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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Nature is People Too

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property are inalienable rights granted in the U.S. Constitution to ‘we the people of the United States.’ Though these natural rights are afforded to U.S. citizens, truly they also belong to all the people of the world. It is any government’s job to protect these rights of their citizens and a government which fails to do so is assuredly broken.

    I cannot imagine that any free person would disagree that these rights should be granted and protected for all people but some, like the nation of Ecuador, are debating whether these rights go far enough. After all, why is it only people who are granted these rights?

    A proposed change to an article Ecuadorian constitution would grant Nature the right to ‘exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.’ In addition, it would grant legal status to any person attempting to protect these rights in court. Obviously, this is the farthest a government has gone in re-examining natural rights.

    In a way, the Ecuadorians have a point. Why do humans think we’re more special than other animals, plants and ecosystems? We are, after all, just one of many different propositions of life that Nature came up with. Surely, if we’re reasoned enough to appreciate that people should have rights extending from Nature, how can we not afford these rights to Nature itself? Self-serving ideas that Nature exists solely for the exploitation of man will not get us very far, considering the delicate balance we are currently in, which, by most accounts, is tipping towards the side of disaster. From that perspective, I appreciate what the Ecuadorians are trying to do. Our founding fathers realized that it is easy for a government to lose its way, and set up a system in which balanced powers ensures government doesn’t exploit their fellow man. It is just as easy for people to exploit Nature, even though it is our equal, as sustainable ecosystems are required to fuel all life.

    This constitutional change will probably serve the people of Ecuador well, but the same effect of this new article can be achieved in the U.S. without a Constitutional amendment.

    The idea of property rights is protected in the U.S. Constitution. This may seem like an anthropocentric view, but Nature, which is the land we live on and farm, the air we breathe and the water we drink, is property. Some of that is private property, but much of nature is common property, belonging to the greater public and communities. As long as we afford the protection of Nature as public or private property from environmental harm and degradation, then we need not change the constitution. Environmental issues such as pollution and global warming become an issue that should be dealt with in the courts under civil rights arguments.

    If the inalienable rights of man are ‘natural’ rights which we must protect for each other, how can we, in turn, grant rights back to nature? As much as we hate to admit it, humans are basically selfish and work better when working for ourselves. However, we can be persuaded to work together and protect each others rights in the form of modern governments. Therefore, we can be persuaded to protect Nature’s rights if we understand that Nature is needed collectively and individually by us all.

    It seems unfortunate, but it is a natural thing for us to treat Nature as a possession. That doesn’t mean it’s a trinket we can just toss away, but as a sacred possession that we must honor and treat with respect. We don’t have to grant rights to Nature in human documents, because the natural world will be here long after us humans are gone. If we want to extend that time, however, we have to realize that, if Nature is property, it has to be protected for everyone’s good.

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