A Right to a Decent Environment: Are Human Rights Sustainable?
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A Right to a Decent Environment: Are Human Rights Sustainable?

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An analysis of whether a human right to a decent environment would lead to a more sustainable world.

An analysis of whether a human right to a decent environment would lead to a more sustainable world.

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    A Right to a Decent Environment: Are Human Rights Sustainable? A Right to a Decent Environment: Are Human Rights Sustainable? Document Transcript

    • A  Right  to  a  Decent  Environment:  Are  Human  Rights  Sustainable?     The  capacity  of  our  ecological  surroundings,  on  which  we  depend  for  survival,  to  sustain  current  modes  of  consumption  and  production  is  under  threat.    It  has  been  argued  that  a  rights-­‐based  approach  to  environmental  protection  would  guide  policy  formulation  at  all  levels  of  governance  towards  a  more  sustainable  world.    To  that  end,  I  shall  argue  here  that  what  is  required  is  an  alteration  in  the  way  in  which  our  interactions  with  nature  take  place,  which  the  imposition  of  a  right  to  a  decent  environment1  may  well  provide.    As  we  shall  see,  however,  the  rights  discourse  itself  will  need  to  be  reconstructed  so  that  it  can  accommodate  a  naturalist  ethic,  and  the  extension  of  rights  to  the  natural  world.     While  there  are  still  pockets  of  dissent,  a  general  scientific  consensus  now  exists  surrounding  the  role  of  human  activity  in  bringing  about  rapid  climate  change.2    As  part  of  this  consensus  increases  predicted  in  aggregate  global  temperatures  have  been  attributed  to  industrial  development,  the  pace  of  which  has  intensified  considerably  post-­‐World  War  II,  and  particularly  to  a  heavy  reliance  on  the  burning  of  fossil  fuels.    Without  immediate  and  rapid  reductions  in  greenhouse  gas  emissions,  which  are  associated  with  fossil  fuel  use,  temperatures  are  predicted  to  rise  by  as  much  as  6.4  degrees  over  the  course  of  the  twenty-­‐first  century.3      The  impact  of  a  rise  greater  than  2  degrees  over  that  timeframe  would  be  catastrophic  to  human  societies  –  warming  oceans  and                                                                                                                  1  During  this  paper  I  will  use  the  phrase  ‘right  to  a  decent  environment,’  though  it  is  important  to  note  that  several  formulations  have  been  put  forward,  and  indeed  that  there  are  problems  associated  with  defining  the  kind  of  environment  that  equates  to  a  sustainable  world.    So  for  example,  it  has  been  variously  referred  to  as  a  right  to  a  healthy,  clean,  decent,  safe,  adequate,  satisfactory,  and  viable  environment  at  different  times,  and  this  list  is  by  no  means  exhaustive.  Unfortunately  there  is  not  space  here  to  examine  the  implications  of  various  definitions.    Stephen  Turner  A  Substantive  Environmental  Right:  an  Examination  of  the  Legal  Obligations  of  Decision-­‐Makers  Towards  the  Environment,  Alphen  aan  den  Rijn,  Kluwer  Law  International,  2009,  pp.  46-­‐47.  2  This  paper  will  assume  that  the  scientific  consensus  is  well  grounded,  and  that  climate  change  is  an  inevitability;  all  that  can  be  determined  through  mitigation  and  adaptation  is  the  degree  to  which  human  societies  are  affected.  3  Stephen  Turner,  A  Substantive  Environmental  Right,  p.  60.     1  
    • melting  ice  caps  leading  to  the  destruction  of  coastal  cities  and  agricultural  areas,  as  well  as  an  increased  frequency  and  severity  of  extreme  weather  events  such  as  heat  waves  and  flooding  –  particularly  in  the  developing  world,  which  occupies  the  most  vulnerable  areas  of  the  planet.4    The  notion  that  localized  decisions  may  have  grave  global  consequences  forces  us  into  a  radical  rethinking  of  ethics  (and  by  extension  rights)  on  the  one  hand,  and  underscores  the  need  for  truly  global  solutions  on  the  other.5     Unfortunately,  strategies  for  climate  change  mitigation  based  on  international  co-­‐operation  have  encountered  significant  obstacles.    Market-­‐based  approaches,  such  as  the  Kyoto  Protocol,  have  suffered  from  extended  delays,  insufficient  funding,  and  United  States  obstructionism.    They  have  also  had  their  effectiveness  blunted  by  abuse-­‐prone  flexibility  mechanisms  designed  to  appease  the  concerns  of  both  developing  and  developed  countries.6    Further,  the  affirmation  of  the  geographic  dominance  of  states  over  their  territories  by  the  United  Nations  (UN)  in  the  aftermath  of  World  War  II  continually  acts  a  barrier  to  the  growth  of  global  and  regional  solutions,  with  the  catastrophic  failure  of  the  recent  Copenhagen  negotiations  being  but  one  example.7    Taken  together  these  obstacles  have  contributed  to  the  current  political  impasse,  leading  many  climate  scientists  to  predict  temperature  increases  consistent  with  ecological  catastrophe.8                                                                                                                    4  Katherine  Smits,  Applying  Political  Theory:  Issues  and  Debates,  Basingstoke,  Palgrave  Macmillan,  2009,  p.  233.  5  Our  current  ethical  system  is  based  on  clear  defined  responsibilities  and  harms,  such  that  if  you  cause  harm  to  someone  it  is  clear  who  did  what  and  to  whom.    Peter  Singer,  One  World:  the  Ethics  of  Globalization,  Melbourne,  Text  Publishing,  2002,  p.  19.    6  Sam  Adelman,  Rethinking  Human  Rights:  the  Impact  of  Climate  Change  on  the  Dominant  Discourse,  in  Stephen  Humphreys  (ed.),  Human  Rights  and  Climate  Change,  Cambridge,  Cambridge  University  Press,  2010,  pp.  166-­‐167.  7    Conor  Gearty,  Do  Human  Rights  Help  or  Hinder  Environmental  Protection?,  Journal  of  Human  Rights  and  the  Environment,  Vol.  1,  No.  1,  2010,  p.  9.  8  See  for  example,  Juliette  Jowett  and  Christine  Otter,  ‘Global  Emissions  Targets  will  lead  to  4C  Temperature  Rise,  say  Studies,’  Guardian,  5  July  2010.    Retrieved  25  October  2010,  available  from  http://www.guardian.co.uk/     2  
