfying. I continue to enjoy time spent in natural settings, as do those of us who are lucky enough to live near a natural landscape.

Prior to my career as a lawyer, when I worked as a bilingual secondary school teacher I led a field trip for a group of about a dozen Latino students from a high school in an economically struggling neighborhood to a nearby Pacific Ocean beach that was perhaps a 10-minute drive away. I was saddened and amazed to learn that for many if not all of them it was their first time ever visiting the beach! This is a widespread problem in our nation, primarily in our cities where the majority of Americans live, and even more so abroad in nations less rich in economic and natural resources.

Nature is more than an economic resource. It is a temple of spiritual nourishment. Ideally, if you are far enough from the city and deep in a natural landscape, you will find solace from city noises and lights, from cars, trucks, and hopefully even planes. You will be able to hear the wind, the quiet shuffle of the leaves, or a squirrel’s claws against the wooden branches of a tree. Better still, you will be able to hear nothing at all: the sound of silence. And at night, you’ll see the moon like you’ve never seen it before, and you’ll see the stars: so many stars! You’ll be able to breathe clean air, and it will feel sweet and healing to your lungs — like you are feeding yourself with each breath. The water will be so cool and clear, and with a bit of filtration, it will taste so alive and delicious, rather than the stuff we have pouring from our taps and even purchased in fancy bottles. In the woods, up in the mountains, by the beach, and on the rivers, there are gorgeous opportunities to experience so many profoundly simple and necessary activities.

“If you get there before the woods are awake, like all the mist and the fog and everything, and the birds just start chirping and stuff … there’s a peace. Like that’s one way I see God the most is when I’m out in the woods like that. My ideal life would be: wear buckskin, just hunt everything I need, live with the land. But I don’t think that’s going to happen so I’ll go start a real life, get a job and everything and then keep hunting as my own little, ‘that’s my, that’s my place’.”

- 17 year-old Sam King, Nashville, TN, “Senior Spring: How Teens Feel about Guns in America”, NPR, Feb. 2019.

But not all landscapes are equal in cleanliness and beauty: in fact, the number of such locations is ever decreasing as our population increases. When our nation experienced the federal shutdown at the start of 2019, for over a month many federal park and wilderness area workers were furloughed. With their absence, these natural landscapes were polluted and abused by people who were breaking the law. They damaged sensitive and rare flora and illegally hunted and fished. This is why we have various laws and enforcement officers in natural landscapes, of course.

It is necessary to maintain and even increase such regulations and enforcement efforts because it is crucial to ensure that we continue to care for our environment better than we ever have. Over-population, increased industrial pollution, mass extinction of so many species each day, and climate change are destroying our natural environment — an environment upon which all of our lives actually rely.

“Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century.”

- Center for Biological Diversity website, February 13, 2019.

We as human beings should enjoy so many of the natural rights that animals and plants enjoy but which are denied to us in part or in whole. Animals walk about nude in nature. It’s not illegal for them to do so. It would be silly to see them clothed, wouldn’t it? They live and hunt for their entire lives in nature, no license or fees required, no limitations on how long they can camp out in the park, and no restrictions on their hunting activities. There are no borders in nature that require visas and passports — a bird flies where it will, never passing through some guarded and arbitrary checkpoint. Human beings are natural animals, and yet we have regulated the natural aspect of our lives so much that we have truly lost touch with nature — and with our own natural aspect. We are a mere single species on this immensely diverse planet, and we are thoroughly entwined with the fate of all its other inhabitants.

Certainly, there is a balance that regulations and enforcement should strike to ensure that we don’t harm our environment as we have been doing and to help us stay connected to nature. To begin with, it would be wonderful if our government would sincerely and legitimately enforce our already existing environmental regulations. This is a huge part of the problem. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws have been weakly enforced and have been weakened by loopholes since their inception.

We should increase by many times the number, quality, and size of our city, state, and federal parks, forests, beaches, and other natural environments rather than allowing them to become diminished. We need to introduce more wilderness into our daily lives rather than these artificial arrays of recreational features that our city parks are increasingly displaying.

