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This Article evaluates the strategy of claiming personhood for natural objects as a way to advance environmental goals in the United States. Using the Colorado River Ecosystem v. Colorado litigation as the focus, we explore the normative foundation of the claim—elements of nature are legal persons—and the work personhood is being asked to do by the plaintiff and other environmental activists. We identify three possibilities: procedural work, substantive work, and rhetorical work. Of those, we suggest the plaintiff’s strongest case is rhetorical. We say this not only because it will likely be difficult to convince a judge to extend standing or substantive rights to a natural object, but also because we are unconvinced that personhood would achieve the ends desired by the plaintiff and other rights of nature advocates. We contrast the rights of nature movement cases with progressive property strategies, and we conclude that existing legal tools rooted in the law of property offer a more certain and more promising pathway to achieving many of the goals articulated by rights of nature advocates in the United States.

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Harvard Environmental Law Review





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