Climate Change and Sustainability: Environmental Human Rights Amendment

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Native American Proverb

Climate change impacts the ability of our environment to support human life. Unfortunately we are already experiencing the impact of a changing climate in Maryland, from the dangerous heat-island effect in our cities, to the rising sea levels along the coastline of Maryland, and the frequent serious rain events and flooding in communities across our state. These effects of climate change illustrate how our fundamental rights to live in a healthful environment are already being violated. Extreme temperatures and extreme weather events are already negatively impacting people where they live, work and play.

Sustainability is linked to climate stability

Sustainability isn’t just good policy or a buzz word. It is essential. Oxford Languages defines it as “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” A stable climate is essential for protecting Maryland’s public natural resources, ensuring that all of us, current and future generations have a healthful environment to sustain and nurture us, allowing us to live out the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a moral right. Each person deserves to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and have healthy soil for growing food. This is also a moral obligation to preserve and protect this right for the generations who are to come.   

We can’t have a healthful environment that provides clean air, water, and land without also having a stable climate to support life.  The two are interdependent and it is for this reason that MDEHR is advocating for the fundamental right to clean air, water, land and a stable climate to be constitutionally protected in the Bill of Rights section of our Maryland state constitution. 

How would the Environmental Human Rights Amendment support sustainability?

Under an environmental human rights amendment, local governments would have a trustee obligation to prohibit the degradation, diminution, and depletion of public natural resources. As trustees, they could use the environmental human rights amendment to prioritize sustainable development that does not negatively impact the public natural resources in their care.  

For example, “in December [2020], the Marple Township [Pennsylvania] Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 to deny the developer’s application due to various deficiencies and gaps in the applications, invoking the charge and spirit of PA’s Environmental Rights Amendment. Mr. Molinaro, Marple County Commissioner, invoked Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment or Green Amendment, citing his (and the township’s) fiduciary duty to protect their constituents’ rights to unspoiled natural resources. Mr. Molinaro pointed to the potential substantial loss of wildlife and stream habitat, threats to wetlands and downstream residents from inadequate stormwater plans, pages of deficiencies listed by state agencies and the Delaware County Conservation District, disruption of soils, wetland degradation from lack of groundwater recharge, the loss of a huge swath of tree canopy cover (coupled with a woefully inadequate and nonconforming tree replacement proposal), stream degradation, and much more.” [Reference:]

Climate Change, Sustainability and the Environmental Human Rights Amendment

Maryland’s Amendment for Environmental Human Rights is a constitutional solution in response to the challenge of climate change that supports sustainability, the equitable treatment of all Marylanders, and the protection of Maryland’s public natural resources. It is a legal tool to align the interests and concerns of residents with local and state governments. It can be invoked by individuals, groups, or local governments to hold those who infringe on these rights accountable. This amendment can create a legal foundation for strong legislation that protects the health of residents and the environment. MDEHR looks forward to working with residents, businesses, local governments, and the Maryland General Assembly in passing the Environmental Human Rights Amendment in Maryland. Read and sign our pledge, sign up for email updates, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.