Power Outages and Rivers with Rights

Grind for August 8th
“It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Lights Out

The Headline

Power outage in Indonesia affects millions of people

The Grind

Traffic police in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta were forced to direct traffic by hand Sunday during a massive power outage that affected up to 100 million people living in and near Jakarta.

In addition to traffic lights, the blackout halted the metro system and disrupted mobile phone networks. The city’s hospitals and international airport utilized backup generators to remain up and running.

“The train stopped all of a sudden, we had to wait for a long time,” says train passenger Ella Wasila. “There were so many babies… they were crying…people were shouting.”

The Details

Power failures are common in Jakarta, but this weekend’s incident was longer and more widespread than usual.

The blackout began around noon local time (0500 GMT) and lasted nine hours.

State power company PLN offered little explanation for the outage, saying only that it was caused by “technical issues.”

PLN’s Acting Chief Executive, who assumed the position just three days ago, promised an independent investigation to determine the root cause of the blackout.

Mother Nature

The Headline

In Bangladesh, rivers have the same legal status as people

The Grind

In a desperate effort to save its waterways from pollution and illegal dredging, the Bangladeshi Supreme Court has decided to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans.

“In Bangladesh, the river is considered our mother,” said environmental activist Mohammad Abdul Matin. “The river is now considered by law, by code, a living entity, so you’ll have to face the consequence by law if you do anything that kills the river.”

Bangladesh is located on the Ganges Delta (the world’s largest delta) at the convergence of three major rivers: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna.

The Details

The new law in Bangladesh is an example of “environmental personhood,” the idea that natural entities such as rivers and forests have their own rights and thus cannot be owned by humans.

The philosophy is being championed throughout the world by indigenous communities who for centuries have viewed mother nature as sacred.

“Many indigenous communities recognize nature as a subject with personhood deserving of protection and respect, rather than looking at it as a merchandise or commodity over which our property rights should be exercised,” says activist Monti Aguirre.

Ecuador became the first country to grant legal rights to nature in 2008. Bolivia passed a similar law in 2011.

In 2017, lawmakers in New Zealand granted legal rights to the Whanganui River at the behest of the local Māori people. The law binds the Māori to the river in such a way that (by law) harming the river is tantamount to harming the tribe.

The city of Toledo, Ohio passed a similar ordinance this year to protect Lake Erie from further pollution. The law was immediately challenged by local farmers who said they were unable to keep chemical runoff from flowing into the lake. The lawsuit is ongoing.

“I know the initial inclination of some people will say it’s pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality,” admits New Zealand government official Chris Finlayson. “But it’s no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies.”

Key issues with environmental personhood include enforcement (who is responsible for running lawsuits?) and jurisdiction disputes. In the case of Bangladesh, supporters know they won’t be able to force neighboring countries who share rivers with Bangladesh to comply with its laws.

Did you know… Martha Stewart became a billionaire while in prison.