    • The  consequences  of  unabated  industrial  development,  however,  extend  beyond  the  risk  of  rapid  climate  change.    The  threat  to  fragile  ecosystems,  and  hence  their  ability  to  sustain  human  life,  is  cause  for  as  much  concern.    For  example,  in  1998  the  severe  flooding  of  the  Yangtze  River  in  China  was  attributed  to  the  conversion  of  forest  areas  on  its  banks  into  agricultural  land.    The  resulting  loss  of  vegetation  and  subsequent  soil  erosion  amplified  the  run-­‐off  from  the  storms,  and  contributed  to  over  4,000  deaths.9    Events  such  as  this  help  to  underscore  a  more  general  need  to  radically  reassess  our  relationship  with  our  ecological  surrounds,  as  well  as  the  viability  of  our  current  modes  of  production  and  consumption.10     Challenges  to  our  understanding  of  humanity’s  relationship  with  nature  have  of  course  been  mounted  previously.    The  discourse  of  industrialism,  which  has  dominated  Western  political  thought  since  the  very  beginnings  of  industrial  society,  has  served  as  a  framework  within  which  we  have  understood  that  relationship.    It  is  based  on  the  assumption  that  perpetual  growth,  well  into  the  foreseeable  future,  is  not  only  desirable,  but  also  sustainable.    Indeed,  to  the  extent  that  limits  are  recognised  at  all,  they  are  considered  flexible;  the  available  stock  of  natural  resources  can  be  expanded  through  their  progressively  efficient  utilisation.11    With  the  publishing  of  the  seminal  Limits  to  Growth12  in  1972,  and  the  emergence  of  the  environmentalist  movement  more  generally  during  the  1970s,  the  supremacy  of  this  discourse  began  to  be  challenged.    The  image  of  the                                                                                                                  9  Stephen  Turner,  A  Substantive  Environmental  Right,  p.  60  10  Christopher  D.  Stone  Should  Trees  Have  Standing?:  Law,  Morality,  and  the  Environment,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  2010,  p.  25.  11  Industrialism  has,  despite  its  dominance  in  Western  political  thought,  been  questioned  on  occasion.    For  example,  the  Romantics  of  the  nineteenth-­‐century  decried  the  destruction  of  the  environment  and  society  that  resulted  from  rapid  industrialization,  while  John  Stuart  Mill  argued  that  industrial  growth  was  progressing  at  a  superior  rate  than  the  advancement  of  society,  and  as  such  should  be  slowed  to  allow  society  to  catch  up.    Yet  until  the  emergence  of  environmentalism,  such  arguments  existed  at  the  margins  of  mainstream  thought.    Katherine  Smits,  Applying  Political  Theory,  p.  230.  12  In  the  book  the  authors  used  modelling  to  investigate  the  consequences  of  interactions  between  natural  and  man-­‐made  systems  in  order  to  explore  the  limits  to  exponential  growth.    See  Donella  H.  Meadows  et  al.,  The  Limits  to  Growth:  a  Report  for  the  Club  of  Rome’s  Project  on  the  Predicament  of  Mankind,  London,  Earth  Island  Ltd.,  1972.     3  
    • Earth  as  finite  and  fragile,  as  opposed  to  a  cornucopia  put  at  the  disposal  of  humanity,  placed  doubts  upon  the  sustainability  of  the  relentless  pursuit  of  growth.13         Throughout  the  1970s,  and  into  the  early  80s,  this  ‘growth  versus  the  environment’  dichotomy  polarised  international  debate.14    Of  concern,  particularly  to  developing  countries,  were  the  implications  for  justice  that  a  limit  to  growth  implied  –  industrial  development  had  led  to  a  standard  of  living  in  developed  countries  that  others  feared  they  would  be  prevented  from  obtaining.15    In  response  to  such  concerns  the  UN  convened  Bruntland  Commission  published  Our  Common  Future  in  1987,16  which  advocated  the  normative  framework  of  ‘sustainable  development’  as  a  compromise  between  economic  and  social  development  on  the  one  hand,  and  the  requirements  for  sustained  environmental  protection  on  the  other,  now  and  into  the  future.17    The  Commission  defined  sustainable  development  as  ‘development  that  meets  the  needs  of  the  present  without  compromising  the  ability  of  future  generations  to  meet  their  own  needs’.  Contained  within  the  definition,  as  stated  by  the  report,  are  two  concepts  –  ‘needs’  and  ‘limitations’.    The  former,  to  which  ‘overriding  priority  should  be  given,’  specifies  the  meeting  of  the  ‘essential  needs  of  the  world’s  poor’  as  the  condition  under  which  development  is  realised,  while  the  later  recognises  the  ‘limitations  imposed  by  the  state  of  technology  and  social                                                                                                                  13  Douglas  Torgerson,  The  Uncertain  Quest  for  Sustainability:  Public  Discourse  and  the  Politics  of  Environmentalism,  in  Michael  Black  and  Frank  Fischer  (eds.),  Greening  Environmental  Policy:  the  Politics  of  a  Sustainable  Future,  New  York,  Martins  Press,  1995,  p.  3.  14  Andrew  Jordan,  The  Governance  of  Sustainable  Development:  Taking  Stock  and  Looking  Forwards,  Environment  and  Planning  C:  Government  and  Policy,  Vol.  26,  p.  20.  15  Lisa  D.  Hawke  and  Daniel  B.  Magraw,  Sustainable  Development,  in  Daniel  Bodansky,  Jutta  Brunée  and  Ellen  Hey  (eds.)  Oxford  Handbook  of  International  Environmental  Law,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  2007,  p.  617.  16  The  Bruntland  Commission,  originally  known  as  the  World  Commission  on  Environment  and  Development,  was  convened  in  1983  to  examine  policy  responses  to  the  deterioration  of  the  environment  and  its  consequences  for  sustained  economic  development.    Lisa  D.  Hawke  and  Daniel  B.  Magraw,  ‘Sustainable  Development,’  p.  617.  17  Andrew  Jordan,  ‘The  Governance  of  Sustainable  Development,’  p.  20.     4  
    • organization  on  the  environment’s  ability  to  meet  present  and  future  needs’.18    Sustainable  development,  as  one  possible  response  to  the  limits  to  growth  theorem,  thus  sought  continuing  industrial  development  of  a  level  consistent  with  our  ability  to  expand  nature’s  carrying  capacity  for  that  development.19     By  its  very  nature  then,  the  Bruntland  Commission’s  compromise  between  development  and  environmental  protection  can  only  go  so  far.    For,  as  it  is  widely  recognised  amongst  international  actors,  of  the  two  concepts  contained  in  the  definition,  development  (needs)  is  afforded  primacy  over  the  requirements  for  sustainability  (limitations).    This  is  not  surprising  given  that  in  1986,  one  year  prior  to  the  publishing  of  Our  Common  Future,  the  UN  General  Assembly  adopted  the  Declaration  on  the  Right  to  Development.    It  stated,  in  article  1,  that  the  ‘right  to  development  is  an  inalienable  human  right,’  and  further,  in  article  2,  that  the  ‘human  person  is  the  central  subject  of  development’.20    Furthermore,  development  conceived  as  material  growth,  as  it  is  in  Our  Common  Future,  is  intimately  linked  to  the  dominant  structures  of                                                                                                                  18  World  Commission  on  Environment  and  Development,  Our  Common  Future,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  1987,  p.  43.    While  this  definition  is  not  contained  within  any  international  legally  binding  instruments,  its  influence  is  such  that  it  has  attained  a  quasi-­‐official  status.    Lisa  D.  Hawke  and  Daniel  B.  Magraw,  ‘Sustainable  Development,’  p.  618.  19  Timothy  W.  Luke,  Sustainable  Develpment  as  a  Power/Knowledge  System:  the  Problem  of  Governmentatlity,  in  Frank  Fischer  and  Michael  Black  (eds.),  Greening  Environmental  Policy:  the  Politics  of  a  Sustainable  Future,  New  York,  Martins  Press,  1995,  p.  23.    This  view  of  nature’s  carrying  capacity  as  malleable  is  evident  in  the  Commission’s  statement:  ‘The  accumulation  of  knowledge  and  the  development  of  technology  can  enhance  the  carrying  capacity  of  the  resource  base.’    Hence,  nature’s  carrying  capacity  is  not  static,  but  rather  flexible.    World  Commission  on  Environment  and  Development,  Our  Common  Future,  p.  45.    It  should  be  noted,  however,  that  this  implicitly  implies  the  recognition  that  limits  do  per  se  exist.    William  M.  Lafferty  and  Oluf  Langhelle,  ‘Sustainable  Development  as  Concept  and  Norm,’  in  William  M.  Lafferty  and  Oluf  Langhelle  (eds.),  Towards  Sustainable  Development:  on  the  Goals  of  Development  -­‐  and  the  Conditions  of  Sustainability,  New  York,  St.  Martins  Press,  1999,  p.  6.  20  Declaration  on  the  Right  to  Development,  U.N.  Doc  A/RES/41/128  (1986).    Retrieved  20  October  2010,  available  from  http://www.un.org/     5  
