October 8, 2020

Protecting the Rights of Nature: A Shift in Environmental Activism

By Grace Tuttle

Wild Virginia interviewed the Virginia Community Rights Network (VACRN) about their work in elevating the rights of Nature and Communities who value nature as a whole. VACRN represents a new paradigm in how to fight for the environment, as part of the environment. VACRN joins other grassroots groups protecting the Rights of Nature, and was founded after being introduced to a Community Bill of Rights in the Fall of 2017, during their fight against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

In the Spring of 2020, they were invited to join a growing number of states who make up the National Community Rights Network, in partnership with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). VACRN was drawn to this framework when they became frustrated at ‘checking all the boxes and jumping through all the hoops’ without much result in their fight against the ACP. They felt they had done everything they could within the existing framework, and found it is essentially geared towards regulating “We the People” and not polluters. As their website states, “the belief that Nature – the species and ecosystems that comprise our world – has inherent rights has proven to be a galvanizing idea.”

When they heard about the ‘rights of Nature,’ they described it as a ‘paradigm shifting moment’ in their activism. As President of VACRN Heidi Dhivya Berthoud said, “we don’t just have a pipeline problem, we have a democracy problem.” VACRN Treasurer Mindy Zlotnik described how in the present time, many “humans view themselves as outside of nature, and separate from it. Because of this, we’ve allowed our laws to develop in a way that gives us permission to exploit and destroy and extract and pollute by treating nature as property, rather than a part of ourselves. This paradigm shift really represents our interdependence with nature, and really a need to live in harmony with it. For VACRN, it means securing the highest societal value for nature, and at the same time, securing the highest legal protection for nature. This is where Community Rights legislation comes in. That’s where communities can make local decisions, and protect the ecosystems that support their existence without the interference of corporate priorities. When we’re talking about rights of nature, we’re talking about securing the rights that nature has evolved for itself, by law.”


VACRN called listeners to ask themselves what they truly feel when they hear the words “Rights of Nature,” and to learn about how this is an ancient understanding that Indigenous Peoples have been fighting for over hundreds of years. VACRN promotes being responsive to the land, its inhabitants and to each other. Listen to the interview to find out about the Rights of Nature, Community Bills of Rights and how you can get involved.

You can find out more about VACRN on their website and they welcome anyone to reach out with questions or ideas with their contact information. Join their mailing list to be kept updated on their work and how you can help!