Wild thing – legal rights for nature and the environment

10/03/2016

Can the concept of rights for humans be extended to rights for nature? Frank Armstrong explores this provocative idea in the March 2016 issue of the Law Society Gazette.

Is there a case for extending such rights to natural objects in the environment? Frank Armstrong, who teaches property law at Anglo-American University in Prague, points to Prof Christopher D Stone’s seminal 1972 work, ‘Should Trees Have Standing’, which explores how such an idea could work in practice.

Natural objects could have legal standing by analogy with companies, states, infants, incompetents, municipalities or even universities. “On a parity of reasoning, we should have a system in which, when a friend of a natural object perceives it to be endangered, he can apply to a court for the creation of a guardianship … The guardian would urge before the court injuries not presently cognisable – the death of eagles and inedible crabs, the suffering of sea lions, the loss from the face of the earth of species of commercially valueless birds, the disappearance of wilderness areas,” argues Stone. “I am proposing that we do the same with eagles and wilderness areas as we do with copyrighted works, patented inventions and privacy: make the violation of rights in them to be a cost by declaring the piracy of them to be the invasion of a property interest.”

Frank Armstrong argues that broadening our compassion for humankind to encompass the rest of nature is required in an age of impending dangers from climate change and species loss. The great power we now hold imposes weighty responsibilities, and an idea that law applies to all manifestations of nature may prove important for preserving human beings too.

Read the full article in the March 2016 Gazette.

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