    • industrial  society,  which  developed  out  of  the  overexploitation  of  environmental  resources.21       Sustainable  development  also  suffers  from  a  vagueness  that  tends  to  belie  its  practical  use.    Our  Common  Future  itself  leaves  many  questions  unanswered:  sustainable  development  for  whom?  What  is  required  of  developed  countries  in  terms  of  assistance?    At  what  societal  level  should  sustainability  be  applied  to?  Or  indeed,  what  will  it  look  like  when  we  arrive  there?22    Of  course  its  generality  is  in  some  sense  necessary;  it  is  intended  to  garner  the  support  of  both  the  conservative  and  radical  elements  of  the  debate,  a  coalition  which  may  fall  apart  should  a  precise  definition  be  applied.    Moreover,  the  terms  value  arguably  lies  in  the  process  of  contestation  and  debate  that  has  led  to  an  examination  of  the  issues  it  addresses  in  the  years  that  have  followed.23     In  any  case,  the  denial  of  the  term’s  usefulness  as  either  an  analytical  concept  or  a  normative  one  is  immaterial  to  its  political  import.24    This  of  course  speaks  of  its  true  nature;  rather  than  being  a  concept,  much  less  one  of  scientific  certainty,  it  is  a  discourse.    Furthermore,  sustainable  development  has  come  to  dominate  international  affairs,  much  as  the  discourse  of  industrialism  did  before  it.    In  a  similar  fashion  too,  it  crowds  out  and  rejects  other  discourses,  among  them  the  limits  to  growth,  on  the  basis  that  ecological  limits  are  malleable,  and  green  radicalism,  on  the  basis  that  drastic  changes  to  international  economic  structures  are  unnecessary.25                                                                                                                    21  Michael  Redclift,  Sustainable  Development:  Exploring  the  Contradictions,  London,  Methuen,  1987,  p.  199.  22  Lisa  D.  Hawke  and  Daniel  B.  Magraw,  ‘Sustainable  Development,’  p.  621.  23  Andrew  Jordon,  ‘The  Governance  of  Sustainable  Development,’  pp.  20-­‐21.    Debate  has  centred,  for  example,  on  the  wording  of  the  term  itself,  with  developing  countries  attempting  to  emphasize  ‘sustained  economic  growth’  as  the  framework  under  which  development  would  take  place.    See  Lisa  D.  Hawke  and  Daniel  B.  Magraw,  ‘Sustainable  Development,’  pp.  616-­‐618  for  a  detailed  discussion.  24  William  M.  Lafferty  and  Oluf  Langhelle,  ‘Sustainable  Development  as  Concept  and  Norm,’  p.  2.  25  John  Dryzek,  Paradigms  and  Discourses,  in  Daniel  Bodansky,  Jutta  Brunée  and  Ellen  Hey  (eds.),  Oxford  Handbook  of  International  Environmental  Law,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  2007,  p.  56.     6  
    •   Yet  it  is  those  very  discourses  that  seek  a  deeper  understanding  of  sustainability,  and  a  re-­‐examining  of  our  relationship  to  nature.    For  sustainability  is  far  broader  than  ‘sustainable  development’  in  the  normative  sense.    Whereas  the  latter  is  an  attempt  to  locate  ecologically  rational  means  within,  and  in  order  to  sustain,  the  existing  structure  of  economic  development,  the  former  refers  more  generally  to  the  relationship  between  nature  and  society  conducive  to  the  sustaining  of  the  whole  range  of  conditions  under  which  human  social  activity  takes  place,  or  indeed  develops.26    In  other  words,  rather  than  being  simply  the  ‘greening’  of  the  current  patterns  of  production  and  consumption,  sustainability  requires  a  normative  judgement  on  those  patterns.27    At  present  those  conditions,  including  ecological  integrity,  justice,  and  prosperity,  are  not  being  sustained  by  current  patterns  in  any  meaningful  sense.    Thus  ecological  sustainability,  both  now  and  in  the  future,  requires  more  radical  changes  in  human  practices  and  priorities.28     One  means  through  which  a  transformation  in  our  interactions  with  the  environment  could  take  place  is  by  the  imposition  of  a  basic  human  right  to  a  ‘decent  environment’.    Using  a  rights-­‐based  approach  would  certainly  have  its  advantages  in  this  regard.    For  one,  the  hegemonic  nature  of  the  rights  discourse  in  international  society  affords  claims  articulated  in  its  language  a  certain  level  of  political  legitimacy  and  authority.29    More  practically,  as  the  imposition  of  a  right  to  a  decent  environment  implies  its  realization  is  as  a  condition  of  human  fulfilment,  we  radically  alter  in  favour  of  environmental  quality  the  process  by  which  decisions  on  matters  affecting  that  quality  are  made.    Currently  those  processes  rest  upon  cost-­‐benefit  analysis,  a  rather  blunt  utilitarian  framework  that  views  utility  solely  in  economic  terms  at  the  expense  of  ecological                                                                                                                  26  Nigel  Dower,  ‘Global  Economy,  Justice  and  Sustainability  Ethical  Theory  and  Moral  Practice,  Vol.  7,  No.  4,  2004,  p.  402.  27  Barry  1996  116-­‐117  28  Nigel  Dower,  ‘Global  Economy,’  pp.  403-­‐4.  29  Catherine  Redgwell,  ‘Life,  the  Universe  and  Everything:  A  Critique  of  Anthropocentric  Rights,  in  Alan  Boyle  and  Michael  Anderson  (eds.),  Human  Rights  Approaches  to  Environmental  Protection,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  1996,  p.  81.     7  
    • concerns.30    By  raising  the  preference  for  a  decent  environment  to  the  status  of  a  moral  obligation,31  governments  will  be  forced  to  consider  the  environmental  impacts  of  all  policy  decisions  within  their  jurisdiction.32    Further,  as  rights  are  universal  in  their  application,  the  effects  of  industrial  development  that  are  trans-­‐boundary  in  nature  (such  as  those  contributing  to  climate  change)  will  also  have  to  be  taken  into  account  in  decision-­‐making  processes.    Both  of  these  outcomes  would  be  further  strengthened  by  the  recognition  that  other  human  rights,  including  the  rights  to  life  and  health,  are  dependent  upon  a  decent  level  of  environmental  quality.33    Lastly,  through  the  enforcement  of  a  right  to  a  decent  environment  now,  we  are  indirectly  protecting  the  environment  for  future  generations,  and  hence  enhancing  the  prospect  for  sustainability  over  time.34    Given  the  status  of  rights-­‐based  approaches  in  international  affairs  it  is  not  surprising  that  the  formulation  of  a  substantive  environmental  right  has  been  attempted,  and  it  is  to  these  efforts  that  we  now  turn.       