When Stephen J. Cleghorn realized that Paradise Gardents, his certified-organic farm in Pennsylvania that sits above the Marcellus Shale formation, was at risk of being fracked, he knew he had to act. But he did more than just act against fracking when he became the first private property owner to use a deed easement recognizing the Rights of Nature to ban all activities that would harm Nature and its ecosystems.
“We wanted to preserve the organic agriculture on this 50 acres and use this recognition of Rights of Nature hold off any activity that would threaten those rights in the deep biosphere,” said Cleghorn.
Cleghorn describes himself and his former wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart Gonzalez, as environmentally conscious, although they didn’t buy the farm intending to make a huge statement. Cleghorn wanted to be a cheese maker, and together they thought that while they might not be able to change the world, they could get ahold of 50 acres and live the change. They were going to transition the farm to a local, organic, sustainable farm and hoped it would be a place to inspire future generations.
But when Lucinda passed away in 2011, Cleghorn decided to memorialize Lucinda’s legacy through this easement, named after her and enacted on the first anniversary of the her passing, November 14, 2012. Now with this easement, not only is Cleghorn living the change, he sets an example that could change the world. He hopes that this easement will inspire other individuals to also take a stand for nature and the future of the planet.
“This easement is about preserving land for organic agriculture and making a statement about a paradigm shift that we are part of nature, not lords over it. Our long history is catching up with us, we’re either going to turn around, or we are going to leave waste for future generations,” said Cleghorn. “The state government is coming in facilitating a helping hand to overturn local zoning laws, forget about zoning for less harm, why don’t we just put a gas field right where we live. They fracture the community before they can fracture the shale.”
This easement legally recognizes the Rights of Nature and bans all activities on the surface and below the surface of the property that would harm Nature. Cleghorn accepts that the deed could devalue his property because it restricts the use of the land, but defending nature’s rights is more important. Since it is attached to the deed, even when the deed changes hands, the new owners will have to comply with these terms or they could be sued.
“The groundbreaking idea of Rights of Nature is that this property is not so much longitudes and latitudes divided up into commodities. It’s first of all Earth, nature, and it’s indivisible,” said Cleghorn.
Cleghorn says he no longer recognizes states’ supposed “right” to the land. “Splitting nature by the state into who owns the surface versus who owns the subsurface, those are rights I don’t recognize anymore. What we’re trying to do is make them argue against nature itself. It is one of a number of steps I’m willing to take to hold them off.”
But it isn’t only individuals that can take a stand in this way. Cities, townships, and municipalities are beginning to adopt community bills of rights that put their right to a clean ecosystem and the Rights of Nature into law. These local ordinances display a paradigm shift in our culture towards recognizing Nature’s rights and asserting our local rights. If the government won’t protect nature, it’s time we follow Cleghorn’s inspiring example and take action, as individuals or in our communities, to protect the world we live in.
Anyone interested in discussing a similar easement for their land should contact Thomas Linzey at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, (717) 498-0054. View the easement and Cleghorn’s blog at http://angerandcourage.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/the-dr-lucinda-hart-gonzalez-conservation-easement/