Expanding Our Circle of Compassion: Giving Rights to Nature and Animals

One of the concepts we at IHE often explore with our students, whether from our graduate programs, or elementary-aged children, is the circle of compassion we each have, who/what is included there, and ways to expand our circle of compassion to include others we hadn't previously considered, including, animals and the natural world. (Circle of Compassion and Alien in the Ethical Universe are examples of two of our activities that explore this concept.)

Often this recognition that the needs and interests of animals and nature as worthy of consideration and respect -- and that they are deserving of rights -- has been limited, but now conversations about these issues are appearing on the international stage and actions are being taken around the world, in the constitutions of countries and in ordinances in small towns.

Just recently Bolivia announced their plan to establish "11 new rights for nature" that, in essence, grant "all [of] nature equal rights to humans." Those rights will include:
"...the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature 'to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.'"
And Yes! Magazine has a great article about several recent campaigns to recognize and establish the rights of ecosystems and animals. From small communities striving to pass ordinances to protect their communities (including the air, water and earth of those communities), to scientists and philosophers advocating for cetaceans and other sentient beings to be known as "nonhuman persons," there are efforts blossoming around the world. And, as the article says, "Granting rights to animals and ecosystems would transform them into something resembling people in the eyes of the law, with huge impacts on how communities and corporations interact with nature."

Stories like these mark an important opportunity for humane educators and citizen activists. Not only are concepts such as rights, property, legal standing, and other issues worthy of discussion and exploration themselves, but this growing reframing of our relationships with animals and the natural world provides us with a chance to help students of all ages expand their circle of compassion and to empower them to create greater positive change both in their own lives and in the global community.

~ Marsha

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