The  non-­‐binding  Stockholm  Declaration,35  issued  following  the  UN  Conference  on  the  Human  Environment  in  1972,  was  the  first  international                                                                                                                  30  Robyn  Eckersley,  Greening  Liberal  Democracy:  The  Rights  Discourse  Revisited,  in  Brian  Doherty  and  Marius  de  Geus  (ed.),  Democracy  and  Green  Political  Thought:  Sustainability,  Rights  and  Citizenship,  London,  Routledge,  1996,  p.  216.  31  Rights  are  that  to  which  we  are  due,  or  obligated  to  receive,  while  preferences  are  simple  wants  or  desires.    So  we  may  want  a  healthy  environment  for  our  children,  but  whether  it  can  be  claimed  as  a  human  right  is  an  entirely  separate  question.    John  G.  Merrills,  ‘Environmental  Rights,  in  Daniel  Bodansky,  Jutta  Brunée  and  Ellen  Hey  (eds.),  Oxford  Handbook  of  International  Environmental  Law,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  2007,  pp.  665-­‐666.  32  Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law  and  the  Environment,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  2009,  p.  269.  33  ibid.,  p.  302.  34  Richard  P.  Hiskes,  The  Human  Right  to  a  Green  Future:  Environmental  RIghts  and  Intergenerational  Justice,  Cambridge,  Cambridge  University  Press,  2009,  p.  148.  35  Non-­‐binding  in  the  sense  that,  as  a  ‘soft-­‐law  declaration,’  its  prescriptions  are  not  considered  international  law.    Rather,  it  is  a  normative  statement  on  what  the  law  is  believed  to  be  or  what  in  fact  it  should  be,  and  hence  can  be  subsequently  entered  into  international  customary  law.    Patricia  Birnie  et  al.  International  Law,  p.  114.         8  
    • articulation  of  an  environmental  right.36    It  proclaimed  man  to  be  both  ‘creatures  and  moulders’  of  his  environment,  and  that  these  aspects,  the  natural  and  the  man-­‐made,  are  ‘essential  to  his  well-­‐being  and  to  the  enjoyment  of  basic  human  rights.’    Having  recognised  the  connection  between  environmental  quality  and  established  human  rights,  it  declares  ‘Man  has  the  fundamental  right  to  freedom,  equality  and  adequate  conditions  of  life,  in  an  environment  of  quality  that  permits  a  life  of  dignity  and  well-­‐being,  and  he  bears  a  solemn  responsibility  to  protect  and  improve  the  environment  for  present  and  future  generations’  (principle  1).37    As  part  of  this  responsibility  the  safeguarding  of  the  earth’s  natural  resources,  including  ‘air,  water,  land,  flora  and  fauna  and  especially  representative  samples  of  natural  ecosystems,’  is  to  be  ensured.    Notwithstanding  its  gendered  construction,  the  Stockholm  Declaration  seemingly  pointed  to  the  emergence  of  a  universal  human  right  to  a  decent  environment  and  the  corresponding  duty  of  environmental  protection.     Despite  its  promise,  however,  the  impact  of  the  Stockholm  Declaration  has  been  modest.    Its  successor,  the  Rio  Declaration  on  Environment  and  Development,38  produced  at  the  ‘Earth  Summit’  of  1992,  framed  a  decent  environment  as  an  entitlement  rather  than  a  right.    In  stark  contrast,  it  affirmed  the  sovereign  right  of  states  to  ‘exploit  their  own  resources’  and  endorsed  a  ‘right  to  development’  (principles  2  and  3  respectively),  in  an  apparent  confirmation  of  the  primacy  of  developmental  needs  over  environmental  protection.    For  while  development  must  be  pursued  ‘so  as  to  meet  equitably  the  developmental  and  environmental  needs  of  present  and  future  generations,’  as  a  right  it  necessarily  takes  precedence  over  concern  for  environmental  impact.39                                                                                                                    36  Katherine  Smits,  Applying  Political  Theory,  p.  231.  37  Stockholm  Declaration  on  Environment  and  Development,  U.N.  Doc.  A/Conf.48/14/Rev.  1  (1972).    Retrieved  20  October  2010,  available  from  http://www.unep.org/  38  Rio  Declaration  on  Environment  and  Development,  U.N.  Doc.  A/CONF.151/26  (1992).    Retrieved  20  October  2010,  available  from  http://www.unep.org/  39  Admittedly,  in  the  case  law  that  has  followed  the  Rio  Declaration  there  has  been  a  tendency  to  pursue  a  balance  between  development  and  environmental  protection.    For  example,  the  Gabcíkovo-­‐Nagymaros  case  brought  before  the  International  Court  of  Justice,  referred  for  the  first  time  to  ‘this  need  to  reconcile  economic  development  with  protection  of  the  environment  [which]  is  aptly     9  
    • Furthermore,  the  Rio  Declaration  was  explicitly  anthropocentric  in  nature,  leaving  out  any  reference  to  animal  rights  and  the  conservation  of  ecosystems.40       Perhaps  the  most  substantive  formulation  of  an  environmental  right  thus  far  came  in  a  1994  report  by  the  UN  Sub-­‐Commission  on  the  Prevention  of  Discrimination  and  Protection  of  Minorities.    During  a  five-­‐year  study  into  the  connections  between  human  rights  and  the  environment,  the  Sub-­‐Commission  surveyed  trends  in  national  and  international  human  rights  and  environmental  law.    It  concluded  that  a  progressive  shift  away  from  the  enactment  of  environmental  laws,  and  towards  a  substantive  right  to  a  decent  environment  was  occurring.    Included  in  an  annex  to  the  report  was  a  Draft  Declaration  of  Principles  on  Human  Rights  and  the  Environment.    Much  closer  in  substance  to  Stockholm  than  Rio,  it  proclaimed  that  ‘All  persons  have  the  right  to  a  secure,  healthy  and  ecologically  sound  environment  [and  to]  an  environment  adequate  to  meet  equitably  the  needs  of  present  generations  and  that  does  not  impair  on  the  rights  of  future  generations  to  equitably  meet  their  needs.’41    Such  a  right,  the  drafters  argued,  would  redefine  the  balance  between  environmental  protection  and  competing  objectives,  while  recognising  a  decent  and  healthy  environment  as  vital  to  human  dignity  and  welfare,  and  hence  to  the  realisation  of  other  rights.42         The  response  from  the  UN  Human  Rights  Commission  and  the  UN  member  states,  however,  was  wholly  unenthusiastic,  and  no  further  progress  was  made.    Those  dissenting  claimed  that  a  separate  right  to  a  decent  environment  is  unnecessary,  in  part  due  to  the  extent  to  which  international  environmental  law  already  attends  to  such  concerns.43    Certainly,  states  are  required  by  international  law  to  take  appropriate  precautions  in  relation  to  possible  risks  of  trans-­‐boundary  environmental  harms  emanating  from  within                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              expressed  in  the  concept  of  sustainable  development.’    ICJ  Reports  1997,  p.  7  para  140.    Quoted  in  Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law,  p.  116.  40  Ibid,  pp.  114-­‐116  41  Rio  Declaration  on  Environment  and  Development  42  Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law,  p.  278.  43  See  ibid.,  p.  279.     10  
