Feature:Opinion

Beware the ‘rights of nature’

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Wesley J. Smith
Senior Fellow, The Discovery Institute
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      Wesley J. Smith

      Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults for the Patients Rights Council and is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

If nature rights can be viewed as a shield preventing people from exploiting and developing natural resources, a new “sword” has emerged that would criminally punish large-scale development as an “international crime against peace.” Called “ecocide,” it is promoted by activists as legally equivalent to the most heinous international crimes, such as genocide.

Here is how ecocide is defined by its promoters:

Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

Please pay very close attention: The word “inhabitants” does not necessarily — or even, primarily — mean human beings. Rather, it mostly refers to flora and fauna, which means that the interests of denizens of the natural world are deemed to be of equal (or greater) importance than human thriving.

Ecocide would profoundly undermine prosperity by criminalizing large-scale human resource or land development. Thus, a mock trial was held recently in the chambers of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, charging the CEO in charge of developing the Alberta Tar Sands with ecocide. Of course, he was found guilty. Were ecocide really a crime, he would face life in prison like Rudolph Hess.

Radical environmental misanthropy is on the march. Its activists are well-funded and ideologically committed. The time has come to stop rolling our eyes at the seeming insanity of the proposals and take the threat of granting rights to Mother Earth seriously. The future of human prosperity and thriving could well depend on it.

Wesley J. Smith, an attorney and author, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.