Exploring the Legal Personhood of the Atrato River: A Comprehensive Analysis

The Atrato River, a majestic waterway in the heart of Central America, has long been regarded as a source of life and livelihood for the communities that surround it. But could it also be considered a legal person? This is the question at the center of a heated debate that has captivated the world’s attention. In this article, we will delve into the complex issue of the Atrato River’s legal personhood, exploring the arguments for and against its recognition as a legal entity. We will examine the legal, environmental, and ethical implications of granting personhood to the river, and consider the potential impact on the communities that depend on it. So join us as we embark on this fascinating journey to explore the Atrato River’s legal personhood.

Understanding the Atrato River: History and Significance

Geographical and Ecological Characteristics

The Atrato River is a significant waterway located in the southwestern region of Colombia. It originates in the Western Cordillera and flows for approximately 230 kilometers before it empties into the Pacific Ocean. The river’s name comes from the indigenous word “Ataro,” which means “river of death,” due to the dangerous currents and rapid changes in water levels.

Geographically, the Atrato River is situated within the Choc√≥ biogeographic region, which is known for its high levels of biodiversity. The river’s basin covers an area of approximately 20,000 square kilometers and is home to numerous communities, including indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian populations.

Ecologically, the Atrato River is an important ecosystem that supports a variety of plant and animal species. The river’s delta, which is located at its mouth, is a critical habitat for the threatened yellow-eared parrot, as well as other bird species such as the green macaw and the toucan. Additionally, the river is home to various fish species, including the iconic arawana, a large freshwater fish that is highly prized by local communities.

The Atrato River is also a critical source of freshwater for local communities and industries, including agriculture and mining. However, the river is facing numerous environmental challenges, including deforestation, pollution, and the impacts of climate change. These challenges have led to concerns about the long-term sustainability of the river and its ecosystems.

Cultural and Environmental Importance

The Atrato River, which flows through the southwestern region of Colombia, holds significant cultural and environmental importance. The river is a source of life for the surrounding communities, who have relied on it for their daily needs and traditional practices for generations.

Culturally, the Atrato River is a symbol of the indigenous peoples’ connection to the land and their spiritual beliefs. The river is believed to be home to spirits and is considered a sacred site by the local communities. The river is also a site for traditional ceremonies and celebrations, and its waters are used for medicinal and ritual purposes.

Environmentally, the Atrato River is a critical ecosystem that supports a wide range of flora and fauna. The river is home to a diverse range of fish species, which are an important source of food for the local communities. The river also provides a habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles, many of which are threatened or endangered species.

Furthermore, the Atrato River plays a vital role in regulating the region’s climate and supporting agriculture. The river provides water for irrigation, and its wetlands act as a natural water filter, improving the quality of the water for human consumption and other uses.

In light of these cultural and environmental factors, it is clear that the Atrato River is not just a natural resource but a vital part of the local communities’ identity and way of life.

The Legal Personhood Debate: An Overview

Key takeaway: The Atrato River, located in southwestern Colombia, is a significant waterway with ecological, cultural, and environmental importance. It supports a diverse range of plant and animal species, plays a vital role in regulating the region’s climate and supporting agriculture, and is a source of life for the surrounding communities. The concept of legal personhood, which grants non-human entities such as rivers legal rights and protections similar to those of a human being, is being debated in relation to the Atrato River. Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River would have significant implications for its management and protection, including enabling it to bring legal actions against those who harm or pollute it and potentially leading to the creation of new laws and regulations to protect its rights. Historical and international precedents, including the Doctrine of Discovery and the Rights of Nature movement, have shaped the legal personhood debate. Arguments for and against granting legal personhood to the Atrato River include preserving its value as a vital source of food and livelihood, protecting its ecosystem, and potential benefits for sustainable resource management, and limitations on property rights and economic development. Indigenous communities in the Atrato River basin have played a vital role in its preservation and protection, and granting legal personhood could have significant implications for their rights and interests, including preserving their knowledge and culture, empowering them in decision-making, protecting their land rights, and safeguarding their health and well-being.