    • their  territories.44    Otherwise  known  as  the  precautionary  principle,45  this  has  become  a  mandatory  requirement  of  customary  international  law,  and  is  contained  within  a  wide  range  of  global  and  regional  treaties,  as  well  as  the  Stockholm  and  Rio  Declarations.    Yet,  just  what  constitutes  a  ‘foreseeable’  threat  is  by  its  very  nature  indeterminate,  and  leaves  ample  room  for  legal  manoeuvring  by  states.46    While  no  doubt  commendable,  the  precautionary  principle  is  not  an  adequate  substitute  for  a  substantive  and  binding  environmental  right.     The  field  of  international  human  rights  law  has  been  somewhat  more  productive  in  regards  to  environmental  protection  mechanisms.    While  none  of  the  international  human  rights  treaties  contain  a  substantive  human  right,47  the  link  between  established  human  rights,  such  as  the  right  to  life,  and                                                                                                                  44  Resource  use  by  states  is  traditionally  regulated  based  upon  whether  that  resource  is  considered  sovereign,  shared  by  several  states,  or  held  in  common.    Generally  the  use  of  resources  held  in  common  or  by  several  states  is  dealt  with  through  international  treaties  that  seek  to  define  what  constitutes  reasonable  use,  while  those  resources  considered  sovereign  may  be  disposed  of  as  states  see  fit.    Despite  such  a  guarantee  of  sovereign  right,  in  practice  international  treaties  and  the  rules  of  customary  international  law  that  concern  environmental  protection  and  resource  conservation  qualify  that  sovereignty.    Ibid,  pp.  190-­‐2.  45  The  Rio  Declaration’s  Principle  15  stated,  in  relation  to  the  precautionary  principle  that  ‘[w]here  there  are  threats  of  serious  or  irreversible  damage,  lack  of  full  scientific  certainty  shall  not  be  used  as  a  reason  for  postponing  cost-­‐effective  measures  to  prevent  environmental  damage.’    Rio  Declaration  on  Environment  and  Development.    46  For  example,  in  the  Rio  Declaration  the  precautionary  principle  was  referred  to  as  an  approach  rather  than  a  principle  due  to  US  insistence  that  no  consensus  had  yet  been  built  determining  when  such  a  principle  would  apply.    Ibid,  p.  143.  47  Some  regional  treaties,  however,  do  contain  an  environmental  right  in  this  form.    Article  24  of  the  African  Charter  of  Human  and  Peoples’  Rights  of  1981  states  that  people  have  a  right  to  a  ‘generally  satisfactory  environment  favourable  to  their  development,’  while  the  Additional  Protocol  to  the  American  Convention  on  Human  Rights  in  the  Area  of  Economic,  Social  and  Cultural  Rights  of  1989  grants  individuals  the  right  to  ‘live  in  a  healthy  environment,’  thereby  obligating  states  to  ‘protect,  preserve  and  improve  the  environment.’    Stephen  Turner,  A  Substantive  Environmental  Right,  p.  17.    Furthermore,  at  the  national  level  for  example,  the  French  Constitution,  amended  in  2005  to  include  a  Charter  of  the  Environment,  grants  French  citizens  the  right  to  live  in  a  ‘balanced  environment,  favourable  to  human  health.’    Dinah  Shelton,  Developing  Substantive  Environmental  Rights,  Journal  of  Human  Rights  and  the  Environment,  Vol.  1,  No.  1,  p.  97     11  
    • environmental  protection  has  been  made  in  a  number  of  cases.48    Furthermore,  human  rights  bodies  have  begun  to  re-­‐interpret  basic  human  rights  as  having  an  environmental  dimension.49    This  so-­‐called  ‘greening’  of  existing  human  rights  is  certainly  appealing  given  that  they  are  already  well  entrenched  within  law  instruments  and  institutions,  and  that  their  use  avoids  potential  conflict  with  a  new  environmental  right.    It  is  also  true  that  the  very  threat  of  legal  action  in  relation  to  human  rights  violations  caused  by  ecological  degradation  may  contribute  indirectly  to  environmental  protection.50    Still,  such  a  process  falls  short  of  guaranteeing  sustainability  or  a  decent  environment,  if  we  understand  those  concepts  in  terms  broader  than  impacts  on  isolated  individuals.    For  example,  in  Kyrtatos  v  Greece,  a  recent  case  before  the  European  Court  of  Human  Rights  involving  the  illegal  draining  of  a  wetland  that  occurred  in  the  vicinity  of  the  claimants  place  of  residence,  the  court  found  no  violation  of  their  right  to  private  life  or  property.    According  to  the  court,  they  were  not  entitled  to  live  in  any  particular  environment,  or  to  have  that  environment  indefinitely  preserved,  and  stated  that  ‘neither  Article  8  nor  any  of  the  other  articles  of  the  Convention  are  specifically  designed  to  provide  general  protection  of  the  environment  as  such.’51    Human  rights  protection  benefits  only  those  whose  rights  have  been                                                                                                                  48  See  for  example  Subhash  Kumar  v.  State  of  Bihar  (AIR  1991  SC  240)  where  the  Indian  Supreme  Court  held  that  the  right  to  a  safe  environment  was  implied  by  the  right  to  life  existent  under  the  Indian  Constitution,  and  Lopes  Ostra  v.  Spain  (303-­‐C  E.Ct.H.R.  (Ser.  A)  (1994))  where  the  European  Court  of  Human  Rights  accepted  that  environmental  degradation  may  negatively  affect  the  right  to  the  enjoyment  of  private  and  family  life  under  the  European  Convention  on  Human  Rights.    Sam  Adelman,  ‘Rethinking  Human  Rights,’  p.  171.    The  right  to  life,  in  particular,  has  been  used  in  such  a  fashion,  especially  in  India,  where  the  courts  have  shut  down  industries  deemed  to  be  causing  harm  to  health  and  safety  in  its  environs,  stating  that  ‘the  right  to  life  includes  the  right  to  live  with  human  dignity  and  all  that  goes  along  with  it,’  which  includes  the  right  to  live  in  a  ‘healthy  environment  with  minimal  disturbance  of  ecological  balance.’    Mullin  v  Union  Territory  of  Delhi  AIR  1981  SC  746.    Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law,  pp.  282-­‐283.  49  For  example,  the  UN  Human  Rights  Council  has  acknowledged  the  link  between  the  effects  of  climate  change  and  the  negative  effects  on  the  fulfilment  of  human  rights.    Sam  Adelman,  ‘Rethinking  Human  Rights,  p.  171.  50  John  G.  Merrills,  ‘Environmental  Rights,’  p.  664  51  Kyrtatos  v  Greece  [2003]  ECHR  242,  para  52.    Quoted  in  Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law,  p.  301.    Article  8  of  the  European  Convention  on  Human  Rights  states  that  public  authorities  are  to  protect  the  right  to  respect  for  private     12  
