Rights of Nature Group
The Rights of Nature Group advocates for a healthy, sustainable natural environment and environmental justice for all of Earth's inhabitants. A Rights of Nature point of view, which underlies a worldwide movement, holds that Mother Earth or Nature (the natural environment, including humans, other animals, plants and ecosystems), has inherent worth and the right to exist and thrive.
The Rights of Nature Group began in the Autumn of 2011 and developed a "Statement on the Rights of Nature", a statement of moral conscience that was adopted by congregational vote at FUCSJ in April of 2013. The Group is a part of the church's Social Justice Ministry and holds meetings the third Sunday of each month after worship service.
Statement on the Rights of Nature - 2013
Inspired by the "Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth" which was adopted by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Bolivia in 2010.
Long ago many indigenous peoples recognized that they shared a common existence with the whole of nature, and today they are among the leaders of a Rights of Mother Earth movement. As Unitarian Universalists, we also affirm our respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part (our Seventh Principle). A Rights of Nature worldview calls us to unite our First and Seventh Principles: We covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every being, including the interdependent web of all existence.
Currently our governments and corporations treat nature, our natural environment and its resources, as property that can be exploited for profit. This is a major factor in producing overconsumption, pollution, and critical environmental imbalances such as accelerated climate change. A fundamental shift is required in our way of thinking in order to transform our economic and legal systems to acknowledge the Rights of Nature to exist and to thrive. This change is already taking place in many local communities across the United States and even some nations. Communities have written rights for natural entities and ecosystems into their laws, while giving people the legal standing to represent nature.
We, the members of the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, in agreement with our Principles, affirm that Nature, or Mother Earth, which encompasses all natural beings and their interconnected natural systems, has inherent worth and inherent rights to exist, maintain its integrity and perform its natural vital functions. All beings (species, natural communities and ecosystems) have the right to healthy water, land and air. The rights of each being, including humans, are limited by the rights of other beings. Conflicts between their rights are to be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth as a whole.
To bring about this major change in our relationship with the natural world, we agree to support and promote the Rights of Nature movement in the larger Unitarian Universalist community and in communities where we live.
Letter to UUA President - November 2017
By the Rights of Nature Group of FUCSJ
Dear Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association:
Our environmental group, the Rights of Nature Group, at our Unitarian congregation is very concerned that the UUA has not provided significant leadership regarding climate change and its disastrous effects on people and our planet. We are frustrated by the knowledge that those people most affected by climate change are those who have contributed the least to it, by the denial of climate change facts by our federal government, and by the false narrative, often perpetuated by the media, that climate change can be dismissed as a political belief.
We are extremely concerned about the harm to the people and places most affected by environmental and weather disasters. We recognize that the poorest people, most often people of color and the marginalized, bear the most suffering and loss and are most deserving of environmental and climate justice. We UUs do not question helping them. But where are we as an organization when it comes to prevention? Focusing on social problems, like doing social witness actions and rallies, draws immediate attention to those problems, but what about working on solutions? If we don't deal with the human causes (factors producing global warming and climate change, like burning fossil fuels), the planet's symptoms (like more extreme weather events, habitat destruction, and species extinctions) will only continue to worsen. Some effects of climate change are actually accelerating faster than climate scientists predicted. What kind of world are we leaving for our children? Will the UUA become directly involved in "connecting the dots" and address the causes of, and solutions to, climate change?
We are deeply concerned that the current federal administration is systematically removing, in the name of "deregulation", remedies made for environmental protection and climate change effects. Federal agencies are no longer allowed to take climate change into consideration in their policies and planning. Federal agencies that deal with science and the environment (like the EPA, NASA, Departments of Interior, Energy, and Agriculture) are being run by non-scientists who either deny climate change is happening or deny that humans contribute to it. This degree of betrayal of scientific reality by a federal administration is unprecedented. Has the UUA brought attention to this?
We are also very concerned that the news media have become intimidated by extremist right-wing propaganda against factual reporting. Anti-science actions by the administration not only have not made the headlines, they even go unreported. When climate change is occasionally covered in the same context as current extreme weather events, like hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, still no mention is made of the human contribution to it.
