Going to Bat for Bats

RECEIVED Tue., Nov. 21, 2023

Dear Editor,
    As a society we increasingly seek technological solutions to the problems we create for ourselves. With each ice storm and heat wave we Texans experience, however, it’s becoming clear that the environmental challenges we face are beyond the reach of technology alone. The city of Austin, a rapidly evolving tech hub that holds on to its proud culture of barbecue, bats, and bass, could be an example of how embracing both tech and tradition can ensure a healthy, prosperous future.
    In March of 2023, I worked alongside the city of Bee Cave to bring back one of humanity’s oldest, forgotten traditions – the idea that a community is not made up of humans alone. By formally proclaiming the bee as an Honored Resident of the community, the city became the first government in the nation to imbue a non-human animal with tacit personhood, and affirmed their right to “exist and flourish” free from the harm so often inflicted on this most vital of creatures.
    As an attorney, I follow the Rights of Nature movement with great interest, but the legally binding protections it confers are swiftly challenged in the courts and frequently struck down. Symbolic declarations, like those pioneered by Bee Cave, instead challenge us to question our place in the world, not as masters over Nature but as just one member of a living community of “persons” who deserve our respect and empathy.
    Every city has a particular species that is closely tied to its cultural, economic or ecological well-being. The city of Austin’s bats tick all three boxes, instilling civic pride while providing over 10 million dollars in tourism revenue each year, as well as the priceless services they render to our health - they consume a staggering 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of mosquitoes on each nightly flight. By officially welcoming this intelligent, social species into our community, the city of Austin would inspire its human residents to value the protective web of organisms we depend on to sustain us and to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
    If this idea seems radical, it is. As any gardener will tell you, the word “radical” also refers to roots, and the notion that other-than-human species are endowed with personhood dates back to the roots of human culture. In a world where corporations, the very entities who continue to lead us deeper into climate crisis, have legal personhood, it seems unreasonable that living creatures should not have their personhood recognized, even symbolically.
    Combating climate change is a group effort – we need all the help we can get to fight disease, drought, and flood. We say in Texas that “it takes a village,” but who exactly gets to be a member of that village is up to us to decide. To me, the 1.5 million residents of the Congress Avenue Bridge are so much more than mascots. Let’s give them the welcome they deserve.
Peter Keilty
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