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Earth Law Monthly Update
August 2023

Dear Friends:

This month, we highlight a bonanza of upcoming events, first in Washington D.C. at the Earth Law Symposium (Sept. 14-15), then in New York during Climate Week NYC (Sept. 17, 18, 21). We hope to see you there & please invite your friends! 

While we are thrilled by these gatherings, we also have a heavy heart as we mourn the loss of Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut, the Southern Resident Orca also known as Tokitae or Lolita, who died before she could be relocated from the Miami Seaquarium to her home waters in the Salish Sea as planned. This tragedy motivates us to redouble our efforts to secure rights and a voice for animal species and ecosystems everywhere, including in the Pacific Northwest.

Another animal species, sea turtles, is receiving significant attention. The Washington Post just reported on the rights of sea turtles in Panama. We are thrilled that our partner Callie Veelenturf (The Leatherback Project) is featured along with a great quote from ELC's Latin America Director, Constanza Prieto Figelist, and many partners.

Thank you, as always, for the support. 

-Earth Law Center Team



Earth Law Symposium at George Washington Law in Washington D.C. on September 14-15

Register now for the first Earth Law Symposium, September 14 & 15, co-hosted by the The George Washington University Law School's Environmental and Energy Law Program & Earth Law Center. We are so honored to co-host this major event covering developments in Earth law. 

Topics include the Rights of Nature, rights of future generations, rights to a healthy environment, laws prohibiting ecocide, ecocentric Ocean law, Indigenous legal frameworks and rights, the public trust doctrine, animal rights, and more (agenda). 

The symposium is the week before Climate Week NYC (Sept. 17-24), so travelers should consider stopping by DC on your way to New York City. This event is in-person only with full recordings released later on. Please invite everyone you know! Email info@earthlaw.org to inquire about large group visits. 

  • Day 1: Thursday, September 14, 12:15pm - 4:15pm
  • Day 2: Friday, September 15, 9:00am - 3:30pm


Meet our team at Climate Week NYC. ELC is co-hosting several events and attending many others. Or if you can't make any of these, stop by the West Side YMCA, where our whole team is staying, for a game of pickup basketball or some yoga! 

Sunday, September 17

Rights of Marine Species Panel & Mixer

  • Time: 4:00-5:30pm panel, 5:30pm-6:30pm reception 
  • Cost: Free (donations accepted); exclusive reception $100.
  • Location: West Side Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater, New York City (map)

Description: Who speaks for sharks, sea turtles, and orcas? Join our panel of experts to explore how legal innovation can better protect these marine species from climate change and other threats. The movement towards the Rights of Nature and Earth law is expanding rapidly worldwide. In 2023, sea turtle populations in Panama earned their own fundamental rights. Seven towns and counties in Washington State now support legal rights for the critically endangered Southern Resident Orcas, of which only 73 remain. Some scientists also propose to extend legal rights to sharks, with about 100 millions being killed by humans every year.


Monday, September 18

Hearing Nature’s Voice: Perspectives from Law, Ethics, Business, and Science

  • Time: 6pm-7pm panel; 7pm-8pm reception (*doors open at 5:30pm)
  • Cost: Free, but pre-registration is required
  • Location: James Chapel, 3041 Broadway, New York City (map)

Description: The panel will offer insights into the transition from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. We will explore why humans must shift their extractive and destructive dispositions towards Nature if we are to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, and other forms of massive environmental degradation, as well as the human rights violations that go with them. The panelists will draw from law, ethics, business, and science to explore how using modalities such as Rights of Nature, rights of Future Generations, and Earth Ethics, among others, can help facilitate this transition.


Thursday, September 21

Mixer for Eco-Centric Law and Technology

  • Time: 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Location: Social Drink & Food rooftop bar (map)
  • How to Join: RSVP here (free)

Description: A happy hour, hosted by Regen Foundation and Earth Law Center, to discuss the intersection of ecocentric law and technology in service to a more equitable and symbiotic future for all life. 



Earth Law Center's Statement on the Death of Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut

Earth Law Center is devastated by the loss of Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut, also known as Tokitae or Lolita. She died on Friday, Aug 18, at 1pm PT. She was held in captivity for 52 years in the world's smallest Orca tank.

She was deeply loved. Her family members from the Lummi Nation, including through SacredSea.Org, understood that Orcas (or qwe ‘lhol mechen) are 'people below the waves', sacred relatives, kin, not just property for entertainment. Her friends from Orca Network had a dream that she could once again swim in the Salish Sea, her home, and fought for her well-being for decades. Millions of people rooted for her.

Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut was violently captured in 1970. Many of her family members died during the roundups. Another Southern Resident Orca, Hugo, was Sk'ali's tankmate for 10 years until he died from a brain aneurysm after repeatedly ramming his head against the tank wall. I can't imagine what pain Hugo felt, and Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut braved another 40 years.

Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut almost saw her homelands again when, in 2023, the Miami Seaquarium's new owners agreed to bring her home. Although transporting an Orca is not completely risk-free, complicated medical decisions on health & well-being are best made by family members (such as Lummi elders), or others who can speak with someone's best interests in mind. The message from those who loved Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut the most was clear: Bring her home!!! And we almost got there. She knew she was going home, because her Lummi family members told her so, but she just couldn't hang on.

Unfortunately, for most of Sk'aliCh'elh-tenaut's life, she was treated as human property. A thing. She didn't have a legal guardian or trustee with legal standing to represent her direct interests. Her Lummi kin did not have special legal standing to speak for her like they would for a human child. She was a piece of property owned by a profit-driven business.

This tragedy was the natural result of a legal system that fails to provide even the most basic of rights to millions of speciesin fact, all of them, save one: humans. We ignore the rights & needs of animals, including Orcas, a wonderfully intelligent, loving, sophisticated species.

How can we think it's ethical or just to treat all nonhuman life on the planet as our property? Are we really "superior" to every other species, including Orcas? Certainly not. The law must evolve to reflect the reality that humans are just one small piece of the much larger, interconnected community of life. The burgeoning movement in the Pacific Northwest towards recognizing the rights of Southern Resident Orcas is one way we can begin to change the status quo.

Rest in peace & may we do better in the future.



Earth Law Center Supports Ecocentrism in Global Plastic Treaty

ELC has submitted public comments to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which is developing an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The next crucial meeting, INC-3, is scheduled to take place Nov. 13-19 at the Headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya.

ELC’s submission carries substantial recommendations that revolve around two key aspects: the scope of the future instrument and the guiding principles that should underpin its implementation. Among the central recommendations put forth by ELC are the urgent need for a comprehensive and full lifecycle approach and incorporating principles such as social justice, intergenerational equity, and a rights-based approach that recognizes both the human right and Nature’s right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

ELC will have the opportunity to present and voice these suggestions to the INC Secretariat this month in a webinar. Keep an eye out for further updates on the treaty’s progress and our ongoing advocacy in this area.



ELC and partners continue to advance Rights of Nature and Earth-centered law in Mexico. Read some updates below!

Advancements in Mexico in Support of Nature and Indigenous Peoples

Claudia Brindis, ELC Operative Director for Mexico, attended several community assemblies in July. In Mexico, ELC is supporting the constitutional amendment to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples, a very important step for the legal recognition of the Guardians of Nature.


Guardians of Nature

In commemoration of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on Aug. 9, Claudia participated in special events and community assemblies for several days to listen to the socio-environmental conflicts that are currently affecting Indigenous Peoples and to create alliances to protect Nature. 


Judicial Projects

ELC will participate in the working group for the construction of the First Protocol on Environmental Justice in collaboration with United Nations offices in Mexico. It will also continue to contribute to the process for the creation of environmental courts that will help implement achieve socio-environmental justice and the Rights of Nature.


Highlighting Partners: River Protectors

Javier Camarena, an environmental attorney and member of ELC, obtained a suspension on Aug. 2 in the case of Santa Catarina River in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, to stop the felling of trees. The suspension allows the protection of the human right to a healthy environment in relation to the protection of Nature.


Democracy Week

ELC's Claudia Brindis participated in Democracy Week in Mexico City on Aug. 11 to promote democracy and collaborative leadership, inviting everyone to become guardians of Nature. This effort sought to create more conscious societies that contribute to achieving social & environmental justice and sustainable development.


Earth Assembly

During his visit to Mexico in late July, the Vice President of Bolivia, David Choquehuanca, and ELC's Claudia Brindis spoke about the progress he is making to hold the Earth Assembly in 2024 at the United Nations to follow up the recognition and implementation of the Rights of Nature in Latin America and globally.



Developments in Plant Personhood

This month, ELC is excited to highlight the work of our partner Alessandra Viola, an expert in plant personhood! Here is a blurb from her new book, Flower Power: Plants and Their Rights:

Human beings, animals, and a growing number of ecosystems are now protected by legal rights, but plants are still excluded. Yet science tells us that not only do we depend on plants for our survival, but that they are social and intelligent, able to communicate, learn, and memorize. Recognizing plant rights is the key to overcoming the climate crisis, and, ultimately, living safer, healthier, and happier lives. It's time to fight for flower power!

About the Author: Alessandra Viola is a science journalist and Professor of Environmental Communication at San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy. She has twice won the Italian prize for scientific dissemination with her books. Among them, the internationally awarded Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence (translated into 17 languages).

Book Description: Flower Power. Le piante e i loro diritti (Flower Power: Plants and Their Rights–not yet available in English) includes a review of ecosystems that have been protected by rights all over the world and tells the story of those great battles of civilization yet to be completed with the recognition of plant rights.


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