I don't like the word "whacko" but I have to say that I can't think of a more apt description of the folks in Boulder, Colorado who are pressing the local authorities to adopt an ordinance they call the Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance. Suzanne Webel sits on a commission to evaluate this proposal and writes about it at The Daily Camera. After enumerating all of the environmental safeguards and policies that Coloradans have already put in place she says this:
However, these multiple protections are not enough to satisfy a few environmental extremists who are quietly pushing for a "new paradigm:" the inclusion of a "Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance," which would, among other things:The conferral of such rights on "nature" would indeed make it almost impossible for human beings to exist. Principle #1 would essentially deprive humans of private property rights. Principle #3 would bring almost all human activity to a halt. You wouldn't be able to build a house without violating it. Principle #5 would enforce a "no-growth" policy on the entire country, and #6 would be impossible to abide by.
The proposed "Rights of Nature Ordinance" would have enormous detrimental implications for all public and private lands, agriculture, medicine, backyard gardens, animal ownership, public land access and trail use, property rights and many other existing rights of Boulder County residents. It would create unimaginable social and legal nightmares for all of us.
- "Eliminate the authority of a property owner to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural communities and ecosystems"
- Accord "inherent, inalienable, and fundamental rights of Nature to all Natural Beings" including humans and "all living species of plants, animals, and algae"
- Include a Statement of Law that "All Natural beings, Natural Communities and Ecosystems possess the inalienable right to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve"
- Declare that "The Precautionary Principle Is Needed To Protect These Rights"
- Find that "It shall be unlawful for any person, government entity, corporation (etc) to intentionally or recklessly violate the rights of Natural Beings, Natural Communities or Ecosystems"
- Enforce "Damages" measured by the cost of restoring the Natural Community or Ecosystem to its [original] state before the injury.
In fact, I believe that is exactly what its advocates intend: to deliberately paralyze almost all legitimate and necessary activities routinely undertaken by individuals, governments, and corporations countywide.
And it would place those very advocates in charge of determining who can do what, anywhere, by giving "any resident of this community" the standing to bring crippling litigation against any other member of the community for any infractions of their philosophy, whether real or imagined. Their manifesto is at once too broad, asserting new paradigms about the health of the world and other unrealistic expectations; and too specific, presuming, for example, to give members of the community the right to obtain locally grown food.
Finally, it is not up to a small group of zealots to presume to ascribe "rights" to anyone or anything. And to claim that there are "inherent, inalienable, and fundamental rights of Nature that emanate from the Earth's own functioning" is bizarre, to say the least.
I was one of four citizens recently appointed to a county task force to see if language could be worked out that all sides could live with. The "Rights of Nature" extremists claim that all they're asking for is a little innocuous-sounding phrase here and there about protecting native species. That is patently not true: they have never recanted on the demands outlined above. The task force ended in an impasse last week because the "Rights of Nature" people were unwilling to compromise one iota of their extreme ideology in the interest of reaching any agreement at all.
To call these people "environmental whackos" is actually to do them a kindness. It suggests that their problem is mere mental incompetence or zealotry when in fact, given the harm they would do to people, they are malevolent.