Our Blog

The case for Rights of Nature: Next steps for the SAFEBOR campaign

By John Moran

It’s a fair question: With the passage of the heralded Clean Waterways Act of 2020, why is the SAFEBOR campaign still pushing for a Bill of Rights for the Santa Fe River?

Here’s a hint: despite the bill’s catchy title, Tallahassee isn’t coming to the rescue. 

Looking under the hood, this bill does nothing to reduce the dominant source of pollution ravaging our beloved rivers and springs.

How can this be? Here’s another hint: Follow the money. With the support of nearly every major polluting industry in Florida, the legislature has once again prioritized polluter profits over protecting public waters.

But wait, there’s more: SB712 also preempts local government anywhere in Florida from recognizing Rights of Nature.

So how did we get here? 

Rivers ebb and rivers flow but Denial still reigns as the mightiest river in Florida.

Consider the bizarre pronouncement from Rep. Chuck Clemons last year in the wake of the worst water crisis in state history, Florida’s infamous 2018 Summer of Slime.

 Clemons boldly stated in a Gainesville Sun opinion column“Florida’s environment is getting better. Much better. And that is directly tied to the leadership of Florida.”

Incredulous, I grabbed my cameras and went to more than a dozen springs on the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers last summer; searching for evidence that our springs really are getting better.

I found no cause for celebration. The pictures below tell the tale. What I found broke my heart and pissed me off. In almost every spring in the Suwannee River Valley, disgusting and noxious slime—fueled largely by agricultural fertilizer and manure—is now the dominant life form. The new normal.

The most magnificent natural springs on the planet are becoming aquatic wastelands. They’re dying on our watch.

We were told 2020 was going to be the year that Tallahassee ditched the blinders and embraced clear vision. Instead we got legislative malfeasance masquerading as responsible oversight.

This legislature didn’t formally declare war on clean water in Florida but it begs the question, could the condition of our springs be much worse if they had?

The governor could veto this defective bill but don’t hold your breath. In the words of the director of one of Florida’s leading environmental nonprofits, “Agriculture gets a free pass to pollute and Ron DeSantis is Rick Scott with a new coat of paint.”

So what’s the status of the SAFEBOR campaign now?

With voter approval in November, Alachua County’s Home Rule Charter will be amended to recognize the right of the Santa Fe River to naturally exist and flourish and to assert our community’s right to a healthy river ecosystem and aquifer.

More than 4000 voters signed our petition to place a Rights of Nature initiative on the ballot but that was well short of the required 18,094 signatures, so now it’s on to Plan B. 

We’ve appealed to the Charter Review Commission and the Board of County Commissioners—the public can weigh in, too—to directly place Rights of Nature on the ballot despite the looming threat of legislative preemption.

With their own attorneys advising against it, why should the CRC or BoCC tangle with Tallahassee and risk an expensive lawsuit? 

Simply put, Florida’s water is Florida’s lifeblood. And our waters are under siege. Job One for government, it bears repeating, is to foster public health, safety and welfare.

But an epidemic of indifference has swept through the Capitol, fueled by an ideological cocktail of power, hubris and greed. 

In the fever grip of plunder consciousness, our legislators have tested positive for dishonoring the intelligence of nature and the will of the people. They have defiled democracy itself.

We’re heading for a cliff and Tallahassee’s message is clear: We’re not going to fix this and neither are you. Rights of Nature isn’t new and it’s not radical. Ancient wisdom is speaking, if only we will listen. The self-evident truth is that we need nature more than nature needs us.

It’s time for deep, systemic change. This moment demands brave political leaders who understand that Rights of Nature is an idea whose time has come. 

Let the voters decide. And if voters approve then let’s vigorously defend our County Charter and challenge Tallahassee’s outrageous claim that we have no right to clean water and healthy communities.

Will Rights of Nature save the river? Perhaps the bigger question is this: Can Rights of Nature save us from ourselves? A Bill of Rights for the river is a Bill of Rights for the future. It’s the right thing to do.

Don’t preempt local water protections (via the Gainesville Sun)

Via the Gainesville Sun Editorial Board

If Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature won’t do their job in protecting Florida’s natural environment, they shouldn’t stand in the way of local citizens seeking to do it for them.

