The good people at Fox News brought my attention to the growing effort to bestow “human rights” to nature, apparently on the theory that trees are people, too. Seems the UN will be taking up the idea soon. Amnesty International will need a large new division if this idea goes forward. This is not, of course, a brand new idea. One of the most famous law review articles of the last generation was Christopher Stone’s 1972 piece in the Southern California Law Review entitled “Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.”
Where to begin with this pernicious nonsense? As a practical matter, no trees or rocks or turtles will hire their own lawyers to represent them in court, so their legal representation will be self-appointed; Stone at least has the candor to admit that lawyers will be the “guardians” of nature’s rights. And we can also observe where this kind of thinking has already been in place here in the United States for a long time now: the Endangered Species Act. (I have a short squib about the defects of the ESA, by the way, on the New York Times “Room for Debate” blog just last week.) If you find an endangered species on your land, you will often lose the rights to use your land as you wish. It has long been noted that the Constitution’s Third Amendment prohibits the government from quartering troops in your home, but the ESA allows the government to make you quarter endangered species on your land. Extending more “rights” to natural objects would obviously be a vast expansion of this kind of governance–a full employment act for self-appointed environmental lawyers and bureaucrats. One of the chief cheerleaders for this UN effort is Bolivia’s dictator Evo Morales, not known for his solicitude toward individual rights, and he gives away the game with his oft-expressed comment that “the central enemy of Mother Earth is capitalism.” (Bolivia has recently enacted its own national legislation granting “rights” to natural objects.)
It also represents a further confusion about the nature of individual rights, effacing the distinction between human and beast; as Harry Jaffa likes to note, the world today is awash in “human rights,” but there are no more humans, or at least we have begun to lose the ability to distinguish meaningfully between humans and non-humans, just as Stephen Douglas and Justice Taney did in the 1850s. This effort would lend further ratification to the insidious view that rights come from government, rather than being prior to government as taught in the Declaration of Independence. Before long it is obvious that such an effort to create new “governance structures” to protect the “rights” of nature will result in a diminution of the natural rights of human beings. But that it the whole point.
What got Fox News’ attention is that good old Van Jones has signed up for this crusade, which will give it more visibility because of his dubious celebrity, but may also help doom it because of his dubious celebrity. Jones has joined the board of the newest organization linked to the “Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature” in San Francisco, the Pachamamma Alliance.
The real news behind this story, however, is that the environmental left is gearing up for “Rio + 20,” the 20th anniversary meeting of the original UN meeting in Rio in 1992 that set in motion the UN’s climate change circus. The UN will be returning to Rio next year to see what can be salvaged of the entire agenda, which was always about wealth redistribution from rich nations to poor nations. That agenda hit a major roadblock in the 1980s named Ronald Reagan, but climate change gave it new life and a new cover story, as I explained on National Review Online a little while back. But with the collapse of the climate agenda in Copenhagen two years ago, the UN cabal is regrouping, as it always does.
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