    • violated,  and  if  existing  human  rights  have  not  been  sufficiently  affected  by  environmental  degradation,  they  are  rendered  irrelevant.52     This  fact  points  to  a  more  general  problem  with  rights-­‐based  approaches  to  environmental  protection  and  sustainability.    The  origins  of  modern  human  rights  lie,  in  the  work  of  theorists  such  as  Thomas  Hobbes,  who  saw  the  individual  as  an  autonomous  entity  struggling  for  survival  in  a  hostile  state  of  nature.    As  a  result,  the  justification  for  the  imposition  of  human  rights  rests  on  the  degree  to  which  they  engender  opportunities  for  the  self-­‐fulfilment  of  individuals,  rather  than  on  issues  of  broader  normative  significance.53    Indeed,  as  individuals  are  viewed  as  ends  in  themselves,  and  are  hence  the  best  judge  of  their  own  affairs,  government’s  must  refrain  from  paternalistic  prescriptions  of  the  ‘good  life.’54    Sustainability,  however,  imposes  a  condition  on  human  activity  through  the  perspective  on  just  what  the  ‘good  life’  should  be.55    As  a  consequence  of  the  avoidance  of  such  prescriptions,  decisions  related  to  investment,  production  and  consumption  are  viewed  as  being  wholly  contained  within  the  private  realm,  and  are  only  interfered  with  in  cases  where  demonstrable  harm  is  inflicted  upon  individuals.    Thus,  a  considerable  amount  of  human  activity  which  gives  rise  to  negative  ecological  impact  is  depoliticized.56     Of  course,  such  a  narrow  focus  does  not  equate  to  the  imposition  of  a  right  to  a  decent  environment  being  without  merit.    After  all,  such  a  right,  constructed  in  the  proper  manner,  would  still  tie  the  fulfilment  of  the  individual  to  his  or  her  ecological  surrounds  and  the  protection  of  them.    Yet  the  environmental                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and  family  life  from  ‘disorder  or  crime,  for  the  protection  of  health  or  morals,  or  for  the  protection  of  the  rights  and  freedoms  of  others’.    European  Convention  on  Human  Rights,  213  UNTS  221  (1950).    Retrieved  20  October  2010,  available  from  http://conventions.coe.int  52  Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law,  p.  301.  53  Conor  Gearty,  ‘Do  Human  Rights  Help  or  Hinder  Environmental  Protection?,’    p.  8.  54  Robyn  Eckersley,  ‘Greening  Liberal  Democracy,’  p.  212  55  Chukwumerije  Okereke,  Global  Justice  and  Neoliberal  Environmental  Governance:  Ethics,  Sustainable  Development  and  International  Co-­‐Operation,  New  York,  Routledge,  2007,  pp.  150-­‐151.  56  Robyn  Eckersley,  The  Green  State:  Rethinking  Democracy  and  Sovereignty,  Cambridge,  Mass,  MIT  Press,  2004,  p.  136.     13  
    • interests  of  the  individual  are  not  necessarily  consistent  with  the  interests  of  ‘larger  social  or  ecological  wholes.’57    Were  the  right  to  a  decent  environment  to  be  assigned  to  collective  entities,  rather  than  individuals,  those  communities  as  the  bearers  of  autonomy  would  be  the  responsible  for  choices  related  to  ecological  management  and  protection.    It  has  been  argued,  however,  that  in  attaching  rights  to  entities  beyond  the  individual,  we  are  necessarily  devaluing  traditional  human  rights.58    On  the  contrary,  as  individuals  and  communities  are  mutually  constitutive,  we  can  understand  individual  rights  as  being  held  by  individuals  as  autonomous  beings,  and  as  members  of  social  and  ecological  communities.    Accordingly,  if  the  rights  of  one  were  to  be  infringed  upon,  so  too  would  the  rights  of  the  other.59     Unfortunately,  human  rights  are  severely  limited  in  their  practicality  in  this  regard.    In  order  to  be  ‘justiciable,’  rights  claimants  must  be  contained  within  clear  boundaries.    Unlike  the  case  of  individuals,  the  boundaries  of  and  between  social  and  ecological  wholes  can  be  acutely  difficult  to  define.    For  example,  while  it  may  well  be  a  simple  matter  to  identify  individual  organisms  and  species,  it  is  far  more  difficult  to  determine  the  boundaries  of  ecosystems  with  any  degree  of  precision.    In  order  to  do  so,  for  the  purposes  of  a  rights  case,  would  require  complex  decisions  of  an  ultimately  arbitrary  nature.    Indeed,  who  can  say  where  a  river  begins  and  ends?    Is  it  not  part  of,  and  critical  to  a  larger  network  or  ecosystem?    And  to  what  extent  are  social  communities  separate  from  the  ecological  context  in  which  they  are  constituted?60         This  brings  us  to  a  second  difficulty  associated  with  the  autonomous  and  atomised  self  upon  which  human  rights  are  based.    By  conceptualising  humans  as  capable  of  fulfilment  within  and  of  themselves,  our  dependency  on  the  natural  world  for  survival  is  ignored.    Further,  this  ‘apartness’  from  nature  underpins  the  belief  that  through  our  exclusive  capacity  for  instrumental  reason  humans  can                                                                                                                  57  Robyn  Eckersley,  ‘Greening  Liberal  Democracy,’  p.  227.  58  Patricia  Birnie  et  al.,  International  Law,  pp.  271-­‐2.  59  Robyn  Eckersley,  ‘Greening  Liberal  Democracy’,  p.  227.  60  ibid.,  p.  190.     14  
    • achieve  mastery  over  the  external  world.61      The  ecological  system  that  supports  us  is  thus  taken  entirely  for  granted,  and  we  are  immobilised  in  the  face  of  a  rapidly  deteriorating  biosphere  by  a  belief  in  our  own  supremacy  over  nature.62    In  order  to  achieve  sustainability  in  a  broad  sense,  we  need  an  understanding  of  individuals  as  embedded  in,  and  embodied  by,  the  social  and  ecological  communities  to  which  they  are  members,  and  to  which  their  well-­‐being  is  indissolubly  linked.63    While  the  rights  discourse  in  no  doubt  appealing  rhetorically,  the  tendency  to  reduce  complex  sets  of  social,  political  and  indeed  ecological,  conditions  to  singular  equations  of  one  individual’s  rights  being  violated  by  another,  does  not  lend  itself  to  such  an  understanding.64     In  order  for  rights  to  affect  changes  in  the  way  we  relate  to  the  natural  world,  the  way  in  which  they  are  constituted  will  need  to  be  rethought.    It  has  been  argued  that  the  attachment  of  collective  environmental  rights  to  future  persons  would  place  an  onus  on  current  generations  to  ensure  the  sustainability  of  their  interactions  with  nature.    But  it  is  difficult  to  talk  coherently  in  the  language  of  rights  when  the  entity  to  which  they  are  attach  is  yet  to  exist  (a  right  to  a  decent  environment  must  be  assigned  to  someone,  rather  than  be  a  free-­‐floating  abstraction),  and  it  does  little  to  imagine  them  as  waiting  somewhere  amongst  the  ether.65    As  Hillel  Steiner  put  it,  ‘it  seems  mistaken  to  think  of  future  persons  as  being  already  out  there,  anxiously  awaiting  either  victimization  by  our  self-­‐indulgent  prodigality  or  salvation  through  present  self-­‐denial’.66    To  do  otherwise  would  be,  according  to  Jeremy  Bentham,  ‘nonsense  on  stilts’.67    For  we  have  no  way  of  the  determining  who  those  ‘future  persons’  will  come  to  be,  nor  by  extension  the  content  of  their  interests.    Accordingly,  it  is  argued,  as  a  being                                                                                                                  61  ibid.,  pp.  222-­‐223.  62  Val  Plumwood,  Ecological  Ethics  From  Rights  to  Recognition:  Multiple  Spheres  of  Justice  for  Humans,  Animals  and  Nature,  in  Nicholas  Law  (ed.),  Global  Ethics  and  Environment,  London,  Routledge,  1999,  p.  190.  63  Val  Plumwood,  Environmental  Culture:  the  Ecological  Crisis  of  Reason,  London,  Routledge,  2002,  p.  3.  64  Val  Plumwood,  ‘Ecological  Ethics,’  p.  203.  65  John  G.  Merrills,  ‘Environmental  Rights,’  p.  669.  66  Quoted  in  Katherine  Smits,  Applying  Political  Theory,  p.  243.  67  Quoted  in  Richard  P.  Hiskes,  The  Human  Right  to  a  Green  Future,  p.  8.     15  
