Does a River Have Rights?

Yes. The Answer is Yes.

A river has the following rights:

I’m sure there are many, many more.

Forests also have rights, as do mountains, animals, grottoes, groves, and all other entities participating in the vast network field of life. That we even need to have this discussion illustrates a pathological disconnect between human culture and the way everything else works on this planet.

If you can’t understand why, you may be part of the problem.

Addressing the Living

Changing how we speak may change how we think

If we’re going to withstand the difficult times ahead, we’re going to have to realize that all of the entities who share in our ecosystems are people. There’s no two ways about it: if we don’t start valuing the beings who live near us as people, no matter their actual genus or species, how will we ever respect them enough to survive together as the planet warms and the oceans rise?

The best way to change the way you think about something is to get into the habit of changing the way you speak. Instead of speaking of plants, animals, stones, soil, water, the sky as things, if we change the way we address them, we can begin to understand them as self-existing entities with their own methods of expression, their own needs, and own contributions to the whole system.

This is, of course, a much bigger problem for so-called modern “Western” society than for more traditional cultures, but since the “Western” view — that animals and plants and rocks are “things” — dominates, it’s the view that must be confronted.

Take a look at this photo:

Mount Rainier

Do you see a picture of a lovely mountain scene? Instead, try to think of it as a group photo, a collection of individual persons who live together and share the same ecosystem. The mountain is a great-great-grandfather, and the rocks below are his grandchildren. Each tree is a person in the act of “tree-ing.” The flowers are our sisters, the stream our cousin.

Places are people. Here’s a grandmother in the act of “hill-ing,” while someone streams by below. Cousins and other relatives stand on the banks:

Yakima River

Here are some cool little guys hanging out in the woods. They’re very cute, and they’re kind of humming. Are they all the same person, or different people?

Shelf Mushrooms

And a representative from the Tribe of Anthuor, a person spending the afternoon Deer-ing:

Browsing Deer

THIS guy!

River Otter

Yes, I’m going to eat them, but since they’re persons, I’m going to do so respectfully and gratefully. I raised them in my ecosystem, feeding them and giving them water, and they spent the year gathering sunlight from the Sky People and nutrients from the Soil People, and grew fat. Now they’re sharing this energy with me, and my family, and that’s amazing:


A friend, Arbutus.


And, of course, THIS guy:


If this all sounds “silly” to you, or if you think it’s “anthropomorphism,” that’s because your worldview hasn’t changed yet. It's not your fault; you were born with it. It may have to change, though, and quickly. If we can’t get back to this way of thinking, it could very well be the end of us.

People have rights. People are their own self-expressions. People are not “invasive species,” or “natural resources,” or meant to be stuffed into boxes. Our relationships with other people are different, more valuable, deeper than our relationships with mere “things” that can be “harvested” or exploited or owned.

This attitude could have saved Flint’s water supply. It could have saved the oceans. It is, in a very real way, contributing to the struggle against the Willow Oil drilling project in Alaska.

But this doesn’t have to be a “religious” or a “spiritual” thing, even though some, like myself, understand it that way. It can be an attitude, a change in perception, and a healthier way to participate in our ecology. As a bonus, understanding our ecosystem this way is fun! The world is filled with living beings, and they’re everywhere, all around us. Only by respecting them as fellow persons within our shared biosystems will help us — ALL of us — withstand the coming crises.

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