Law & Legal Studies

Reframing the law to recognise nature’s value

Reframing the law to recognise nature’s value

The current global ecological crisis is the result of unsustainable development, consumption and production patterns.


Tarini Mehta, Associate Professor, Jindal School of Environment & Sustainability, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.


How do we see nature? Do we see it, and therefore, value it — based on its usefulness for human beings — or as something with intrinsic value?

The current framework for the protection of nature is based on the former perspective, as is litigation. Nature tends to be judged and appreciated on the basis of its impact on humans — an anthropocentric view. This approach does not allow for the protection of nature in its totality, bringing to the forefront the need for the rights of nature framework.

Around the world this framework has been gaining greater acceptance. Ecuador and Bolivia have incorporated the right of nature to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate. In India, through litigation, attempts have been made to give natural resources personhood. There are, however, counter arguments to these legal developments. Key among them being nature is a non-living thing unable to speak or communicate.

As Christopher Stone famously argued in his seminal 1972 work: “‘Nor is it only matter in human form that has come to be recognized as the possessor of rights. The world of the lawyer is peopled with inanimate right-holders: trusts, corporations, joint ventures, municipalities. and nation-states, to mention just a few. Ships, still referred to by courts in the feminine gender, have long had an independent jural life, often with striking consequences.’’

This view was echoed decades later by scholars such as La Follette and Maser: “It is of course no answer to say that Nature, or any being of Nature, should be denied rights because it cannot speak. The American legal system gives rights to many entities that cannot speak. All these entities hire attorneys to speak for them and argue their cases in court.”

The root of arguments against the rights of nature framework can be traced to the philosophy that has been at the foundation of industrialised western society – one that acknowledges little or no intrinsic value in Nature, unless it is able to show that it is “good for something” or can be transformed into something of material value, indigenous cultures and Eastern traditions, on the other hand, have a long history of endowing natural resources with intrinsic and often sacred value.

Published in: 360info

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