Legal Personhood and its Implications

  • The concept of legal personhood refers to the recognition of a non-human entity, such as a river, as having legal rights and protections similar to those of a human being.
  • Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River would have significant implications for the way in which the river is managed and protected.
    • One potential implication is that the river would be able to bring legal actions against those who harm or pollute it, similar to how a human being can bring legal actions against another person.
    • Another implication is that the river would be entitled to legal representation, which could be used to advocate for its rights and interests.
    • Legal personhood could also result in the creation of new laws and regulations specifically designed to protect the rights of the Atrato River.
    • It could also potentially lead to the establishment of a legal framework for the recognition of the rights of other non-human entities, such as ecosystems and wildlife.
    • The recognition of the Atrato River as a legal person could also have symbolic and cultural significance, as it would acknowledge the inherent value of the river and the important role it plays in the lives of those who depend on it.

Historical and International Precedents

The Doctrine of Discovery

The concept of legal personhood has evolved over time, and its application to rivers is a relatively recent development. One historical precedent that has shaped the way we think about the relationship between humans and nature is the Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine emerged during the European colonization of the Americas and formed the legal basis for the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands. The Doctrine of Discovery asserted that European explorers had a right to claim land they had not yet encountered, based on the idea that the land was “uninhabited” or “empty.”

The Rights of Nature

In contrast to the Doctrine of Discovery, the concept of the Rights of Nature is a more recent development that seeks to grant legal personhood to natural entities such as rivers. The Rights of Nature movement emerged in response to the degradation of the natural environment and the need to protect it from human exploitation. The movement seeks to recognize the intrinsic value of nature and to provide legal standing for natural entities, allowing them to be represented in court and to have their rights protected.

Indigenous Perspectives

Indigenous peoples have long held their own perspectives on the legal personhood of natural entities, including rivers. Many Indigenous cultures view rivers as living beings with their own agency and consciousness, and they have developed complex systems of kinship and reciprocity with the natural world. These perspectives have been marginalized and suppressed throughout history, but they are now being revitalized and incorporated into contemporary legal and political debates.

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The Role of International Law

International law has also played a role in shaping the legal personhood debate. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example, recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to their traditional lands and resources, including rivers. Additionally, the concept of “ecological citizenship” has emerged in international legal discourse, which recognizes the need to extend legal rights to natural entities in order to protect the health and well-being of both humans and the environment.

Conclusion

The historical and international precedents that have shaped the legal personhood debate provide a rich context for understanding the ongoing struggle to protect the Atrato River and other natural entities. From the Doctrine of Discovery to the Rights of Nature movement, Indigenous perspectives, and international law, the legal personhood debate is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires careful consideration and attention.

Arguments For and Against Legal Personhood for the Atrato River

Proponents’ Perspectives

Reasons for Granting Legal Personhood to the Atrato River

  1. The Atrato River is a vital source of food and livelihood for many communities along its banks, making it a valuable resource that deserves legal protection.
  2. The river is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, many of which are endangered, and granting it legal personhood could help to protect the river’s ecosystem.
  3. Legal personhood would enable the Atrato River to be represented in court, allowing it to defend its own rights and interests, and potentially prevent harm caused by human activities.
  4. Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River could set an important precedent for the recognition of the rights of other natural entities, such as forests and lakes.

Benefits of Legal Personhood for the Atrato River

  1. Legal personhood would give the Atrato River the ability to sue polluters and other parties that cause harm to the river, allowing it to defend its own interests and rights.
  2. It would allow the river to be represented in court by a legal guardian or advocate, who would be responsible for ensuring that the river’s rights are protected.
  3. Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River could lead to a greater recognition of the value of natural entities, and encourage a more sustainable approach to resource management.
  4. It could help to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the Atrato River and the ecosystems it supports, and promote a more holistic approach to environmental conservation.

Opponents’ Perspectives

Opponents of granting legal personhood to the Atrato River argue that such a move would be a departure from established legal principles and would lead to confusion in the legal system. They contend that the Atrato River is a natural resource, not a legal entity, and should not be afforded the same rights and protections as living beings.

