Greenblading: Thank you, Pittsburgh
November 18, 2010
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Perhaps fracking is not so “inevitable” after all: the Pittsburgh City Council has just voted unanimously to ban fracking within the city. And yes, oil companies have been buying leases inside the city limits, including under parks and cemeteries. The vote took place two days ago and today can be found in many news outlets (Google “Pittsburgh ban”) but the most complete story is (fittingly) here on yes!.
Many things make this story interesting, not least of which is that it represents what seems to be a sudden and unprecedented outbreak of common sense. Communities (Pittsburgh is not the only one, just the largest) are recognizing that the risks to individual and community health far outweigh the siren call of jobs! and money! Efforts to make peace with drilling to make it acceptable have had limited success. Zoning does not work because the drilling is horizontal. The EPA finally had to subpoena Halliburton to disclose what toxic chemicals it uses. Agencies that are supposed to protect the environment and protect citizens instead investigate environmental activists. So Pittsburgh said no.
In drawing up its ordinance, though, Pittsburgh did more than take a stand against reckless drilling. It put a claim on communities being able to make their own decisions about their own welfare rather than having decisions made for them by corporations. We have all felt grim about the constitutional “personhood” of corporations. It has made normally optimistic people talk about helplessness and powerlessness. And Pittsburgh is no Ithaca (sorry folks). Ithaca is known as “12 square miles surrounded by reality.” Pittsburgh, the Steel Town, could make a claim to being that reality and Pittsburgh said no.
But there is more:
In addition, with adoption of the ordinance, Pittsburgh became the first city in the U.S. to recognize legally binding rights of nature.
By recognizing the rights of nature, Pittsburgh is effectively protecting ecosystems and natural communities within the city from efforts by corporations to drill there—and by other levels of government to authorize that drilling. Residents of Pittsburgh are empowered by the ordinance to enforce those rights on behalf of threatened ecosystems.
More than almost any aspect of this story – and we all need to feel the hope in this – legally defending the rights of nature represents a new and exciting development. If we humans are to learn how to live on this earth as responsible stewards we have to learn that we are not the only entities with rights. (See Drafting Nature’s Constitution.) Certainly protecting the environment protects us, but that is just the point – human life and welfare cannot be separated from the life and welfare of the earth. That is just common sense. Thank you, Pittsburgh.