Man vs. Nature has been a theme of human civilizations for centuries. Whether it’s manifested in the eradication of entire species, engineering the natural meanders out of rivers, filling in wetlands to build cities, or individual quests in hostile places to claim the prize of being the first, the dominant culture loves to pit humans against everything else, with all bets laid on humans prevailing. We have been groomed to believe we are masters who hold dominion over the natural world as a matter of entitlement. 

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s (CELDF) year-end newsletter of 2022 proposed breaking this habit of thinking and behaving. If human communities want to make it on this planet, the us vs. them approach must vanish. In its place we must learn to live in healthy relationship from Nature, with Nature, in Nature, and as Nature. Last year, as part of a four-part installment, we started with living from Nature. In 2023 we move on to the next installment, which is about living with Nature. Not apart or opposite of, but in community with all of the systems and beings that make life on Earth fantastically rich. 

Think about it. How often have you spoken or heard others speak with a sense of awe about the non-human world? The night horizon festooned with the glow and sway of the northern lights. The grace of a porpoise pod breaching the ocean’s surface. A parade of ants moving bits of leaves from tree trunks across the jungle floor back to their high rise nest underground. The sunset or sunrise. The power of a winter storm. The flight of an owl at dusk. The caves,the desert, the mountain tops, the ocean floor, a meadow of young wildflowers. We live with these wonders and more everyday. And everyday we show our appreciation, humility, and connectedness to all that stands with us and next to us. 

Living with nature means not only being aware and appreciative, but being resolute that life ‘other than human’ can thrive independently of human needs. CELDF has been working with people, communities, and forwardthinking governments since 1995, advising them to be mindful of protecting the needs of ecosystems and the natural communities that make them whole. Back then, we didn’t yet call it Rights of Nature. 

This year-end newsletter we are featuring three amazing stories of what living with Nature is about when communities and systems take their responsibilities to heart. In October, Cleveland played host to CELDF’s inaugural Truth, Reckoning and Right Relationship event, which focused on the health and future of the Great Lakes. In some systems with a history of unfathomable assaults on human rights, we know that it is possible for culpable parties to own their mistakes. The first step to moving in a different direction is to own the truth and reckon with it no matter how dark and violent. The testimonies we gathered in October are now framing the agenda for a two-day gathering in April 2024, where artists, activists, educators, students, physicians, farmers, and Indigenous participants will work on what it means to be in right relationship with the Great Lakes.

With a growing network of Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters, legislation that would secure the inherent rights of the Great Lakes has been introduced in the New York Assembly. Such a law has the potential to bring the state into greater balance with the ecosystems of which it is a part. In Pennsylvania, the community resilience and resistance lessons coming from Grant Township never seem to end. One of the latest examples is a reminder of the fierceness and love the community has shown in honoring and protecting the Hellbender Salamander that lives in the creeks near Grant. Saving the Hellbender was a key reason the resistance came together nine years ago to oppose the dumping of toxic frack waste in the community. Hellbent is a new documentary that features both the people and the salamander of Grant Township and their aspiration to live with one another. 

Many of you who are active community rights advocates and supporters of CELDF have your own stories and challenges of being the best stewards in living with Nature. Your efforts to be resilient and resist a system that wants to dominate Nature are critical to the changes we need. The stories of the Great Lakes and of Grant Township are featured here to applaud all those involved in those efforts, and to remind us all of what deep transformation looks like. 

Thank you for all you do and for supporting CELDF. Your donation makes it possible for us to support others. We still have much work to do. 

Living from Nature. Living with Nature. 

Living in Nature. Living as Nature.

This article is an excerpt from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s 2023 year-end newsletter “Living with Nature.” Click the above button to sign up for a hard and/or electronic copy of our newsletters.

CELDF and you are changing culture for good.

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