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The Nature’s Trust paradigm for a sustaining economy

Sustainable, Just, and Democratic

Mary Christina Wood

The current environmental regulatory system promotes a destructive and unsustainable economy. While environmental statutes supposedly aim to control harm inflicted by the industrial economy, in fact they perpetuate destructive economic activity by regularly authorizing permits to pollute and destroy. Corporations and profiteers controlling the bureaucratic apparatus use the law to drain the natural wealth of communities for their own profit. On those rare occasions when environmental regulation successfully halts destruction, the resulting narrative presents an impossible “jobs v. environment” conflict that undermines environmental law in the broader political milieu. This chapter sets forth a legal paradigm called Nature’s Trust that draws upon the public trust principle to support both economic prosperity and ecological integrity. The public trust is an ancient doctrine, manifest in every state in the United States and in many countries throughout the world, including India, Kenya and the Philippines, to name a few. It requires government to act as a trustee with respect to the natural world and its elements. A fundamental component of democracy, the trust empowers citizens to hold government accountable for ecological protection. It also forms an inherent constraint on a private property regime that empowers colossal destruction. Finally, the Nature’s Trust paradigm reformulates the role of the corporation in modern society, recognizing imbued fiduciary limitations arising from state charters.