Making Space for Earth’s Rights

The moment is ripe to refresh our boundaries between the built environment and Earth’s Rights. We live in exciting times where we see paradigms shifting every day. Disruptive technology emerges faster than mosquitoes reproduce. The freshness gap is seemingly closing between farms and tables. I’m suggesting that we need to change our paradigms of how we try to tame Mother Nature.

Consider Your own Relationship

How often do you consider what rights the Earth holds? Or how to maintain respectful boundaries? Perhaps these ideas make you uncomfortable. Try to lean into the discomfort and finish reading because turning away from the issue only makes it worse.

Global Issues

I’m not the first one to use the term, Earth’s Rights. You can read about Bolivia establishing the Right of Mother Earth into law in 2010. But I am inspired to promote the sovereignty of the Earth in our shared consciousness, and celebrate feelings of respect and care. If you need more background about what Earth’s Right can be, read this article about how two rivers in New Zealand and India gained the same rights of living human entities.

Local Exposure

For me, Earth’s Rights is the perfect fit to describe the tender feelings currently brewing in the New Urbanism community of Atlanta. I was emotionally triggered in the same way at two disparate events within a week of each other. One was targeted towards barefoot tree huggers, the other towards well dressed leaders of sustainability.

Land Justice

The thorny sentiment of land sovereignty first showed up for me at Food First’s book tour for their newly published title: Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons. The event took place on at the Metro Atlanta Community Farm among overgrown mounds of herbs and newly emerging seedlings. The book is a collection of essays, and likewise, the tour featured a collection of diverse speakers. The chief take-away is that we need to change land access to change food systems.

Here are a few notes from the panel of Authors:

Private land ownership is a problem of capitalism; individuals cannot own part of the Earth

Only Relative Justice is possible because every acres in the US is stolen ground

Land = Freedom

Innate agrarian artistry

Working with our ancestors; This is intergenerational work

Don’t ask Small; Demand Big

Stewards of the Earth

Basically, the message I heard was that communities of color have been institutionally blocked from land access. The self-motivated individuals who are most interested in farming and being stewards of the Earth are the same group who are routinely denied access to the land. It’s not just a race issue isolated to wealthy North America. More often I see it reported  in the news that ancestral lands of indigenous cultures in the Southern Hemispheres are being sold to industry giants who leave legacies of pollution and harm.

Speak Up & Speak Out

I know these ideas can be triggering. And I’m not even proposing an easy solution. I am imploring that we increase our questioning of the status quo.

As a society, should we continue to grant land ‘ownership’ to the highest bidder?

Are there creative, untapped strategies to bestow stewardship to the the best suited caretakers?

How can we connect the individuals who want to grow food with the necessary land?


Let’s talk about water now…


My second run-in with Earth’s Rights is from a presentation at the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable, hosted by the local nonprofit, Southface. An Architect and an Urban Historian presented their thought project about the Flint River.


Most Atlantans don’t know that the Flint River’s headwaters are in south Atlanta. That’s because the tiny beginnings of the second longest river in Georgia are quickly diverted into two miles of underground piping beneath… wait for it… the Atlanta International Airport’s runway!


During the Q+A, someone bravely asked, ‘Why is it so bad for a river to be underground?’ The official answer was overly pragmatic and warned that it increases water velocity, which leads to erosion. That is the least concern of a true nature lover. The real harm is man’s ability to disappear nature. Removing our connection to what is true and ‘natural.’ We have literally paved over paradise and put in a parking lot.

Erasing Nature from our Urban Landscapes

Moreover, when the river finally re-emerges on the south side of the airport, it isn’t much more than a trashy ditch. Hardly anyone would call it a river, and there isn’t even any signage to help support its inherent strength. Atlanta has a bad history to erasing nature, especially spring heads. Past attempts to honor the underground natural gifts with lyrical sculpture representing the invisible asset have been hijacked by replacing the site-specific artwork with an obelisk at Walton Spring Park. At least the urban pocket park still keeps the name alluding to the spring.


The story of the Flint river touched my heart because just like human beings, rivers deserve access to daylight and fresh air. Wild animals deserve access to clean, uninhibited rivers. Why should we humans be allowed to destroy natural assets-at no cost-just because they can’t talk back?


If you’ve been concerns that natural disasters are becoming more severe, please consider that this is Mother Nature’s way of speaking up. Are you listening?