Tag Archives: #rivers

River People

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From an environmentalist standpoint, it can be a challenge to apply laws made for humans to the natural world, especially when many of those laws deal with nature solely as property with no inherent legal rights.

Most environmental laws have been crafted to deal with regulating exploitation or protection, but always from the perspective of human requirements or exploitation of resources, land and nature.

Mouth of the Ganges.
Image: Zastavki

But just as the intellectual property rights that were crafted to protect commercial interests have come to be used as a tool to protect indigenous and traditional knowledge from being exploited by commercial interests, so to are laws that surround legal personhood – such as those that protect the interests of companies  and other legal entities – being used to redefine the natural world.

The high court in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand has handed down a ruling that designates the River Ganges as a legal person. This designation was then extended to the River Yamuna, as well as the rivers’ respective source glaciers, Gangotri and Yamunotri, as well as other natural landscapes such as lakes, meadows,  jungles, forests, wetlands, grasslands, springs, waterfalls, and air.

Whanganui River.
Photo: Māori Party

This process took place first in New Zealand with the Te Urewera, an area of forested hills in the north-east that used to be a national park, which became a person for legal purposes in 2014, and the Whanganui River, the country’s third largest, in March 2017.

There have long been cultural and religious beliefs that respect natural elements as gods, deities, living beings worthy of the same respect as any other living creature.

The use of Western-based jurisprudence in this way leverages the human language of ownership by bestowing the fundamental rights we articulate for legal entities upon elements of nature that cannot speak for themselves in a court of law.

It means that, for example, legal action against a factory polluting a river doesn’t require humans to have been harmed or property to have been damaged in order for a river to be considered injured by pollution. The fact that the river is considered invested with fundamental rights means action can be taken on behalf of the river itself.

Yamuna River near Kalindi Kunj.
Photo: Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO

It’s a keen strategy, and one that could be very promising. Some have been saying that the Ganges is now considered a person, with all attendant rights. Considering what we humans do to one another, even within the law, this might not be the highest achievement.

But the Ganges and the Yamuna, their sources, the Whanganui River and other ‘persons’ of nature might just be more like something the law consistently protected with more reliability than it has individual people: They are like a corporation or company, legal entities our jurisprudence systems take very good care of around the world.

River Garland

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Comparative View of the Lengths of the Principal Rivers in the World.  Source: C. Smith (1817) via David Rumsey Map Collection

Comparative View of the Lengths of the Principal Rivers in the World.
Source: C. Smith (1817) via David Rumsey Map Collection

Here’s a stunning bit of old cartography, a comparative view of the lengths of the world’s main rivers.

Published in 1817 and created by ‘C. Smith’, the rivers were ‘straightened out’ for better viewing, with compass arrows added along their lengths to indicate in which direction they actually twisted and turned. At least, the directions they took before most of them were enhanced through major engineering projects over the decades and centuries.

Posted on David Rumsey Map Collection, a description of the each river (the sea of exceedingly fine print)  describes the course of the Missouri River as “recently explored by the Americans” (Lewis and Clark), and “extremely devious”.

The description of Italy’s Po River: “A celebrated Riv. and the largest in Italy…it often overflows its banks fertlizing the adjacent Country.”

I very much like how the Paraná and the Volga Rivers are so long that they spill out over the map’s own frame at the bottom.

Excerpt Source: C. Smith (1817) via David Rumsey Map Collection

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Source: C. Smith (1817) via David Rumsey Map Collection

This excerpt shows an aspect of the map that I think is my favorite:

All the mouths of the rivers lined up next to one another, feeding into all the seas of the world at the same time.

I’m not sure what use this map served besides being a beautiful bit of geographical creativity, but some of the descriptions could be useful in comparing early 19th century river flow and direction with their modern developments.

Which brave cartographer will take up the challenge and create the modern version of this map?

A River Runs Through It

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A River Runs Through It

There’s the old saying about never crossing the same river twice, and that’s truer now than ever. Rivers have changed dramatically over the past few decades.

I probably crossed a few undammed, unhindered rivers on family trips when I was a kid, but if I tried to do the same thing today, I would need a good map and some determination.

Less that 1% of major rivers in the United States remain wild. And while the Amazon has neither dam nor bridge, many of its tributaries have both.

Survey map (1876) of the Fly River in Papua New Guinea. Approximately 25th in terms of size and volume when it comes to the world's major rivers, it is the largest remaining river that is still completely undammed. Source: Wikipedia

Survey map (1876) of the Fly River in Papua New Guinea. Approximately 25th in terms of size and volume when it comes to the world’s major rivers, it is the largest remaining river that is still completely undammed.
Source: Wikipedia

The group International Rivers posts on its website:

“Free-flowing rivers have become so rare that they would be classified as an endangered species if they were considered living things rather than merely support systems for all living things. What have we lost in the rush to dam our rivers?

Of the world’s 177 largest rivers, only one-third are free flowing, and just 21 rivers longer than 1,000 km retain a direct connection to the sea. Damming has led to species extinctions, loss of prime farmland and forests, social upheaval, loss of clean water supplies, dessicated wetlands, destroyed fisheries and more.”

The Gulf of Papua, the delta of the Fly River. Image: NASA

The Gulf of Papua, the delta of the Fly River.
Image: NASA

A new Oxford study show that major river dams are one of the least efficient economic investments a nation can make when it comes to generating energy – and that’s before the environmental costs are factored in.

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have made their settlements and livelihoods on the banks of rivers around the world. Rivers have connected communities and carried us to sea, across borders and continents. From the water they bring to their constant flow, rivers are, across cultures and time, the very symbol of life itself.

It’s International Day of Action for Rivers 2014 today. Here’s a list of events, and some suggestions for action you can take to help your favorite river flow free. #RiversUniteUs

Via: International Rivers

Via: International Rivers