Rivers Given “Rights”

by Wesley J. Smith

Over at my bi-weekly First Things column I discuss the consequences of granting “rights” to rivers–as has been done in New Zealand and India–and the more broad “nature rights” movement that is gaining steam. From, “Rivers Declared to be ‘Persons:”

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.

These two rivers were declared persons in secular countries to honor the religious beliefs of proponents. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Imagine a law stating that the Host in the Catholic Communion is the body and blood of Christ. The screaming from some of the supporters of granting rights to rivers would never stop.

For radical environmentalists, supporting such theocratic laws has a cynical point:

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.

Granting “rights” to nature would have a very subversive consequence:

Taken to its logical conclusion, nature rights would prevent us from truly owning property in the first place. We would become, at best, fiduciaries for all of the life forms on and of the tracts of land that we no longer truly owned.

Such self-destructive policies would have a particularly pernicious impact on the developing world, where granting equal rights to bushes, mosquitoes, viruses, and swamps would thwart people’s ability to liberate themselves from destitution.

Bottom line: Nature rights and affiliated radical environmental policies are, in both intent and potential outcomes, anti-human.

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