“Who is water?” Oxford scholar and Native American Dr. Kelsey Leonard asks. Since water makes more than 70% of the human brain it’s fairly obvious that you, the reader of these words, are water. As is every single living human on earth.
Dr. Leonard, who is currently on the faculty of a Canadian University on the shore of Lake Ontario, points out in a recent Ted Talk that personhood is essential for justice, hence the idea that water is a “who”. Water she says has memory. And it’s constantly changing its essence and location even as it stays constant. People refer to “living” water for a reason. There’s nothing else like it in the universe. Jeremiah the prophet told the Israelites that God is “the spring of living water.”
Water should not be treated as a mere commodity like pork bellies or number 2 petroleum distillate. Leonard, a growing number of other legal scholars, and native American Grandmother Water Keepers throughout the Great Lakes region are pushing the concept of justice for nature through legal standing. Their assert that the various components of a given ecosystem have the right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve and that this right must be protected by law.
Justice is itself a far older concept that many of us realize. We know from scientific observation that some animals have a firm sense of what is fair and what isn’t. Justice is at the base of much religious doctrine including the Judeo-Christian theology. Perhaps we need a new prophet one who will speak for water. The human to water relationship (or total lack of same) is presently in dire straits. Humans are in serious need of some redemption. We not only constantly dirty water, we are now selling it wrapped up in plastic.
Religion and morality are tangled up with justice and one fundamental strand through all this is respect. Lately the quaint notions of civility and respect are more than a bit tattered and shopworn. They’re associated with another outdated notion that water always has and we humans often don’t- integrity.
In the past women, blacks, trans people, corporations and indigenous tribes did not have full access to justice as they weren’t considered to be fully human. Law, however, like humans evolves. There’s absolutely no reason to deny rights to water and to nature as a whole. And it’s past time we recognize this.
If we continue to disrespect and dishonor water ( and ourselves) Natural Law will assert itself. Water has power, much more power than a hedge fund. Mud slides, cholera, sea level rise, persistent flooding and ground water depletion will worsen. Water will have its way in the end.