A rights revolution for nature

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Science  29 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6434, pp. 1392-1393
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav5601

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  • Comment on “A rights revolution for nature”
    • Robert A. Michaels, President and consulting health risk toxicologist, RAM TRAC Corporation, Schenectady, New York
    • Other Contributors:
      • Richard A. Hammerman, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B’nai Israel; Toms River, New Jersey
      • Heslley Machado Silva, Professor, University Center of Formiga/MG, Brazil

    Does nature have rights, or do such rights inhere to people based upon their “natural right” to enjoy nature and benefit from its ecosystem services? Chapron, et al. (2019) address this issue in Science (29 March). Natural rights, including the divine right of kings to rule, derive from the Doctrine of Natural Law, which also has been cited as the source of human rights as exemplified in the U. S. Declaration of Independence: “we hold these truths to be self-evident… [including] that people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, [most notably] “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Science and religion have confluent interests in protecting nature, which is to say, securing rights claimed on its behalf. Natural Law, however, is a doctrine of religion, not a principle of science: nothing in science, including civil and natural rights, actually is “self-evident. For example, the human onus of stewardship over god’s creations (nature), originates from ‘Natural Law’.

    If claimed rights were not conferred by civil authority, claimants might seek to secure them under Natural Law. We have argued that the science/religion relationship has proved dynamic rather than static, evolving from conflict to potentially planet-saving cooperation (Michaels, Hammerman, and Silva 2018). Securing the rights of nature, or of people to benefit from nature, therefore would seem a viable additional arena for science/religion cooperation.


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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Rights of nature: conservation might not need another hype

    The assertion that the “introduction of legal rights for nature could protect natural systems from destruction” [1] is symptomatic of the speculative hype upon which the rights of nature movement is built and runs counter the evidence that existing environmental laws can be effective when well implemented [2]. While proposals during the 1970s to grant legal personhood to nature [3] had a rationale given the limited extend of environmental law at that time, it is difficult to find what rights of nature could achieve today that environmental law cannot achieve under equal contexts of corruption, political pressure by interest groups and rule of law. Existing environmental law is often perceived as anthropocentric, however, it also focuses on the intrinsic value of nature with many species without any known interest for humans being legally protected. Indeed, environmental law does not need rights of nature to adopt an ecocentric perspective. In 2016, French lawmakers amended the country Civil Code whereby harm to nature itself now needs to be repaired, irrespectively of whether that harm negatively impacted human interests [4]. In addition, whereas rights of nature were first aimed at addressing a lack of access to justice, public interest environmental litigation has vastly expanded in the USA and in Europe during the past decades, the latter thanks to the Aarhus Convention. Finally, it remains unclear how rights of nature would –if widely recognized– overcome the obstacles...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • The “right to nature” in the Anthropocene: A response to Chapron, Epstein and López-Bao
    • Elia Apostolopoulou, Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
    • Other Contributors:
      • Jose Cortes-Vazquez, InTalent Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty of Sociology, University of A Coruña

    Chapron, Epstein, and López-Bao in their insight entitled “a rights revolution for nature” argue for the attribution of legal rights to nature. On the question of how nature may claim its rights, they propose that “guardians with appropriate expertise” could be appointed as nature’s representatives. The authors also argue that natural entities could become rights holders based on “ecologically informed criteria”. They do not, however, specify who and how will decide who are the appropriate guardian(s) of nature, who will define the proper criteria, and who will ensure that these guardians actually defend the rights of nature.
    Although we welcome Chapron’s et al. call for a radical rethinking of nature-society relationships, we believe that their approach runs the risk of reproducing the exact same conundrums that a rights-based approach to nature wishes to address. We base this claim on our belief that as long as the crucial issue of agency – i.e. who should defend and speak for nature- remains unaddressed it is highly unlikely to reverse the root causes of environmental degradation.
    In response to this, we put forward the concept of the “right to nature” (1), as people’s right to command and control human-environment relations based on social needs. Several communities across the globe currently experience the economic, social, public health and cultural impacts of environmental degradation (2) but have been unable to defend their rights because existing laws...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Rights of nature: punishing natural criminals
    • Xiong Li, Ecologist, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences
    • Other Contributors:
      • Bo-Qun Li, Research Assistant, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences

    Although we support the authors‘ main assertion, more issues need to be discussed based on the actual natural research; otherwise, the declaration sounds very fantastic. For instance, they overlooked the possible conflicts of rights between natural entities.

    A central issue is whether the parallel natural entities, e.g., different species, can have the equal and free rights to exist and flourish in ecosystems. The reason for this issue is because some natural entities may threaten the survival of others. The major disturber evoking the controversy is invasive species, a leading threat to global biodiversity (1). Invasive animals and plants usually compete with those parallel-trophic-level native species and occupy their habitats (2). Meanwhile, some invasive animals overkill native preys. For example, Doherty et al. reported that invasive predators were responsible for the extinctions of 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile species worldwide (3). Besides, invasive alien parasites and pathogens are a growing threat to hosts worldwide (4). One conclusive evidence comes from the recent report that the amphibian chytridiomycosis panzootic caused the decline of at least 501 amphibian species (including 90 presumed extinctions) during the past half-century worldwide (5). We argue that those alien invaders deprived the rights of some native species and endanger the safety of whole communities or ecosystems. Furthermore, in some cases, natural rights violation even happens in...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Human rights =/= "Nature's rights"

    Please notice that these are *human* rights. While they don't give us the "right " to abuse other species or neligently destroy the environment, the main duty imposed on us by these rights is to each other and our children of tomorrow. That is the very definition of a "more-just society."

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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