Wesley Smith wrote a short news item on “The Corner” in National Review Online, and linking a longer article in First Things, in which he mentions that in New Zealand and India, a few rivers have now been granted formal rights, allowing them, through their lawyers, to sue on behalf of themselves. They were legally declared persons under law. (See http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/446347/rivers-given-rights. I saw this coming almost 40 years ago, in a couple of articles in law reviews as well as a book by Joseph Sax. But I honestly did not believe it would finally come to fruition. It did. Here is what Smith wrote in his longer article about the legal development:
“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.” (“Rivers Declared to be ‘Persons. ‘“ First Things, March 31, 2017).
I think that summarizes it pretty well. Imagine now, as the author does, that rivers can now “sue” under almost any theory or allegation of harm. Now just to make it more interesting the rationale for this designation was religious, that is, that the rivers themselves were sacred to some religious groups. First, there is not a touch of irony in any of this. But perhaps there should be. If a Christian group wanted the state to designate some “sacred” item (Smith suggests “the host” in Roman Catholic communion), imagine the howls from all those invoking the separation of church and state. Now of course this happened elsewhere, but New Zealand is not known for its religious zeal. And I have heard nothing from any American legal experts. Of course there is also the obvious and utter lack of concern for the unborn or the aged in this respect. No, we speak of them as non-life (the “foetus” or the useless and valueless older people or disabled people). Oh the utilitarian blasphemy–except when it comes to rivers (as of now), when suddenly, we have forgotten the cost of this move to millions living near or on these rivers, their possible starvation and death. But who cares? These are just people. Rivers are better than people (I forgot even some of the so-called “people” are not people at all).
But aside from the religious element, as I said above, it is possible now to imagine lawsuits for all sorts of alleged violations, by environmentalists. Radical environmentalists (for the non-discerning reader I used the word “radical” and not “all” environmentalists) would allow people to die allegedly to protect a river that may not even need any protection at all, and if it die, not the kind accompanying the conferral of rights. Smith adds:
“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.” (Ibid.)
Again, Smith hits the nail on the head. I do hope this legal theory does not come to the United States, but I am very sorrow for all those who will be so affected in other nations, the very places where the residents can ill afford to be stifled in their efforts to emerge from poverty, starvation and economic misery.
In the end I can only muse of the philosophical pretzels we have created in our zeal to escape the authority of God. Since man “crowned” himself ruler around the time of the Enlightenment, this process has been slowly but surely encroaching. Christians also, beware that in your zeal to be a good steward of God’s natural world, you lose sight of the creation that is only a “little lower than the angels.”