Law & the Courts

The Corner

Ganges River Declared a Legal Person

New Zealand previously passed legislation granting a river legal personhood. Yes, a river: you know the geological feature by which water flows through a defined channel, usually to the sea.

Now, an Indian court has decreed that the Ganges is entitled to human-style rights. From The Guardian story:

The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non-human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people.

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.

This ruling is an aspect of “nature rights,” a profoundly anti-human radical environmental legal and political campaign–discussed in my The War on Humans–that seeks to materially impede human thriving by thwarting our ability to prosper from natural resources and develop the natural world.

Beyond that, granting rights to river, trees, pond scum, viruses–all are part of nature, after all–profoundly subverts the intrinsic seriousness and gravity of human rights by making the concept as ephemeral as currency during a wild inflation. 

And what are the river’s “rights?”

For example, what if a dam is needed to prevent deadly flooding or generate electricity? Does the river have the “right” to flow unimpeded?  

Under nature rights theology–because that’s what this is–at the very least the river person would have to be given equal consideration with human persons.

In actuality, rights haven’t been given to a water course, but a committee who will impose their views as if they were those of the two rivers.

More broadly, “nature rights” grants tremendous power to radical environmentalists who enforce the rights of the natural world as a means to attain their own ideological goals. That’s how it works in Ecuador, Bolivia, and the more than thirty U.S. municipalities where such laws have been enacted.

And it is all completely unnecessary if the goal is environmental protection and conservation, which can be well sustained through laws and protected designations. For example, Yellowstone remains a treasured wonder of the world without pretending that Old Faithful Geyser is a legal person entitled to enforceable rights.

I have been warning for a few years that “nature rights” is gaining steam, often to the snorting derision of folk who think we would never be that self-destructive.

Time to splash some cold river water on our faces, assuming that wouldn’t be an assault on the waterway. It is happening. It is happening now. And it bodes ill for the human future.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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