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Vegan Street Festival to benefit Rights of Nature Initiative

By Staff | Jan 23, 2020

The Vegan Street Festival at Millennial Brewing Company in Downtown Fort Myers Saturday is teaming up with environmental groups to benefit Clean Water Now’s Lee County Rights of Nature initiative.

The festival will run from 5 p.m. 10 p.m. featuring vegan food and craft vendors, live music, auctions, and environmentally oriented workshops.

Clean Water Now is a non-profit that aims to educate and advocate on issues related to the environment and water quality in Florida.

Local Clean Water Now activists have brought the global Rights of Nature movement to Southwest Florida. Rights of Nature aims to protect ecosystems by giving them a legal standing.

Area activists are focused on protecting the Caloosahatchee River, which was plagued by toxic cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, in 2018. Local Clean Water Now activists want the Caloosahatchee River to have its own protective bill of rights and they want voters to be the deciding force.

According to the Rights of Nature website, since 2006, dozens of communities in 10 states across the U.S. have enacted Rights of Nature laws. Ecuador recognized the Rights of Nature in the country’s rewritten constitution in 2008.

The 2018 toxic algae outbreak put multiple counties in Florida in a state of emergency. It caused fish kills and manatee deaths, economically shattered the tourist-reliant area, and impacted the health of residents with the long-term effects still being studied. Warnings of blue-green algae are popping up yet again.

Voters in Toledo, Ohio passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights referendum by a landslide in Aug. of 2019. Toledo residents fought to give Lake Erie legal sovereignty after the lake was infested with fast-growing toxic algae in 2014. Lake Erie is the main water source for more than 12 million people. According to authorities, the water was so toxic that it couldn’t be used for drinking, bathing or cooking for a full three days.

Karl Deigert, a boat captain and pharmacist in Matlacha, is spearheading the local movement. According to Deigert, protecting our waterways would involve imposing regulations on powerful interests including the agricultural industry. Two Florida lawmakers are already working to halt the movement, before it even reaches the ballot.

“The opposition is so fearful of this, that we feel we must be doing the right thing,” Deigert said.

If the Caloosahatchee were granted rights, this would allow people to defend the river in court. Deigert compared this to protecting a child who cannot speak for itself.

“A living and breathing ecosystem should have rights,” Deigert said. “Especially since our wellbeing basically depends on it.”

Deigert said that if the regulations in place were working, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. He said that nine other counties in Florida are working on similar initiatives.

“In the United States, an individual has no right to clean air and clean water,” Deigert said. “By giving the ecosystem these inalienable rights, it then bestows upon us those same rights to clean air and clean water.”

“We like doing these events because it reminds people, that even though it isn’t in your face like it was, water quality in the area is still a huge issue,” Kyle Cebull, the owner of Millennial Brewing, said.