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In his well-known article, Should Trees Have Standing?—Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, Professor Christopher Stone proposed that courts grant nonhuman entities standing as plaintiffs so their interests may directly represented in court. In this Article, I review Stone’s ideas about standing and our relationship with the natural environment and describe the current, burgeoning, widespread trend toward granting not just standing, but legal rights and legal personhood to rivers, mountains, and other natural entities. I analyze the ways in which courts and legislatures in New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, and elsewhere are addressing concerns similar to Stone’s with expansive, even radical results. I draw from multiple sources, including interviews I conducted with actors advocating for or implementing these legal initiatives. Stone eloquently describes how to rationalize and implement standing and other kinds of moral consideration for nonhuman entities, but he did not envision the diverse, expansive, paradigm-shifting, justice-altering ways such rights are being granted in diverse locales around the world. Various human communities have adapted lifeways that ensure their behaviors continue to sustain their environments so that their environments continue to sustain them; often they have been dispossessed from the legal right to manage their natural environment. When jurisdictions grant rights for rivers, they simultaneously honor the cosmologies and practices of those who are staking moral, historical, ecological, and now legal, claims to speak for nonhuman entities. The very notion—espoused by Stone and now inscribed in law around the world—that law should be rooted in ecological interrelationship is itself a paradigm shift that shapes our mindsets and thus our behaviors toward the natural world that is us.

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Southern California Law Review