A campaign for community rights and the rights of nature

by Annie Dobbs-Kramer, Political Director, North Bay Organizing Project

Fire and flood have brought home the reality of climate change to people in California. It has become increasingly clear that in order to build resilient and regenerative communities that can weather the physical, social and economic storms of climate change, we need to fundamentally transform the way we relate to the earth.

Climate change and massive ecological destruction are the result of multiple, synergistic causes, all of which are rooted in an economy that is extractive and a worldview that constructs the earth as nothing more than a resource for us to use. Our current laws are rooted in this very worldview, and are designed to reinforce it. Nature is seen as property. The power relations that produced this extractive economic system are pushing production and consumption beyond planetary boundaries.

The way we treat the earth is the way we treat one another. The very same system which is causing mass extinctions is also at the root of genocide of indigenous peoples, the exploitation of labor, structural racism and patriarchy.

And the worldview that got us into this mess is certainly not going to see us out of it.

We see this extractive economy at work in Sonoma County. More than 60,000 acres of Sonoma County are industrial mono-cropped vineyards. Of these, only 600 acres are organically farmed—that is less than 3%. The rest are heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals that poison the farm workers who work the vineyards, the people who drink the wine, and the communities who rely on the water that these chemicals contaminate. As industrial vineyard acreage increases and climate change makes other wine growing regions less desirable, there is a push to clear cut forested areas and turn them into vineyards. These industrial vineyards use a tremendous amount of water and are depleting Sonoma County groundwater.

It is within this context that the North Bay Organizing Project has launched a campaign for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature. The Rights of Nature recognizes ecosystems and natural communities as having intrinsic and legal rights to exist, thrive, regenerate and evolve. It also asserts that communities have a responsibility to these ecosystems which sustain and nourish us, the right to deep democracy, and to local self-governance.

This campaign is led by frontline, faith and environmental leaders who have come together around the shared values that our laws should prioritize people, planet, and future over corporate interests, both globally, and here in Sonoma County.  We have listened to hundreds of Sonoma County residents. Over and over again, we are hearing that people are most concerned with pesticides, water and climate change.

It is time to embrace a different perspective, a holistic worldview rooted in indigenous knowledge systems that sees Earth as a living entity, an intricate system. We humans are a part of this system. We do not own it.  The rights of nature to exist and flourish cannot be separated from the rights of the people to exist and flourish; we are part of the same circle, and protecting nature means protecting ourselves and our collective future.

Annie Dobbs-Kramer
Political Director
North Bay Organizing Project

Related: Environmentalism’s Next Frontier: Giving Nature Legal Rights, Mother Jones





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