Environmental Justice (EJ) is a social movement to address the unfair exposure of poor and marginalized communities to harm associated with resource extraction and environmental contamination. The legal action against Dupont’s disposal of the PAFS, the “forever chemicals”, with its devastating health consequences for the local inhabitants, is a prime example of EJ for the victims. The focus of EJ is people.
There is an emerging movement to recognize the environment itself as a legal entity. This was first raised by US Professor Christopher Stone in the 70’s, the idea of attributing legal personality to natural objects in his article "Should trees have standing? Towards legal rights for natural objects”.
Aotearoa New Zealand in 2014 declared Te Urewera National Park an environmental legal entity. The Whanganui River was declared to be a legal person in 2017, named Te Awa Tupua and recognised as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea, represented by two guardians, the Whanganui Iwi, and the Government.
We cannot undo the devastating colonial felling of 97% of the mighty kauri. For Aotearoa New Zealand traditional Mātauranga Māori values and science must work together for responsible environmental guardianship. Prioritising economic drivers has grievously wounded the land, but ultimately the wellbeing of the land and its people is inextricably interconnected.
“Mauri ora te whenua, mauri ora te tāngata.