We live in truly surreal times. In an age when all human beings still do not have access to human rights—and when some of the world’s foremost bioethicists declare that the unborn and cognitively disabled are not persons—radical environmentalists and others are agitating to grant “rights” to objects in nature.
In the latest phase of this descent into metaphysical madness, two rivers have been declared to be legal “persons” endowed with human-style rights. In New Zealand, the Whanganui River was granted the same legal rights as a human being. The reason? The Maori tribe considers the river sacred and an “ancestor.”
Religion was also why an Indian court declared the Ganges River, considered sacred in the Hindu faith, to be a “person.” From The Guardian story:
A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities. The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person.Just what does it mean for a river to have “rights”? That remains to be seen. At the very least, human needs will count for far less when a river is considered our legal equal. For example, what if building a dam could prevent deadly flooding or generate electricity? Would these essential needs be left unfulfilled because the river has a “right” to flow unimpeded to the sea?
This is madness. Yes, we should respect the religious views and traditions of the Maoris and of Hindus. But should secular law inscribe distinctly religious beliefs into a nation’s statutes and secular court rulings? Imagine the hue and cry if the Host in Catholic Communion were legally recognized as the body and blood of Christ. The screaming would break decibel machines!
Radical environmentalists supporting these declarations are playing a cynical game. They don’t believe the theology expressed in these laws. But they are happy to harness the religious energy of the faithful to promote their own quest to destroy human exceptionalism by granting legal rights to nature and its various aspects—and not just to rivers believed to be sacred.
Granting “rights” to nature requires us to give equal consideration to flora, fauna, and geological phenomena that might be adversely affected by human activity. And more subversively, it will open the courtroom doors to radical environmentalist lawyers who will surely fire a barrage of lawsuits seeking to uphold the rights of their animal, vegetable, river, mountain, meadow, and microorganism clients. Indeed, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund—a driving force within the Nature Rights Movement—states on its website:
[T]he rights of ecosystems and natural communities are enforceable independently of the rights of people who use them. That means that people within a community could step “into the shoes” of a mountain, stream, or forest ecosystem, and advocate for the rights of those natural communities. It calls for a system of jurisprudence in which those ecosystems are actually “seen” in court. Damages are assessed according to the costs of restoring the ecosystem to its pre-damaged state.Talk about a full employment guarantee for lawyers! Imagine the courtroom backlog if “nature” could sue (funded by well-heeled radical environmentalist groups) every time a person wanted to act enterprisingly with his own property. Indeed, consider the difficulty—nay, impossibility—of obtaining a liability insurance policy to protect a development project if “nature” could sue to prevent its rights from being infringed. Even if these cases ultimately failed, they would increase the cost of human enterprise exponentially and have a chilling effect.