Rights & Nature
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Due to the significant and often careless human impact on the natural environment, there are serious problems facing the people of today and of future generations. To date, ethical, aesthetic, religious, and economic arguments for the conservation and protection of the natural environment have made relatively little headway. Another approach, one capable of garnering attention and motivating action, would be welcome. There is another approach, one that I will call a rights approach. Speaking generally, this approach is an attempt to address environmental issues via the language and theory of legal and moral rights. Ultimately, it is our duties to our fellow humans that explain why we have duties regarding the natural environment. There are three main contenders among theories that can be called rights approaches to environmental issues. The first identifies the (alleged) human right to a healthful environment as the source of our obligations to conserve and protect nature. The second approach has it that our duties to nature arise from the rights of the constituents of nature themselves, its flora and fauna. The third approach to addressing environmental problems via rights is, I argue, the best path to environmental conservation and protection. This approach—which grounds duties toward nature on the human right to health—has the benefits of being a straightforward, uncontroversial, and simple approach to issues and problems that desperately need to be resolved.
KeywordsHuman rights Nature Duties Environment Health
I would like to thank the editors of The Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics and the anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper for their helpful comments. Thanks also to Purdue University’s Mark Bernstein, William McBride, and Patrick Kain, whose assistance made this paper possible.
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