With state lawmakers failing to protect rivers, springs and other parts of Florida’s environment, communities across the state are considering laws to recognize the rights of nature.

In Alachua County, signatures are being collected to put an initiative called the Santa Fe River Bill of Rights (SAFEBOR) on the November ballot. The charter amendment would recognize the legal rights of the Santa Fe River, its springs and tributaries, and the Floridan Aquifer within the county.

The effort is part of a growing “rights of nature” movement to allow people to sue polluters on behalf of the environment. Last February, more than 60% of voters in Toledo, Ohio, passed a Lake Erie Bill of Rights initiative in response to algae blooms fueled by agricultural runoff and other problems with the water body.

But an amendment was later passed in Ohio’s state budget that invalidated the initiative. Now it appears Florida lawmakers are seeking to pass something similar here, which in this case would stop rights-of-nature laws before they are even approved. . . .

Please read the rest of this astute editorial at the Gainesville Sun website.

You can be a voice for the Santa Fe River

An appeal from John Moran

Friends of Florida,

Our waters are a mess. That’s not news; that’s the new normal in Florida.

Our world-class springs—once stunning and blue—are now murky, polluted, and green. How did we get here? There are many factors but under state and federal law, corporate profits are prioritized over the health of our rivers and springs. The results are plainly visible in reduced flows and increased algae growth. These conditions are harming our public waters and the Floridan aquifer, which is the drinking water source for millions of Floridians. 

The Santa Fe River Bill of Rights campaign (SAFEBOR) is part of a visionary global movement to fundamentally change our relationship with Mother Earth. We’re a local grassroots political action committee working to amend Alachua County’s Home Rule Charter to recognize the right of the Santa Fe River to naturally exist and flourish, and to assert our community’s right to a healthy river ecosystem and aquifer.

 If voters approve, Alachua will become the first county in the state to enact Rights of Nature into its County Charter. Other counties are poised to follow. The eyes of Florida will be upon us—but first we must collect 18,094 signed petitions from Alachua County voters by Feb. 21 to get on the ballot. That’s a tall order but with your support we can accomplish this goal. Let’s Protect the Santa Fe River: Here’s how you can take action now…

  • Sign the petition to put the SAFEBOR initiative on the 2020 Alachua County ballot
  • Volunteer to ask friends and neighbors to sign the petition.
  • Donate. Political campaigns are expensive. If you love the river, please put your money where your heart is.

People have a voice. Corporations have a voice. Why not the River?
Our public waters are a public trust. Protecting them is the right thing to do. Let’s all be a Voice for the River! 

And please share this message with your friends across Alachua County and beyond.

(Paid political ad by SAFEBOR political action campaign)

2019 Summer of Slime Photo Tour

A photo essay by John Moran

Nature is speaking. Are we listening?

CELDF Media Statement: Florida Democrats Adopt Rights of Nature in Party Platform

The action is the first of its kind by a state political party in the United States.

Repost from CELDF–Thank you for all of your good work!

Thomas Linzey, Esq.
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Mel Martin

MERCERSBURG, PA: On Saturday, the Florida Democratic Party approved a new party platform which includes the Rights of Nature. This is believed to be the first time such a provision has been included in a state political party platform in the United States.

The platform reads:

We resolve to adequately protect our waters, support communities’ rights in reclaiming home rule authority and recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of nature… 

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is working closely with communities across Florida to advance the rights of Nature and local communities.

Mel Martin of Cocoa, FL, a member of the Florida Democratic Party, explained the need for the platform resolution: “From an advocate’s perspective, nowhere is it more apparent than Florida that current laws and policies have failed to protect our waters from recklessly-planned and poorly-managed human impact. In declaring the need for a paradigm shift, Florida Democrats demonstrated the bold initiative necessary to change the conversation from ‘nature is property, to be used and abused for profit,’ to ‘nature is alive, and deserving of respect for its rights.’”

“Co-existing with healthy ecosystems is a nonpartisan issue,” Martin continued. “I hope our Republican and third-party brothers and sisters will consider adding it to their respective platforms as well. I’m lucky to be working with great Floridians, of all political affiliations, as communities across the state implement these concepts into local charters, authoritatively declaring rights and values we hold to be true.”

