The river speaks for the life within

BRATTLEBORO — With reference to James Ehlers' open letter to the Vermont Senate, proposing an amendment to the state constitution to the effect that “all people have a natural and inherent right to a clean and unspoiled environment,” I want to offer an endorsement and share a quote that has stayed with me for a long time.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, in his 1972 dissenting opinion in Sierra Club v. Morton, wrote:

“Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation soul - a creature of ecclesiastical law - is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases. [...]

“So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes - fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it.”

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