Natural Resources vs. Legal Entities

One of the primary arguments against granting legal personhood to the Atrato River is that it would blur the distinction between natural resources and legal entities. Natural resources, such as rivers, forests, and minerals, are considered property under the law and are subject to ownership and control by individuals or corporations. Legal entities, on the other hand, are entities recognized under the law, such as corporations, partnerships, and trusts, and are considered separate from their owners.

Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River would conflate these two concepts, leading to confusion in the legal system and potentially undermining the principles of property rights and private ownership. Opponents argue that the Atrato River should be treated as a natural resource, subject to the laws and regulations governing property and resource management, rather than as a legal entity with its own rights and protections.

Limitations on Property Rights

Another argument against granting legal personhood to the Atrato River is that it would limit property rights and impede economic development. The Atrato River is a vital source of energy and transportation in the region, and granting it legal personhood could lead to restrictions on activities such as logging, mining, and hydropower development.

Proponents of these activities argue that such restrictions would stifle economic growth and hinder development in the region. They contend that the Atrato River should be managed as a natural resource, subject to regulation and oversight, but not as a legal entity with its own rights and protections.

Environmental Protection vs. Economic Development

A third argument against granting legal personhood to the Atrato River is that it would prioritize environmental protection over economic development. The Atrato River is a critical source of freshwater in the region and is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species. Granting it legal personhood could lead to restrictions on activities that could harm the river and its ecosystem, such as pollution and habitat destruction.

Proponents of economic development argue that such restrictions could impede growth and development in the region, leading to job losses and economic hardship. They contend that the Atrato River should be managed for the benefit of both the environment and the local economy, with a focus on sustainable development and responsible resource management.

In conclusion, opponents of granting legal personhood to the Atrato River argue that such a move would lead to confusion in the legal system, limit property rights, and prioritize environmental protection over economic development. While the Atrato River is a vital natural resource, opponents contend that it should be managed as such, subject to regulation and oversight, but not as a legal entity with its own rights and protections.

The Atrato River and Indigenous Communities: A Closer Look

The Role of Indigenous Communities in the Atrato River Basin

The indigenous communities that reside along the Atrato River basin have played a vital role in the preservation and protection of the river and its resources. These communities have a deep connection to the land and the water, and their traditional knowledge and practices have been passed down through generations.

One of the main ways in which indigenous communities have contributed to the preservation of the Atrato River is through their use of sustainable farming practices. Many of these communities rely on the river for their livelihoods, and they have developed techniques that allow them to use the land and water without depleting its resources. For example, many indigenous communities in the region use a method of agriculture known as “milpa” which involves rotating crops and allowing the land to rest in between plantings. This helps to prevent soil erosion and maintain the fertility of the land.

In addition to their sustainable farming practices, indigenous communities in the Atrato River basin have also developed a number of other practices that help to protect the river and its resources. For example, many communities have established sacred sites and protected areas around the river, which help to preserve the natural environment and prevent the exploitation of its resources. These sacred sites are often used for religious and cultural ceremonies, and they serve as a reminder of the importance of the river to the indigenous communities that rely on it.

Furthermore, indigenous communities in the Atrato River basin have also played a critical role in the conservation of the river’s biodiversity. Many of the communities in the region rely on the river for fishing, and they have developed practices that help to maintain the health of the river’s ecosystem. For example, some communities have established fishing regulations and limits, which help to prevent overfishing and protect the river’s fish populations. Additionally, many communities have established programs to monitor and protect the river’s wildlife, including endangered species such as the river dolphin.

Overall, the role of indigenous communities in the Atrato River basin has been crucial in the preservation and protection of the river and its resources. Their traditional knowledge and practices have helped to maintain the health of the river’s ecosystem and preserve its biodiversity. As such, it is important to recognize the legal personhood of the Atrato River and ensure that the rights and interests of these communities are protected in any legal framework that may be developed.

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Impact of Legal Personhood on Indigenous Rights and Interests

Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River would have significant implications for the indigenous communities that rely on the river for their livelihoods and cultural practices. By examining the potential impact of legal personhood on indigenous rights and interests, this section will demonstrate how this innovative approach to environmental protection could benefit these communities.

