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Rights of Nature forum to be held in Fort Myers

By Staff | Dec 19, 2019

A movement to mandate additional legal protections for the Caloosahatchee will come to Fort Myers this weekend.

The Rights of Nature Movement – The Caloosahatchee River Bill of Rights will be the topic of discussion at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22, at All Faiths Unitarian Congregation Church.

The public is invited to attend the informative Adult Education Forum, which is part of the All Faiths Unitarian Congregation Church continued community outreach. The forum will host Clean Water Inc. Education Director Joseph Bonasia.

A petitioning campaign to amend the Lee County Charter to protect the river is being pursued by the Nonpartisan Political Action Committee, Lee County Rights of Nature.

Clean Water Now Educational Director Joseph Bonasia said the Rights of Nature movement is within Florida, the country and global. He said more than 30 communities have already adopted Rights of Nature laws, ordinances and statutes.

According to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the Rights of Nature means “recognizing that ecosystems and natural communities are not merely property that can be owned. Rather they are entities that have an independent and inalienable right to exist and flourish. Laws recognizing the Rights of Nature change the status of ecosystems and natural communities to being recognized as rights-bearing entities.”

In other words, the rights can be enforced by people, governments, and communities, on behalf of nature.

“This is a paradigm shift here. This way there is great legal standing for individual residents to take a legal action against corporations that are damaging and polluting ecosystems. Right now it is hard to fight against,” he said.

An example Bonasia provided was in regard to Lake Erie being hit with a toxic blue-green algae bloom. He said the citizens of Toledo, Ohio sought legal counsel.

“They crafted a Lake Erie Bill of Rights, gathered signed petitions, and got it on the ballot. Sixty-one percent of voters approved the bill, turning it into a law,” he said, adding that the citizens were now allowed to take polluters to court for violating the rights of the lake. “It was the first law in the United States that granted legal rights to an eco system.”

The dark side, Bonasia said happened several months later. At the urging of Ohio Chamber of Commerce, state legislators attached an appropriations bill, an amendment, that effectively nullified the lake’s bill of rights and preemptively all rights of nature throughout the state.

“We are obviously doing something wrong. The system is not working. We need a dramatic paradigm shift and legal shift,” he said.

Bonasia said there are currently grassroots initiatives in nine counties in Florida that are pursuing Rights of Nature.

“Here in Lee County, Clean Water Now is in the early stages of pursuing a Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights that would grant legal rights to the river and to residents the legally recognized right to clean water and healthy ecosystems,” he said. “Grant rights to the river, and corporate entities upstream could be sued for polluting river with excessive fertilizer use and run-off because it would be a violation of the rights of the river to exist and flourish naturally.”

Bonasia said his experience these past months has been that the concept of Rights of Nature resonates quickly and deeply with people.

“That’s why we are confident that eventually, like the women’s and civil rights movements, the Rights of Nature movement will prove successful,” he said.

All Faiths Unitarian Congregation Church is at 2756 McGregor Blvd.