    • with  no  definable  interests  is  incapable  of  being  harmed  or  benefited,  it  has  no  good  or  sake  of  its  own  upon  which  to  base  rights  claims.68     But  does  their  indeterminacy  really  matter?    After  all,  people  will  come  into  being  during  the  normal  course  of  events,  and  though  we  may  not  yet  know  the  content  of  their  interests,  except  perhaps  for  a  desire  to  have  access  to  breathable  air  and  drinkable  water,  we  can  be  certain  that  they  will  have  interests  of  some  form.    Further,  as  those  interests  can  be  affected  by  our  actions  now,  they  are  clearly  of  normative  significance.69    Yet  the  very  content  of  a  future  person’s  wants,  desires  and  preferences  can  be  partly  determined  by  decisions  made  in  the  present;  the  value  placed  by  them  in  sensations  related  to  natural  objects,  for  example,  is  determined  upon  them  existing  in  the  first  place.    It  is  therefore  somewhat  spurious  to  appeal  to  the  ‘interests’  of  future  people  in  formulating  decisions  that  affect  their  content.70    What  the  debate  surrounding  rights  for  future  generations  reminds  us  though,  is  that  should  a  right  to  a  decent  environment  be  assigned  to  individuals  or  social  communities  in  the  present,  it  is  clear  that  these  rights  will  also  future  bearers,  which  our  actions  and  decisions  may  one  day  come  to  violate.71    By  thinking  about  human  rights  in  this  manner,  the  link  between  rights,  justice,  and  sustainability  becomes  clear.     Accordingly,  for  a  right  to  a  decent  environment  to  sustain  a  certain  level  of  environmental  quality  into  the  future,  justice  must  be  secured  in  the  present.    Justice  is  thus  a  means  as  well  as  an  end.72    The  rights  discourse,  however,  faces  a  further  problem  in  the  degree  to  which  it  is  viewed  as  a  wholly  Western  creation.    Certainly,  it  was  primarily  Western  governments  that  developed  the  modern  conception  of  rights  following  World  War  II,  and  as  a  result  it  is  heavily  imbued                                                                                                                  68  Robert  Elliot  The  Rights  of  Future  People,  Journal  of  Applied  Philosophy,  Vol.  6,  No.  2,  1989,  p.  160.    For  an  indepth  discussion  of  these  arguments  see  Joel  Feinberg,  The  Rights  of  Animals  and  Unborn  Generations,  in  William  T.  Blackstone  (ed.),  Philosophy  and  Environmental  Crisis,  Athens,  University  of  Georgia  Press,  1974,  pp.  51-­‐65.  69  Katherine  Smits,  Applying  Political  Theory,  p.  243.  70  Christopher  D.  Stone,  Should  the  Trees  Have  Standing?,  p.  104.  71  Robert  Elliot,  ‘The  Rights  of  Future  People,’  pp.  160-­‐163.  72  Nigel  Dower,  ‘Global  Economy,’  p.  402.     16  
    • with  Western  liberal  ideology.    This  association  raises  the  question  as  to  what  extent  the  rights  discourse  is  accepted  by  cultures  and  societies  with  different  political  and  social  underpinnings,  and  divergent  historical  and  ideological  backgrounds.    Developing  countries  in  particular  may  view  a  human  right  to  a  decent  environment,  and  corresponding  restrictions  on  growth,  as  an  extension  of  colonial  domination  through  the  imposition  of  a  particular  form  of  political  philosophy.73    For  those  who  have  not  reaped  the  benefits  of  ecological  excess,  justice  may  well  involve  the  ‘right’  to  follow  the  same  path  of  development.74    Yet  if  developing  countries  pursue  their  own  economic  development  with  the  same  utter  disregard  for  environmental  consequences  displayed  by  developed  countries,  it  is  clear  that  the  chances  of  a  sustainable  world  are  greatly  diminished.75         Thus,  the  requirements  for  justice  need  to  be  framed  within  a  universal  moral  language,  accessible  to  people  of  varied  cultural  and  political  backgrounds,  in  order  for  a  right  to  a  decent  environment  to  be  effectual.    Arguments  of  a  universal  nature,  however,  are  deemed  by  many  to  be  baseless  given  the  claim  that  moral  considerations  are  dependent  upon  culturally  constructed  contexts.    In  response  one  could  argue  for  such  a  language  to  be  based  upon  a  naturalist  ethic,  determined  by  the  shared  relationship  humans  hold  with  nature,  and  upon  which  rights  could  be  reconstituted.    As  part  of  this  reconstitution  rights  would  be  extended  to  natural  objects  and  ecosystems,  thereby  giving  nature  equal  standing  in  the  human/nature  relationship,  and  radically  altering  our  interactions  with  it.76                                                                                                                    73  Stephen  Turner,  A  Substantive  Environmental  Right,  p.  54.  74  This  would  take  the  form  of  a  ‘right  to  emit’  greenhouse  gases  in  order  to  reach  a  certain  level  of  development,  taking  the  form  of  a  property  right.    For  an  indepth  discussion  regarding  the  problems  such  a  right  would  pose  for  sustainability  see  Tim  Hayward,  Human  Rights  versus  Emissions  Rights:  Climate  Justice  and  the  Equitable  Distribution  of  Ecological  Space,  Ethics  and  International  Affairs,  Vol.  21,  No.  4,  2007,  pp.  431-­‐448.  75  Henry  Shue,  ‘Subsistence  Emissions  and  Luxury  Emissions,  in  Stephen  M.  Gardiner  et  al.  (eds.),  Climate  Ethics:  Essential  Readings,  Oxford,  Oxford  University  Press,  2010,  p.  101.  76  Brian  Baxter,  A  Theory  of  Ecological  Justice,  London,  Routledge,  2005,  p.  14.     17  
    • Indeed,  the  reconstitution  of  the  rights  discourse  would  be  necessary  considering  the  difficulties  it  would  face  in  accommodating  natural  objects  within  it.    As  an  anthropocentric  view  of  the  world,  which  is  inherent  in  the  term  human  rights,  the  rights  discourse  assigns  moral  consideration  solely  to  humanity,  thereby  valuing  natural  objects  only  to  the  extent  that  humans  ascribe  them  value  –  they  have  no  inherent  worth  of  their  own.77    This  is  justified  on  the  basis  that  natural  objects  cannot  experience  human  prescriptions  such  as  pleasure,  pain  and  suffering.78    The  absence  of  a  conscious  moral  being  within  a  natural  object  that  can  experience  rights  or  wrongs  brought  upon  it  (it  makes  no  difference  to  a  tree  if  we  chop  it  down  or  not)  means  an  ethic,  and  by  extension  rights,  cannot  be  grounded  upon  its  interests.    In  contrast,  the  felling  of  a  tree  may  negatively  affect,  for  example,  humans  that  live  in  and  off  the  forest  where  the  tree  formerly  stood.79    When  determining  the  morality  of  actions  affecting  the  natural  environment,  all  that  need  be  asked  is  whether  the  consequences  were  unfavourable  to  human  well-­‐being,  and  were  the  actions  themselves  consistent  with  the  realisation  or  otherwise  of  human  rights?    Thus,  the  protection  of  the  environment  is  not  for  its  own  sake,  but  for  ours.80     The  case  of  animals,  especially  those  considered  ‘higher  animals,’  is  instructive  in  this  regard.    