Two Very Different Stories

On the one hand, an interview with author Kristen Iverson on the barely-known nuclear disaster at the Rocky Flats, CO nuke plant in 1957:

For 13 hours on the night of the 11th, into the morning the next day, the fire raged inside that building, until firefighters put it out (with water — exposing themselves, and perhaps the entire front range of Colorado, to an even greater risk of radiation). When it was over, Energy Department officials, and the Dow Chemical officials who then ran the facility, did not share the extent of the catastrophe, or the radiation danger, with local officials or the media. For years, no one really knew how bad it had been, what it meant for those exposed to the radiation, or how such a dangerous event could be prevented in the future.

On the other hand, the Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted legal personhood along the lines of that often granted to corporations:

In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, officials in New Zealand recently grantedthe Whanganui, the nation’s third-longest river, with legal personhood “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”. The decision follows a long court battle for the river’s personhood initiated by the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.

Under the settlement, the river is regarded as a protected entity, under an arrangement in which representatives from both the iwi and the national government will serve as legal custodians towards the Whanganui’s best interests.

One of the major obstacles to the Very Important Project of healing the planet is that in most places, the dominant governance and economic systems aren’t congruent with that project.  So one response is to develop strategies (like making carbon-sequestering agriculture profitable, or turning a major U.S. regulatory agency into a venture capital outfit for clean energy technology) that can lead to substantial regeneration within current systems of economics and governance.  Another one is to operate outside of existing systems entirely, or actively resist those systems.  But another strategy is to, at key leverage points, change the systems of economics and/or governance to support social and ecological healing.   And using corporate personhood as a precedent to grant rivers, mountains, valleys, and oceans intrinsic legal rights sounds like a pretty smart piece of world-changing jujitsu to me.

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