Personhood Could Be Just Around the Riverbend
A view of the summit of Mount Everest. "Everest 3" by Michael Foley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Personhood Could Be Just Around the Riverbend

Legal personhood was granted to two Himalayan glaciers along with three rivers earlier this year.

This March, the glaciers, Gangotri and Yamunotri were given the same legal rights as a person.

While legally considering rivers and glaciers people may seem like something straight out of a classic Disney movie, this concept is much more complex than talking trees and singing raccoons.

The glaciers are among the largest in the Himalayan Mountain range and they feed into the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. However, the glaciers are receding at an alarming rate due to increased average temperatures from climate change.

The Himalayas vast mountain range. "Himalayas" by Mariusz Kluzniak is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Himalayas vast mountain range. “Himalayas” by Mariusz Kluzniak is licensed under CC BY 2.0

According to the Indian government, the Gangotri glacier has been shrinking, on average, almost 72 feet per year.

Giving rights to the glaciers is a difficult issue. With humans releasing carbon into the atmosphere all over the planet, who will take the legal responsibility for destroying these newly recognized people?

Since China and the United States are the first and second largest carbon emitters per capita, these countries could technically hold the most responsibility for the destruction of a person.

Legal personhood among non-sentient entities is becoming a legal trend used to protect more than just glaciers.

The rivers that are fed by the two glaciers have also been granted personhood as well.

The Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India are sacred to millions. The rivers are used for drinking, bathing and for funeral rituals.

The Whanganui River in New Zealand was also classified as a person due to its cultural and spiritual significance to the Maori people of New Zealand.

All three rivers have been heavily polluted by human activity and courts have granted the sacred rivers legal human rights as an attempt to protect them.

Many people disagree with the humanizing of these different states of water. They believe that granting human rights to non-humans makes actual humans less important.

If granting personhood to different states of water seems unnatural, remember that corporations have legal standing as persons under the U.S. Supreme Court.

Personhood legally gives an entity a right to sue or be sued. The glaciers and rivers are not sentient, so they will have their rights enforced by appointed humans on committees.

While India and New Zealand are on the other side of the world, this situation has many asking what if this were to occur in Portage County?

Portage County’s water resources have been under the microscope lately as farmers battle over drainage ditches and the use of high capacity wells.

Bianca Settimi, senior environmental education major said, “I think having freshwater conserved with stronger legal rights is really important, so I would be ok with it.”

While the Little Plover River is not likely to attain legal personhood anytime soon, the controversy over different uses of water resources in the state continues.



Genevieve Adamski

Environment Editor


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