Thomas Linzey, who is leading CELDF’s efforts in Florida, stated, “There is a growing effort across Florida to protect the rights of rivers and other ecosystems to exist, regenerate, and be restored. As we see in headlines every day, we have pushed nature to the brink, and it’s time to make the difficult but necessary changes in how we govern ourselves toward the natural world.”

Linzey added, “We congratulate the Florida Democratic Party on leading the way for the kind of systemic change that is needed. We also congratulate the many people across Florida who are advancing rights of nature laws in their communities.”

CELDF is partnering with communities across Florida to advance the Rights of Nature. Grassroots groups in Alachua, Orange, Lee, Brevard, Osceola, and other counties are advancing laws to recognize the legally enforceable rights of water bodies, including the Santa Fe River, Wekiva River, Econlockhatchee River, Caloosahatchee River, Indian River Lagoon, and the Kissimmee River.

CELDF assisted in drafting the local measures as part of a growing movement to use municipal law-making to recognize the legal rights of ecosystems, and to challenge corporate power and undemocratic forms of state preemption that have allowed the degradation of rivers, springs, and aquifers. These efforts, and the Florida Democratic Party resolution, come in the face of state-level efforts in Florida to clamp down on the powers of communities on a host of issues, including their authority to establish stronger environmental protections than in place at the state level.

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

CELDF has been a pioneer in advancing legal Rights of Nature, working with the first places in the world to secure the Rights of Nature in law.  CELDF is building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level. It is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization.

Featured image:  Back down on the Santa Fe River. Young ibises all in a row by anoldent in Flickr Creative Commons

The Stillheart Declaration (2013)

As humanity fast-tracks towards the collapse of our planetary systems, we sought to articulate a shared vision toward a new economy based on living in balance with natural systems; where the rights of humans do not extend to the domination of nature. We questioned the viability of a global economy whose jurisprudence places property rights above all; recognizes corporate rights as the most sacred of property rights; subordinates human rights and the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples to corporate rights; and where Nature is not recognized as having any intrinsic rights at all. We discussed the power and possibility of an emerging body of law—recognizing legal rights for ecosystems to exist, flourish and regenerate their vital cycles—as a necessary part of placing our human laws in alignment with Nature’s laws, and our human actions and economy in an appropriate relationship with the natural order of which we are part.

The entire Declaration can be read here. Necessary elements of an economic system consistent with the Rights of Nature include the following:

  • Immediately reducing production and consumption levels to within the carrying capacities of the planet, and the equitable redistribution of available resources/wealth;
  • The full restoration of ecosystems, primarily allowing nature to heal itself;
  • The relocalization of primary production, distribution and use; the abandonment of economic globalization models as inherently wasteful and inequitable;
  • Full recognition of non-monetized labor;
  • Governance through ecologically informed, democratic, participatory, engaged and empowered decision-making at all scales;
  • Elimination of economic systems and strategies that prioritize economic growth, and profit, and private acquisition of resources and wealth, above all other values;
  • The elimination of substances that are toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative;
  • Zero waste systems for production, use, and decomposition known as cradle-to-cradle living;
  • Recognition of sacred relationships with place;
  • In all economic decisions and human activities, the wellbeing of Nature is primary.

All must speak out for the needs of nature and our Mother Earth as a whole. It is our responsibility to live within the natural order that is sacred to all life on earth. We must redraw the boundaries of the economy to bring them into line with ecological limits and the common sense science of planetary boundaries. Nature’s needs are also our own and must be elevated and protected by legal rights, and maintained through life-sustaining systems of exchange and reciprocity.

Editorial: Don’t stop with SAFEBOR to protect Santa Fe (via Gainesville Sun)

In a new editorial today by the Gainesville Sun Editorial Board, they summarize the current efforts to rebalance the power between corporations and the people’s commons:

If corporations are now being treated like people under the law, why not rivers?
Alachua County voters might be asking themselves that question when they head to the polls next fall. Environmental advocates are seeking to put an initiative called the Santa Fe River Bill of Rights, aka SAFEBOR, on the November 2020 ballot. . . .

. . . If voters want to reverse the damage being done to the Santa Fe and other parts of our environment, they shouldn’t stop with SAFEBOR. Voters must start treating every election like a referendum on the environment, choosing local, state and federal candidates accordingly.

Gainesville Sun Editorial Board, September 8, 2019

You can read the rest of the editorial here.