The Magazine

Why We Call Them Human Rights

Ecuador just gave every virus, bacterium, insect, tree & weed constitutional rights.

Nov 24, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 10 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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Rights, properly understood, are moral entitlements embodied in law to protect all people. They are not earned: Rights come as part of the package of being a member of the human race. This principle was most eloquently enunciated in the Declaration of Independence's assertion that we are all created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This doctrine of human exceptionalism has been under assault in recent decades from many quarters. For example, many bioethicists assert that being human alone does not convey moral value, rather an individual must exhibit "relevant" cognitive capacities to claim the rights to life and bodily integrity. Animal rights ideology similarly denies the intrinsic value of being human, claiming that we and animals are moral equals based on our common capacity to feel pain, a concept known as "painience."

These radical agendas have now been overtaken by an extreme environmentalism that seeks to--and this is not a parody--grant equal rights to nature. Yes, nature; literally and explicitly. "Nature rights" have just been embodied as the highest law of the land in Ecuador's newly ratified constitution pushed by the country's hard-leftist president, Rafael Correa, an acolyte of Hugo Chávez.

The new Ecuadorian constitution reads:

Persons and people have the fundamental rights guaranteed in this Constitution and in the international human rights instruments. Nature is subject to those rights given by this Constitution and Law.

What does this co-equal legal status between humans and nature mean? Article 1 states:

Nature or Pachamama [the Goddess Earth], where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

This goes way beyond establishing strict environmental protections as a human duty. It is a self-demotion of humankind to merely one among the billions of life forms on earth--no more worthy of protection than any other aspect of the natural world.

Viruses are part of nature. So, too, are bacteria, insects, trees, weeds, and snails. These and the rest of Ecuador's flora and fauna all now have the constitutional and legally enforceable right to exist, persist, and regenerate their vital cycles.

The potential harm to human welfare seems virtually unlimited. Take, for example, a farmer who wishes to drain a swamp to create more tillable land to better support his family. Now, the swamp has equal rights with the farmer, as do the mosquitoes, snakes, pond scum, rats, spiders, trees, and fish that reside therein.

And since draining the swamp would unquestionably destroy "nature" and prevent it from "existing" and "persisting," one can conceive of the farmer--or miners, loggers, fishermen, and other users and developers of natural resources--being not only prevented from earning his livelihood, but perhaps even charged with oppressing nature.

The inspiration for Ecuador's granting of rights to nature was an American extremist environmental group called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which presses to "change the status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities." The constitution, moreover, explicitly empowers organizations like CELDF to enforce nature's fundamental rights. Article 1 states:

Every person, people, community, or nationality, will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public bodies [i.e., courts, governmental agencies, etc.].

If the Ecuadorian government fails to protect the rights of the swamp (or the trees, the animals on the mineable mountain, the schools of fish, etc.), any radical environmental organization can descend on Ecuador and sue to thwart the desires of the farmer and prevent him from deciding what to do with his own land. The mind simply boggles.

The mainstream media have made no attempt to sound the alarm about the dangers of this agenda. A New York Times environmental blogger was bemused by the Ecuadorian constitution, and an editorial in the Los Angeles Times found Ecuador's proposal to make nature the moral equal of people "intriguing."

And it is not just in Ecuador that the international left has demonstrated its determination to devalue humankind in law and ethics. Just this year:

*The Socialists and Greens in Spain are on the verge of granting the rights to life, liberty, and freedom from torture to great apes and devolve humans into a "community of equals" with chimpanzees and gorillas.