The Environment and Human Rights
I’ve always believed that the planet of which we live upon is the most sacred thing. Not having the latest games console or missing an episode of Eastenders becomes so unimportant when we consider that without this planet, we have nothing. Most people will probably agree that the greatest right humanity has is their right to life. Daily this right is challenged by people who see short-term profiteering as their ultimate goal. People are displaced from their tribal homes whilst others are forced to breathe polluted air. I see that human rights goes hand in hand with environmentalism. Some have argued that they are opposed to this because humans can be seen as only a part of nature like any other part and therefore it applies rights to other forms of nature too. If we have freedom, the basis of human rights, this distinguishes us from the rest of nature. Environmentalism has been accused of undermining these freedoms because humanity is not regarded as any more important than any other form life. This suggests that non-humans may also have rights. The problem with applying rights to animals is that they cannot act through ideas to achieve an end. Whether or not philosophically rights can be assigned to animals, injustices, direct or indirect, is abhorrent. Kicking your cat is not only cruel but unjust to the cat as it deserves not to be treated in this way. With this in mind, justice can be said to be favourable to environmentalism. We are very different to the rest of nature but it can be suggested that we are influenced by nature. We use nature through self-enrichment and use the resources of it to benefit us, whether this be materially or spiritually. Nature is meant to be respected in its own right and not only for the benefit of using its resources since it underpins our cultural identities.
I do not see human rights and environmentalism as antithetical since as our environment forms such an important part of our life and culture.
However, we should not be anthropocentric since we are not the central element of the universe as we share the biomass with other life forms. It is arrogant to assume the rules of nature do not apply to us just because we are more aware of ourselves than our animal counterparts. The way the environment is being degraded shows we are not as aware as we assume and we have much to learn about ourselves. Understanding and respecting human rights is just one part of this. If we can learn to respect each other through upholding human rights, there is hope that we can transfer these values to the wider world.