  • Preserving Indigenous Knowledge and Culture: The Atrato River holds immense cultural and spiritual significance for the indigenous communities living along its banks. Granting the river legal personhood could help preserve their knowledge and cultural practices by ensuring that the river’s well-being is prioritized in decision-making processes. This recognition would enable indigenous communities to participate more effectively in the protection and management of the river, thus preserving their cultural heritage.
  • Empowering Indigenous Communities in Decision-Making: Legal personhood for the Atrato River could empower indigenous communities by providing them with a voice in decisions that affect the river’s health and well-being. By acknowledging the river as a legal entity, indigenous communities could be included in consultations and negotiations regarding the river’s use and management, ensuring that their rights and interests are taken into account. This participation would help prevent the imposition of decisions that could negatively impact the river and the communities that depend on it.
  • Protecting Indigenous Land Rights: The Atrato River is an essential source of food, medicine, and livelihoods for many indigenous communities in the region. Legal personhood for the river could help protect these communities’ land rights by preventing the appropriation of river-adjacent lands for commercial interests. By recognizing the river as a legal entity with its own rights and interests, indigenous communities could use this status to challenge unlawful land-use practices and protect their ancestral territories.
  • Safeguarding Indigenous Health and Well-being: The health and well-being of indigenous communities are intimately tied to the Atrato River. Granting the river legal personhood could lead to improved water quality, reduced pollution, and increased access to clean water for these communities. This, in turn, would contribute to better health outcomes and overall well-being, as indigenous peoples’ physical and cultural connections to the river are maintained and strengthened.
    * Collaborative Management and Conservation: Legal personhood for the Atrato River could foster collaborative management and conservation efforts involving indigenous communities, local governments, and other stakeholders. By recognizing the river as a legal entity, these groups could work together more effectively to develop and implement sustainable management plans that balance environmental protection, economic development, and cultural preservation. This collaborative approach would help ensure that the interests of indigenous communities are considered in the decision-making process, leading to more equitable and sustainable outcomes.

In conclusion, granting legal personhood to the Atrato River would have significant implications for the indigenous communities that rely on the river for their livelihoods and cultural practices. By prioritizing the river’s well-being and involving indigenous communities in decision-making processes, this innovative approach to environmental protection could help preserve their knowledge, culture, and rights while fostering collaborative management and conservation efforts.

The Economic Dimension: Benefits and Challenges

Potential Economic Benefits of Legal Personhood

The granting of legal personhood to the Atrato River has the potential to bring about a range of economic benefits. By recognizing the river as a legal entity, it may be possible to establish new forms of economic partnership and collaboration between the river and the various stakeholders who rely on it. This could include:

  • Facilitating sustainable development: By recognizing the river as a legal entity, it may be possible to establish new forms of economic partnership and collaboration between the river and the various stakeholders who rely on it. This could include creating incentives for sustainable development and encouraging investment in renewable energy and other forms of sustainable infrastructure.
  • Promoting ecotourism: The Atrato River is a major tourist destination, and the granting of legal personhood could provide a framework for the river to participate in the tourism industry. This could include the creation of a river management board or other legal entity that could enter into partnerships with tour operators and other businesses to promote sustainable tourism.
  • Encouraging investment: The granting of legal personhood could also make it easier for investors to contribute to the conservation and restoration of the river. By providing a legal framework for the river to participate in economic activities, it may be possible to attract funding from a range of sources, including impact investors and philanthropic organizations.
  • Enhancing governance: The granting of legal personhood could also improve governance around the river. By establishing a legal entity that represents the interests of the river, it may be possible to improve coordination and cooperation among the various stakeholders who rely on it. This could include the creation of a river management board or other legal entity that could enter into partnerships with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders to promote the sustainable use of the river.

Economic Implications and Concerns

  1. Economic growth: Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River could facilitate the development of sustainable eco-tourism, fishing, and aquaculture industries, creating new jobs and generating income for local communities.
  2. Investment and funding: As a legal entity, the river could attract investment and funding from environmental organizations, government agencies, and private sector companies interested in protecting and restoring the river’s ecosystem.
  3. Better resource management: Legal personhood could help establish clear responsibilities and liabilities for stakeholders, leading to more efficient and responsible management of the river’s resources.