As  conscious  or  sentient  beings,  they  are  thought  by  some  to  have  an  inherent  value  or  good  similar  to  humans,  and  as  such  are  deserving  of  equal  moral  consideration.81    Yet  are  natural  objects  so  dissimilar,  save  for  a  supposed  lack  of  cognitive  capacity?    They  too  can  thrive  or  wither  as  individuals  in  their  pursuit  of  full  development;  they  too  have  capacities  for  growth  and  reproduction;  they  too  display  a  desire  for  self-­‐protection;  and  it  is                                                                                                                  77  Katherine  Smits,  Applying  Political  Theory,  236.  78  Robin  Attfield,  The  Good  of  Trees,  Journal  of  Value  Inquiry,  Vol.  15,  1981,  p.  37.  79  Peter  Singer,  ‘Ethics  Across  the  Species  Boundary,’  in  Nicholas  Low  (ed.),  Global  Ethics  and  the  Environment,  London,  Routledge,  1999,  pp.  146-­‐147.  80  Paul  W.  Taylor,  ‘The  Ethics  of  Respect  for  Nature,  Environmental  Ethics,  Vol.  3,  Fall  1981,  p.  198.  81  See  for  example  Joel  Fienberg,  ‘The  Rights  of  Animals,’  pp.  49-­‐52;  and  Tom  Reagan  The  Case  for  Animal  Rights,  in  Peter  Singer  (ed.),  In  Defence  of  Animals,  New  York,  Blackwell,  1985,  pp.  22-­‐24;  and  Peter  Singer,  ‘Ethics  Across  the  Species  Boundary,’  pp.  146-­‐147.     18  
    • these  interests  that  can  be  harmed  or  benefited.82    Under  a  naturalist  ethic  we  would  not  need  to  ascribe  human  characteristics  such  as  cognisant  wanting  in  order  for  natural  objects  to  have  intrinsic  value,  and  to  be  deserving  of  concern  and  ethical  consideration  in  their  own  right.    As  essential  irreplaceable  members  of  the  ecological  context,  the  realization  of  their  interests  is  intrinsically  valuable,  and  they  are  hence  worthy  of  being  preserved  as  an  end  in  and  of  themselves.83    Moreover,  as  humans  are  constituted  within  their  ecological  surrounds,  the  realization  of  the  interests  of  natural  objects  is  consistent  with  that  of  humans.84     There  will,  inevitably,  be  objections  to  the  extension  of  rights  to  natural  objects  on  practical  grounds.    As  they  are  unable  to  either  seek  legal  remedies  on  their  own  behalf,  or  receive  the  benefits  of  judicial  relief,  they  cannot  carry  legal  rights  in  the  traditional  sense.85    Yet  corporations,  children,  states,  and  the  incompetent,  who  also  are  unable  to  speak  for  themselves,  have  been  granted  rights,  and  made  claims  upon  them  through  legal  representatives.86    Indeed,  it  seems  fallacious  to  claim  that  is  necessary  to  possess  the  intellectual  capacity  required  to  comprehend  what  a  right  is,  or  to  initiate  a  claim  upon  one’s  rights,  in  order  to  be  in  the  possession  of  rights.87    It  is  not  beyond  the  realms  of  possibility  then,  and  indeed  seemingly  reasonable,  that  guardians  could  be  assigned  to  represent  the  interests  of  natural  objects  in  much  the  same  way.88    This  is  not  to  deny  that  practical  obstacles  to  the  extension  of  rights  to  the  natural  environment  do  not  exist  (the  issue  of  boundaries  comes  to  mind),  but  rather  to  argue  that  they  are  not  insurmountable.                                                                                                                    82  Robin  Attfield,  ‘The  Good  of  Trees,’  pp.  38-­‐40.  83  Paul  W.  Taylor,  ‘The  Ethics  of  Respect  for  Nature,’  pp.  199-­‐201.  84  Eric  Katz  et  al.,  Introduction:  Deep  Ecology  as  Philosophy,  in  Eric  Katz  et  al.  (eds.),  Beneath  the  Surface:  Critical  Essays  in  the  Philosophy  of  Deep  Ecology,  Cambridge,  Mass,  MIT  Press,  2000,  p.  xiii.  85  See  for  example,  Joel  Feinberg,  ‘The  Rights  of  Animals,’  pp.  43-­‐44  86  Christopher  D.  Stone,  Should  the  Trees  Have  Standing?,  p.  8.  87  Joel  Feinberg,  ‘The  Rights  of  Animals,’  pp.  46-­‐47.  88  Nor  would  it  be  difficult  to  locate  suitable  guardians;  Friends  of  the  Earth  and  The  Sierra  Club  would  be  well  suited  to  this  task.    Christopher  D.  Stone,  Should  the  Trees  Have  Standing?,  p.  9     19  
    • Each  extension  of  rights  to  new  entities  throughout  legal  history  has,  moreover,  encountered  resistance.89    Opposition  to  the  imposition  of  rights  has  endured  so  long  as  that  entity  is  not  seen  as  having  value  in  and  of  itself.    Typically  though  such  a  re-­‐imagining  does  not  occur  until  resistance  is  broken,  and  rights  are  granted.    Until  then,  those  entities  are  seen  only  as  objects  whose  value  lies  in  their  usefulness  to  rights  holders.90    It  is  this  process,  through  which  rights  emerge  from  social  movements,  that  marks  them  as  a  construct  rather  than  being  naturally  bestowed  entitlements.91    They  have  their  own  logic,  moving  from  ideal  to  practice,  from  moral  aspiration  to  entrenchment  as  legal  instruments.92    As  our  understanding  of  our  relationship  to  our  ecological  surrounds  evolves,  so  too  must  our  understanding  of  rights.    For  just  new  harms  emerge  which  do  not  fit  into  the  traditional  language  of  rights,  so  to  must  new  rights  emerge.93     My  argument  here  is  that  the  very  real  and  very  present  threat  of  ecological  destruction  requires  a  re-­‐conception  of  the  ways  in  which  we  interact  with  our  ecological  surroundings.    As  opposed  to  the  current  policy  response  to  this  threat,  ‘sustainable  development,’  which  seeks  merely  to  ‘green’  existing  structures  of  economic  development,  I  have  argued  for  a  conception  of  sustainability  that  would  radically  examine  the  viability  of  those  structures  themselves.    As  those  structures  are  not  currently  sustaining  the  conditions  required  for  human  fulfilment,  a  radical  alteration  in  our  behaviours  and  practices  is  required.    Rights  as  they  are  traditionally  conceived  are  ill  suited  for  this  task,  for  reasons  related  to  their  original  conception  as  the  property  of  autonomous  individuals.    In  order  to  guarantee  a  more  sustainable  world  through  rights  mechanisms,  therefore,  the  basis  upon  which  rights  are  constituted  would  need  to  be  rebuilt  such  that  the  rights  discourse  could  accommodate  the  emergence  of  a  collective  environmental  right,  and  extended                                                                                                                  89  Examples  would  include  the  extension  of  rights  to  children,  slaves,  African  Americans,  colonial  subjects,  and  of  political  rights  to  women.  90  Christopher  D.  Stone,  Should  the  Trees  Have  Standing?,  p.  3.  91  Conor  Gearty,  ‘Do  Human  Rights  Help  or  Hinder  Environmental  Protection?,’      p.  11.  92  Richard  P.  Hiskes,  The  Human  Right  to  a  Green  Future,  p.  144.  93  Ibid,  p.  147.     20  
    • to  include  the  natural  world  upon  which  we  are  dependent.    While  the  use  of  a  rights-­‐based  approach  to  environmental  protection  will  inevitably  be  difficult  given  the  obstacles  that  have  been  discussed,  if  we  are  affect  real  changes  in  attitudes,  behaviours  and  ultimately  practices,  it  is  the  most  accessible  and  effective  path  to  take.       21  
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