There should be no restrictions on how long we can spend living in our natural environmental areas, be they parks, recreational areas, wilderness areas, rivers, beaches, or other landscapes. There should be increased season lengths for hunting and fishing, no licensing requirements and fees, and more types of animals that we should be able to hunt. It is not hunters and fishers that are causing the environmental crisis facing us. Quite the contrary, hunters and fishers are often the most outspoken protectors of the environment, not simply because they want to take home some deer meat or a few trout, but more often because they have spent time in nature and understand its sacred beauty — its inherent value. Rather, it is the unregulated pollution from corporations and cities that are causing our environmental woes. This is why I also support the Green New Deal, promoted by progressive politicians, as well as our nation’s re-commitment to the Paris Agreement. I also support the United Nations’ Division of Environmental Law and Conventions commitment to promoting environmental rights as a fundamental human right:

“There are three main dimensions of the interrelationship between human rights and environmental protection: The environment as a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of human rights (implying that human rights obligations of States should include the duty to ensure the level of environmental protection necessary to allow the full exercise of protected rights); Certain human rights, especially access to information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters, as essential to good environmental decision-making (implying that human rights must be implemented in order to ensure environmental protection); and The right to a safe, healthy and ecologically-balanced environment as a human right in itself (this approach has been debated).”

- UN DELC, 2019.

It is crucial that we increase our commitment to bringing more high quality wilderness and natural areas into our cities and our daily lives; to strongly backing alternative energy, public transportation, and organic food practices; and to aggressively fighting major sources of air, water, light, and noise pollution on our planet.

It is also necessary to substantially ease restrictions on hunting and fishing; to allow archery practice, slingshot practice, and ax and knife throwing on private lands (as funny as that sounds to we who have forgotten our natural origins which relied so much on these hunting arts); to increase access to public targetry ranges; to promote public gardens, farmers markets, and wild mushroom foraging; to decriminalize public nudity (how is that even illegal?); to remove restrictions on camping and actually living in our natural landscapes, including maximum-stay limits, licensing requirements, and fees; to greatly reduce or eliminate restrictions on sailing, canoeing, and otherwise navigating our rivers, lakes, and oceans, including all licensing and fee requirements, docking limits, and maximum-stay limits; and to end or substantially limit all regulations that prohibit people from living and enjoying their natural rights as human animals on this green and blue planet of ours.

It is such regulations that destroyed the innate rights and lives of the First Nations of our world in centuries past, even as our indigenous brothers and sisters are struggling now to maintain their traditions and very lives against such corporate-backed encroachment today. Historically, if land was not owned by government-ordained title, then it was free to take. And once taken, the land, the air, and the water was abused, as it is still.

“More than 2 million annual deaths and billions of cases of diseases are attributed to pollution. All over the world, people experience the negative effects of environmental degradation ecosystems decline, including water shortage, fisheries depletion, natural disasters due to deforestation and unsafe management and disposal of toxic and dangerous wastes and products. Indigenous peoples suffer directly from the degradation of the ecosystems that they rely upon for their livelihoods. Climate change is exacerbating many of these negative effects of environmental degradation on human health and well-being [sic] and is also causing new ones, including an increase in extreme weather events and an increase in spread of malaria and other vector born diseases. These facts clearly show the close linkages between the environment and the enjoyment of human rights, and justify an integrated approach to environment and human rights.”

- UN DELC, 2019.

We are all suffering from the damage to our environment. This is clear enough, whether you suffer through brown poisonous water in Flint, Michigan, dirty air in Los Angeles, CA, or agricultural pesticide poisons, pig farm runoff, or fracking and mining pollution in Heartland America — our environment has degraded beyond all reasonable limits and our very lives are at risk.

But let us not forget our souls as we have forgotten the temple of the spirit that nature is. We are human beings, natural animals, and yet we have strayed so far from our selves. Let us re-visit our spiritual home and build it up, help it thrive, and keep it clean and beautiful so that it feeds and nurtures us and our planet again.

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.”

- “America the Beautiful”, Katharine Bates, a teacher, 1893, who wrote in her journal

“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”

Related Links:

Check the State of Your Air here.

Check the Quality of Your Tap Water here.

Check the EPA Superfund Map for Radioactive and Toxic Sites near you.

Check the State of Light Pollution near you.

Check the State of Noise Pollution near you.

Check the State of Deforestation near you.

Check the State of Global Melting Ice Caps here.

Check the State of Global Indigenous Land Rights here.

Check your Spiritual Health here :)

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