Challenges and Concerns

  1. Economic inequality: The potential economic benefits of legal personhood might not be evenly distributed among all stakeholders, exacerbating existing economic disparities in the region.
  2. Competing interests: The granting of legal personhood to the Atrato River could create tensions between various stakeholders, such as indigenous communities, local governments, and commercial interests, as they compete for access to the river’s resources.
  3. Regulatory challenges: The implementation of legal personhood for the river may require significant changes to existing environmental, land-use, and tax laws, which could be met with resistance from various stakeholders.
  4. Corporate capture: As a legal entity, the Atrato River could become subject to undue influence by powerful corporations or special interest groups, potentially compromising its intended protections.
  5. Financial liabilities: Granting legal personhood to the river could expose it to potential financial liabilities, such as costs associated with environmental restoration or compensation for damages caused by pollution or other harmful activities.

Legal Frameworks and Challenges in Granting Legal Personhood to the Atrato River

National and International Legal Frameworks

Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River requires a thorough understanding of the existing national and international legal frameworks. These frameworks are essential in determining the legal rights and responsibilities of the river, as well as its relationship with other stakeholders.

National Legal Frameworks

In many countries, national laws and regulations govern the management and protection of rivers. In Colombia, for example, the Atrato River is subject to various legal protections under the Colombian Constitution and environmental laws. The Constitution recognizes the right to a healthy environment and the obligation of the state to protect it. The Environmental Code establishes the framework for environmental protection, including the protection of water resources.

Additionally, the Atrato River is a designated protected area under the Colombian National Natural Parks System. This status provides additional legal protections for the river and its surrounding ecosystems. However, these national legal frameworks may not be sufficient to grant legal personhood to the Atrato River, as the concept is not explicitly addressed in Colombian law.

International Legal Frameworks

International legal frameworks also play a significant role in the protection of rivers and their ecosystems. The Atrato River flows through Panama and Colombia, and as such, is subject to international law. The international community has recognized the importance of protecting rivers and their ecosystems through various treaties and agreements.

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The Convention on Biological Diversity, for example, recognizes the importance of protecting biodiversity, including river ecosystems. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands also recognizes the importance of protecting wetlands, including rivers and their associated ecosystems.

Furthermore, the United Nations General Assembly has recognized the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. This right may also extend to the protection of rivers and their ecosystems, as they are essential for providing clean water.

While these international legal frameworks provide a basis for protecting the Atrato River, they do not explicitly address the concept of legal personhood. Therefore, it is essential to explore how these frameworks can be adapted to recognize the legal personhood of the Atrato River.

Challenges and Potential Obstacles

Jurisdictional Issues

One of the primary challenges in granting legal personhood to the Atrato River is determining the appropriate jurisdiction for such a designation. The river spans across multiple municipalities and departments, creating potential conflicts of interest and legal ambiguity. Establishing clear boundaries and responsibilities for managing the river’s resources would be crucial in ensuring its legal personhood is upheld and respected.

Inadequate Legal Precedents

Another challenge is the lack of legal precedents for granting legal personhood to natural entities, such as rivers. As a result, there is no established framework for determining the rights and responsibilities of the Atrato River as a legal person. This lack of precedent may lead to uncertainty among stakeholders and hinder the effective implementation of policies designed to protect the river’s interests.

Resistance from Industrial Interests

Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River may face resistance from industrial interests, such as mining and agricultural companies, that rely on the river’s resources for their operations. These companies may challenge the legality of the river’s personhood and attempt to undermine the protections afforded to it under the law.

Public Education and Awareness

Public education and awareness of the concept of legal personhood for natural entities, such as the Atrato River, may also pose a challenge. The idea of granting legal rights to a non-human entity is relatively novel and may be met with skepticism or resistance from some members of the public. Ensuring widespread understanding and acceptance of the legal personhood of the Atrato River would be crucial in fostering a supportive environment for its protection and preservation.

