This topic may seem boring or trivial but it is going to be the dominant question in environmental law for the next 10 years.
What is a legal person? It is a human or non-human entity that is recognized as having privileges and obligations such as having the ability to enter into contracts, to sue or be sued.
So if a non-human entity such as a corporation or a church can sue or be sued then as a legal person it has automatic standing in court to represent its interests. A corporation is a legal entity that is conceived by a piece of paper called the Articles of Incorporation.
A tree which is a living organism is not a legal person so it can not have automatic standing in court to represent its interests. In the eyes of the court, entities that are not legal persons have to find a vicarious measure to represent its interests in court. I guess they do not like trees walking into court. Environmental groups could represent the tree but would it not be so much more equitable to declare the tree a legal person so it can sue for its survival?
Franco-Roman law brought to the colonized world by the Europeans declares all Nature to be the property of humans. Trees belong to logging companies, rivers and lakes belong to mining companies to pollute and animals for hunters to kill. The anthropocentric view is that humans own and control Nature.
So lets consider the case of the tree v. the corporation. The corporation is a legal person with the permits and regulations to pollute Mother Earth by cutting down trees, polluting the water and air and causing climate change. All approved by government regulatory agencies and backed by the courts. All because we own Nature.
Now the tree provides humans with carbon capture, produces oxygen, provides shelter and homes for many animals, protects the earth from drying out and many more ecological services. The tree can’t speak for itself because it is not a legal person. It is just man’s property to do with it what we wish.
How absurd is this current legal concept that Nature is our property? The Courts need to revolutionize environmental law and immediately grant Nature the status of legal person so it can defeat corporations and governments as the owners of Nature.
Ecuador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Argentina, India and many more countries are starting this important trend. Maybe the so called advanced nations could modernize their archaic legal systems. For more information on this topic, read The Rights of Nature by David R. Boyd.