The Whanganui River is the third-longest river in New Zealand. And, as of last week it’s a legal person that can be represented in court if someone harms it. Since the 1870s, a Maori tribe living along the river has struggled to convince authorities to protect the Whanganui. Over the past couple of years the government has increased efforts to clean up the river which became so polluted that almost all of the fish in it disappeared.
Class discussion: Does it make sense to legally declare something a person in order to protect it? What about U.S. court decisions that corporations are persons with civil rights like free speech and contributing money to politicians? Do these “persons” face the same responsibilities as humans? Can you imprison a river or corporation for killing someone? What do you think about arguments that all animals have rights? Are there better ways to protect rivers, corporations or animals than calling them persons with civil rights?