Environmental Personhood

43 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2017

See all articles by Gwendolyn Gordon

Gwendolyn Gordon

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School, Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department

Date Written: March 7, 2017


Environmental personhood is the nascent notion of designating parts of nature as legal persons entitled to independent regard and consideration. Several jurisdictions, including areas in the United States, have developed versions of legal regimes granting rights directly to nature in and for itself. Protecting the environment in this manner has gained momentum in the current moment as a result of and in reaction to the seemingly quotidian status of corporate personhood in protecting corporate rights. But environmental personhood need not be seen only as a foil for corporate power. Because corporate personhood is an example of how we came to understand a non-human entity as a bearer of rights, we can use lessons from the contingent development of this doctrine to inform the development of environmental personhood. As evidenced by the history of corporate personhood, there is no entirely unqualified right that applies to all persons across all circumstances; the actual way a “right” plays out is always dependent upon social, historical, and political context. The ways in which the acknowledgement of the rights of nature have played out in the jurisdictions in which it is present also evidence this statement. Law and its social context are of course mutually constitutive; it is possible today to imagine that new views on environmental precariousness and new legal conceptions of the standing of nature might combine to make the doctrine of environmental personhood a robustly protective one.

Keywords: non-human personhood, corporate personhood, environment, corporate theory

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Gwendolyn, Environmental Personhood (March 7, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2935007 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2935007

Gwendolyn Gordon (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School, Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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