People are free to dismiss these events as simply acts of "Mother Nature", or "God". The media, consciously or not, is imposing self-censorship. Is the UUA complicit?
We have some suggestions to further climate change action among UUs that we ask you and the UUA to consider.
1. Make attention to climate change a priority. Start with a small, committed UU group to make policy and plan the specifics, with UUA leadership directly taking part. There are many UU congregations and members, like folks in Green Sanctuary groups, who have been active in fighting climate change and should be consulted for their experience and knowledge. There are many approaches to attacking such a complex problem.
2. The UUA itself should commit to regularly addressing climate change and climate justice to its member congregations and publicly. Make statements, take stands and let everyone know it. Approval of statements and actions of other groups is good but not nearly enough. We also need to form alliances with outside groups both religious (such as Interfaith Power and Light) and environmental (such as 350 and Citizens Climate Lobby) that specifically address climate change.
3. The UUA needs to commit more resources to education and programs specifically about climate change and climate justice, especially for its member congregations. If more staff and funds are needed, set up a "climate change program fund", ask for contributions and see what happens. Workshops, resources, films, speakers, etc. could be used, with an emphasis on information, preparation and solutions. We all need to know the hard truths, what we are up against, in order to get perspective and form action plans. This work should not be left just to UU associated organizations like the UU Ministry for Earth, the UU Service Committee, and the UU United Nations Office. Certainly they do substantial work, but the UUA needs to take a lead role, show it is serious, and communicate directly with congregations, districts and regions. The larger UU community has been slow to react, the problem grows more urgent, and we can no longer wait for more General Assemblies and resolutions.
The Unitarian Universalist Association must face the reality of this crisis, as other faith organizations are doing. While our federal government has perversely abdicated its responsibility, we must join with those who boldly take responsibility and act. We believe taking action on the global climate change crisis, a life or death matter for people and our planet, is our moral obligation and is fully aligned with our Principles. There is a great need here. Let us do our part to fill the need.
Michael Pelizzari, and Anne Rosenzweig,
on behalf of the Rights of Nature Group of the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, California
Response from the UUA President
By The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President
Thank you so very much for your email. I am grateful you reached out. I am with you on all of the analysis you offer and the urgency of this time.
I still am very new in my role and there is still much to be building new here at the UUA after the Spring. I am motivated and honored to be in this role and I agree in the critical importance of our moral voice in the field of climate justice.
I am committed to working to build stronger partnerships and collaboration with UU UNO and UU Ministry for the Earth and working to even increase the resources for climate justice ministry at the UUA but it will take time. I appreciate all of your suggestions. I will say, I dont support the creation of a separate fund, particularly not at this point. For me our moral voice should be mission focused and unified and that sometimes we tend to silo our work. Separate funds created for single issues can create further silos particularly because our moral voice will be stronger and more impactful if our congregations and our UUA overall is a stronger, more unified, and centers on a mission to nurture love and justice in the larger world.
So, this is to say I take your message seriously. I care deeply about this issue. I would like for us to use the resource of the UUA to help amplify the great work happening across the country (within and beyond UUism) and longer term creating more capacity to support that work.
Finally, I want you to know that one of the ways that the UUA does use our national position and resources is in shareholder advocacy. Just this week we hosted a non-profit dedicated to shareholder advocacy for climate justice. We have been a major force in helping this work get off the ground. This is something that no individual congregation could do but because of the size and position of the UUA we have been able to strengthen this work. We need many strategies and pushing on many fronts around climate justice, so this must not be all we do, but it is one place where the UUA is uniquely positioned to push policy level change against corporations and we dedicate significant time and leadership to this work. Again, I am with you on all your points, and as someone new, I was surprised and moved by the level of passion and commitment to the work that I think is not seen by the wider Association.
Thank you again for your email and I hope you will see some change on this issue with time at the UUA.
Yours in faith and gratitude for your commitment!
For more on the UUA position on Global Warming.
Global Warming Science
UU Ministry for Earth
Union of Concerned Scientists
California Interfaith Power and Light
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.