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Municipalities as Laboratories of Democracy

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

The webinar on Municipalities as Laboratories of Democracy by Valentina Dotto introduced her Ph.D. research, which is centered around the rights of nature.

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar

The webinar on Municipalities as Laboratories of Democracy by Valentina Dotto introduced her Ph.D. research, which is centered around the rights of nature. She talked about how municipalities across the U.S. have become agents of change toward a more equitable future by collaborating with grassroots organizations to pass ordinances aimed at the protection of their local ecosystems.


Valentina Dotto is a Policy and Trust Framework researcher for Yoti, working closely with domestic and international emerging trust frameworks and trust schemes.

Aside from her work with Yoti; she is an ordinary member of the World Council on Environmental Law (WCEL), a fellow of the Global Network of Human Rights and Environment (GNHRE), and a mentor of the course on Global Policy, Diplomacy, and Sustainability with the think tank ENVIPOL.


Nature vs humankind?

She started by introducing her PhD. research work which is about how legal tools are used by an advocacy group to protect their national resources.

She talked about how the interconnectedness between the ecological and social systems is causing the planet to face environmental and ecological problems and serious ecosystem degradation. She quoted Mari Margil of CELDF, a local organization that is trying to rebalance the burden benefits of local communities, who argues that the collapse of ecosystems and species as well as the acceleration of climate change are a clear indication that a fundamental change in the relationship between humankind and the natural world is necessary. So what can be seen is that the problems of the current legal, political and social frameworks can be summarised as 4 issues.

Agency issues: A bureaucratic and inefficient agency operation along with a lack of research, monitoring of data, and funding for implementation and enforcement of environmentally beneficial steps.

Judiciary issues: An under-educated core system with many complex laws and gaps in the laws themselves is a hindrance in movements.

Industry issues: Political pushback by the industries that value capitalistic gains over the environment’s needs.

Third parties’ issues: Financially struggling NGOs, community, and failed public outreach whereby the public believes that environmental law takes jobs of the people who are employed by the activities that harm the environment.


How do law and the environment intertwine?

She talked about how the whole purpose of her Ph.D. is to see how social movement interacts with the laws and how social movement uses the law as a means to an end for achieving social, political, and/or economic change. This ends up creating a symbiotic relationship between social movements and the law.


What do we mean by the rights of the environment?

It is important to digress a little bit and discuss the different environmental

discourses that have influenced the current movements and it is found that there were three distinct historical periods: the conservationist, and the preservationist movement in the early 20th century. These developed into a movement that included ideas of politics merging with the environment. The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence of these older periods of environmental organizations. These created the newer notion of environmental organizations specializing in using the law as a civil disobedience tool. This led to the creation of new discourses around ideas of the rights of the environment.


CELDF, an agent of change

In America, such discourse is attributed to CELDF, which works with local communities to pass anti-corporatist ordinances. The key element of these ordinances is community rights. They try to help communities achieve justice to protect their economy, environment, and natural resources from industrial corporations. It's a way in which local communities reclaim their rights from corporations and get equipped with tools to promote their own freedom and ecosystem. The most significant characteristic of these discursive practices is an assertion of local democracy against corporations. Their ultimate goal is to achieve constitutional rights to protect their environment.


Watch the full webinar at:


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