Friday, April 22, 2011

Nature Does NOT have Rights

We need to have a clear notion of what a right is and how and why government should be used to define and protect a right. I think the only coherent source of a “right” is a social agreement between people that their interests are better served with a legally enforced understanding that a right exists. Without an understanding that rights rest only with people we can get the preposterous behavior in the United Nations which resulted in the notion that religions have rights.

Frankly we are now in the embarrassing position of having little to say against the draconian blasphemy laws in Islamic countries when European countries also have blasphemy laws on their books. Ireland is a case in point on this. Irish atheists are trying to challenge the law which imposes a fine of up to 25,000 Euros on anyone who is guilty of "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion...” Michael Nugent, the Chair of Atheist Ireland said, “This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic states led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.” This quote is from the Guardian. As secularists we cannot object to Islamic governments supporting abusive laws punishing blasphemy if we do not have a clear notion that rights of necessity apply to people only.

A right is a liberty or privilege protected by the force of law. Rights do not exist as transcendental artifacts coming from a supreme being or our over active imaginations. Where does this leave the currently popular notion of nature having rights? I will argue that almost every legitimate right that would be in place from a theory that nature has rights can be derived from ascribing those rights to people.

We need to make it clear that people have a right to very limited pollution of their environment. People should have a right to expect that the vast array of services provided by the wider ecosystem will not collapse because capitalists do not want to pay for the devastation they leave behind in their quest for money. Our children should have a right to live in a world that has not been devastated by the early stages of a great extinction that will massively reduce the number of species in their future world.

I think most importantly we should have a right to have the food supply that is critical for the survival of humanity to remain intact. We should have a right to have the fisheries of the world survive into the future. We should have a right to be able to eat fish without ingesting unacceptable loads of mercury from coal fired power plants. We should have a right to see the Midwest, the bread basket of our nation, not be turned into a scrub desert due to global warming. We should have a right to have our beach-front property not be flooded out by a rising ocean. We should have a right to not see our forests destroyed by a vastly longer fire season caused by anthropogenic global warming.

Obviously by the time we list and enforce the all the rights that people should have we will have protected nature also. That is because our survival and positive well being is tightly linked to the preservation of the wider natural ecosystem within which we have evolved as a species.


Gary Berg-Cross said...


One point we might discuss is whether corporations have rights. Well they seem to have some legal status that has given them by fiat. As they say, a law can construct something out of nothing.

So we have this legal construction that' called corporate "personhood."

Yes, a corporation is no more a person than is Nature. It's a business system with component gaggles of investors' & their money which it uses to conduct transactions etc. and hopefully make a profit. People are involved. Bit people are in involved with the system of Nature. We just don't have it sign legal documents. Bit wait a minute a business can't either. It's a concept that has representatives that does things for it.
So a legal system COULD create some concept for Nature as a system with representatives and a way of keeping score. Or perhaps we might start with the rights of animals. Do animals have rights. Can we aggregate from there?

But mostly I take the Nature Rights effort to be one to put society's values and ecological approach in perspective. I like having someone standing up for our rivers.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

The concept of the Earth as a "being" is not something I would immediately subscribe to. But the decartion does footnote what they mean as something closer to natural systems within which life exists:

"The term “being” includes ecosystems, natural communities, species and all other natural entities which exist as part of Mother Earth."

So if you replace the term being with natural system you might have a more acceptable formulation.'

I think that the spirit of the resolution to give Nature (my preferred concept) some rights is in the Declaration starting with:

We, the peoples and nations of Earth:

considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny;

recognizing that the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change;

convinced that in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth;

affirming that to guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her and that there are existing cultures, practices and laws that do so;" etc.

Don Wharton said...

Corporations should have some legal rights such as respecting their title rights to property they own and their various contract rights. However, the bizzare notion that they are persons who can act in the political arena is like giving a super-heavy weight fighter the get in the ring and beat up on light-weight fighters. Their money can overwhelm resources from normal people.

lucette said...

Blogger lucette said...

" Corporations and other kinds of businesses have rights and obligations. They are "born" and they "die". They are governed by laws. The shareholders have distinct rights(I took one semester of Business Law and Business Organizations at Georgetown.)
The Corporations were given the status of "person" through a clerical error by a clerk of the Supreme Court. The Justices, instead of correcting this error, decided that the Constitution Amendments applied to the Corporations-persons. This is why the Corporations can now exercise their free speech and give as much money as they like to our Representatives and Senators. We, the flesh persons can do the same.

Friday, 22 April, 2011"

Don, This is a partial copy of my comment of Friday in another posting.