My next research trip will be this month. I am going to Ecuador to study Fair Trade, free trade, and sustainable development. Ecuador is an amazing and beautiful country that includes mountains of the Andes, Pacific coastal zones, and even Amazon rain forests. It is a particularly meaningful time to be traveling to Ecuador. Ecuador's people voted to approve a new constitution on September 28, 2008. Among other provisions, it gives certain rights to nature.
*This constitutional provision reminds me of the words of one of my heroes from the U.S. Supreme Court: Justice William O. Douglas. He wrote a famous dissent in a 1972 case. In essence, he said that trees should have standing to be protected and represented in our U.S. court system. The case involved a battle over the Mineral King Valley of Sequoia National Forest in California's Sierra. Sierra Club was contesting the decision of the U.S. Forest Service to sell the fragile valley to Walt Disney Enterprises. The Sierra Club documented damage that would occur to the valley both in terms of ecology and aesthetics. Disney and the Forest Service argued that the Sierra Club had no "standing" to participate in the proceedings because it did not own property in the area. Ultimately, after much litigation and a second filing in the case, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Sierra Club to continue as a party, saying it had economic interests. Economic interests arose from the fact that Sierra Club members used the lands to engage in activities tied to the economy such as hunting, fishing, and camping. (In the aftermath of the litigation, Disney did not build the ski resort it had planned for the valley.)
In his dissent, Justice Douglas argued for direct protection of nature without the complicated argument about economic interests of members of the Sierra Club. He said trees should have standing. Douglas was influenced by the words of law Professor Christopher Stone who wrote a famous essay entitled, "Should Trees Have Standing?”
Closing comment: Bravo to the Ecuadorians! This is only a start, but it is an important one, opening the door to protection of the environment.