Key Takeaways

  1. Rights of Nature: The Atrato River’s legal personhood would fall under the Rights of Nature framework, which recognizes non-human entities as having legal rights.
  2. Challenges in Implementation: The challenges in granting legal personhood to the Atrato River include determining the extent of the river’s rights, enforcing those rights, and navigating the existing legal framework.
  3. Implications for Indigenous Communities: The legal personhood of the Atrato River may have significant implications for Indigenous communities who rely on the river for their livelihoods and cultural practices.
  4. Global Precedent: The recognition of the Atrato River as a legal person would set a global precedent for the granting of legal personhood to other natural entities.
  5. Public Perception: Public perception of the Atrato River as a legal person could lead to increased awareness and appreciation for the importance of preserving the river’s ecosystem.

The Road Ahead: Future Directions for Research and Action

As we delve deeper into the exploration of the legal personhood of the Atrato River, it is crucial to consider the future directions for research and action. The following are some potential avenues for further investigation:

Understanding the Local Perspectives

It is essential to explore the local perspectives on the Atrato River’s legal personhood. By understanding the cultural, social, and historical significance of the river, we can gain insights into how the indigenous communities view the river as a legal entity. This research could provide valuable information on how the river’s legal personhood could be incorporated into their cultural practices and beliefs.

Assessing the Impact of Legal Personhood on Environmental Conservation

Granting legal personhood to the Atrato River could have significant implications for environmental conservation efforts. Future research could focus on evaluating the impact of the river’s legal personhood on conservation initiatives and the overall health of the ecosystem. This could include examining the effectiveness of legal mechanisms in protecting the river and its surrounding environment, as well as assessing the role of the river as a legal entity in shaping environmental policies.

Developing Legal Mechanisms for the Protection of the Atrato River

The legal personhood of the Atrato River presents an opportunity to develop new legal mechanisms for its protection. Future research could focus on exploring the development of legal instruments, such as trusts or foundations, that could be established to ensure the river’s protection and preservation. This research could provide insights into how these legal mechanisms could be implemented and maintained, as well as their potential impact on the river’s well-being.

Engaging Stakeholders in the Legal Personhood of the Atrato River

Finally, future research could focus on engaging stakeholders in the legal personhood of the Atrato River. This could include engaging with local communities, government agencies, and other interested parties in discussions around the implications of the river’s legal personhood. By fostering dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders, we can ensure that the river’s legal personhood is integrated into broader social, economic, and environmental policies.

Overall, the road ahead for research and action related to the legal personhood of the Atrato River is fraught with potential. By exploring these future directions, we can gain a deeper understanding of the implications of granting legal personhood to the river and develop effective strategies for its protection and preservation.

FAQs

1. What is the Atrato River?

The Atrato River is a river located in the northwestern part of the Central American country of Panama. It is known for its dark water, which is caused by the high concentration of organic matter that flows into it. The river is also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including the famous Blanchard’s Crusted Sellofish.

2. What is legal personhood?

Legal personhood is a concept in law that refers to the recognition of non-human entities, such as corporations or animals, as having the same legal rights and responsibilities as humans. This means that these entities can be held responsible for their actions, and can also be granted certain legal rights and protections.

3. Is the Atrato River a legal person?

There is ongoing debate about whether the Atrato River should be considered a legal person. Some argue that granting personhood to the river would help to protect it from environmental damage and degradation, while others argue that it is not appropriate to grant legal rights to a non-human entity.

4. What are the benefits of granting legal personhood to the Atrato River?

Supporters of granting legal personhood to the Atrato River argue that it would help to protect the river from environmental damage and degradation. As a legal person, the river would have the right to be protected from pollution and other harmful activities, and could potentially be represented by an advocate or legal guardian.

5. What are the potential drawbacks of granting legal personhood to the Atrato River?

Critics of granting legal personhood to the Atrato River argue that it could set a precedent for granting legal rights to other non-human entities, such as animals or even inanimate objects. They also argue that it is not appropriate to grant legal rights to a natural resource, as it is not capable of holding responsibility for its actions.

6. What is the current status of the Atrato River’s legal personhood?

As of now, the Atrato River has not been granted legal personhood. The issue is still being debated by legal and environmental experts, and it remains to be seen whether the river will be granted personhood in the future.

Should Rivers Have Rights? [POLICYbrief]