“For Chuck O’Neal, a lifelong outdoorsman and environmentalist, the moment of truth came on election night 2020, as results rolled in from perhaps the most partisan campaign season in American history. O’Neal had spent the past two years running a campaign in Orange County, Florida, based on an unorthodox legal doctrine that holds that rivers, mountains and forests should have legal rights, just like people.
The concept of rights of nature was so far outside of the U.S. legal mainstream, and so threatening to agribusiness and other industries, that even O’Neal doubted that more than 50 percent of voters would go for it.
“You have to live in Florida to understand just how backward it is, but everything is geared towards greed,” said Phillips, now the director of Florida’s Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “Everything is geared towards fostering more people coming into the state, more business, more development and if that means destruction of wholesale areas of the state, so be it, they will do it.””