The 2014 Lake Erie algal bloom that prompted the drafting of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (Credit: NASA Earth Laboratory)
An important vote took place in 2019 and we’re not talking about the UK general election. This was a vote of a very different nature. Earlier that year, residents of Toledo, a city in Ohio on the edge of Lake Erie, voted on the ‘Lake Erie Bill of Rights’ and it passed with overwhelming support. The bill recognised in law the right of the lake to ‘exist, flourish and naturally evolve’. Essentially, Lake Erie had been awarded the same legal rights as a person.
This extraordinary action was prompted by an algal bloom in 2014 that left half a million people without drinking water. The lake’s startling shade of green that summer was a direct consequence of fertiliser from nearby farms entering the water. The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is just one example of a growing trend to give nature legal rights – formally termed ‘environmental personhood’ – and offering a novel method of nature protection.