|Environmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)|
|International human rights law and environmental problems|
|8. The human rights system as a conceptual framework for environmental law|
In the consideration of the human rights philosophy as a conceptual structure for environmental law, it is desirable to survey the position of man in relation to the natural order. The quality and degree of the human right is conditioned by man's relationship to his surrounding ecology. The ancient religions tended to see all organic existence in a single framework united in harmonious interaction. More than 3,000 years ago, the Upanishads in India expressed the Vedantic viewpoint that the Supreme Reality was the undivided whole, the Brahman, which incorporated all manifestations of matter and energy together in a primordial transcendent, all-pervasive, and all-binding harmony.32 In American Indian culture, before the European settlers came to the American continent, the concept of an ultimate wholeness of all existence was implied when the individual sought relatedness to all manifestations of the Great Spirit: rocks, trees, animals, or people. The Chinese philosophers believed that man must invariably be seen as inseparable from nature and in oneness with the universe.33 In the opinion of this writer, perhaps the most accurate summation of the ecological model is embodied in the statement that "the universe must be seen as a systematic hierarchy of organized complexity- a myriad number of wholes within the wholes, all of which are interconnected and interacting. Within this perspective, an individual system cannot be properly understood apart from its relationship with the environment of which it is an integral part."34 The relationship between man and the several non-human components of the planetary environment is one of constant interaction, although not all the dimensions of that interaction may be visible or immediately and directly apparent. This truth is supported by widely accepted scientific conclusions, including those derived from subatomic physics.35 Legal jurisprudence today must take into account the influences that affect social structures, including those based on data emerging from operating scientific verities.
When in formulating a human right to a healthful environment, we conceive of values pertaining to individual man, we should view him as a unit in the ecological system. When we focus on his position as the bearer of the human right to a healthful environment, we should proceed on the basis that his environmental rights are qualified by the rights and interests of other affected sectors of the ecology. This creed rests on the fundamental principle that man does not enjoy a superior status over the rest of nature entitling him to exploit, for his own ends, the ecological biosystem to its irretrievable detriment and destruction, but that he is, indeed, merely a component equal with the other components of the ecological biosystem. Man, it is true, holds a higher position in the tree of evolution, but that only invests him with greater responsibility to the non-human components of the ecological family.36 As their moral agent, he has the duty to articulate and defend the rights of other occupants of the planet.37 In adopting this approach, one does not seek to view the environment in a homocentric dimension. Man is seen as a part of the environment, which consists of several interdependent patterns of existence that, operating within their own value systems and tonal emphasis, constitute the totality of the environmental system. These several patterns of existence constitute, in their interdependence, an organic whole represented by Nature, which, thus, may be seen as a vast empire of interacting and, therefore, of interwoven destinies.
In the enjoyment of the human right to a healthful environment, we must remember that the human right is generally expressed as an assertion of a claim by the individual against state authority. There can be no assertion of a human right against the non-human components of the ecological system. His right is an expression of a politico-legal reality and can only be asserted against a politico-legal entity. The relevance of non-human components of the ecological system is taken into account for determining the inherent worth and quality of the human right to a healthful environment. One manner of taking it into account is expressed in the obligation of man to exercise self-restraint when dealing with them, remembering at all times that he is their protector and defender by virtue of his superior evolution' and has a duty to maintain the integrity of the planet.
A question that has engaged considerable debate is the basis of recognizing an obligation in man towards the non-human elements of the planet. The principle of orthodox jurisprudence that an obligation arises only upon a correlative right cannot serve here inasmuch as non-human elements cannot be regarded as right-bearing. Therefore, a perspective proceeding from an entirely different approach needs to be adopted. Professor Christopher D. Stone has made an impressive contribution to the search for a solution. While stressing the need for a non-homocentric foundation for morals, "which would be more in line with our growing understanding of the grandness of the interrelationships of the natural world," he suggests that even if non-human, whether animate or inanimate, objects cannot be regarded as "possessors" of rights, they must be treated as "morally considerable." Moral considerableness, he says, creates duties in man to non-human animate and inanimate objects. The mere circumstance that nonhuman things possess an intrinsic goodness, that is, good in and of themselves, should be sufficient to attract duties towards them.38 He is critical of the range given to moral monism when several dimensions of standing are involved and suggests that we "conceive moral activities as partitioned into several distinct frameworks, each governed by distinct principles and logical textures.... Under moral pluralism frameworks vary in regard to the fabric of their basic concepts."39 This proposition is supported by Stephen Toulmin,40 who regards the cosmocentric or egocentric standpoint as nonhomocentric,41 and considers the common law jurisprudence appropriate for analysing situations arising in consequence of the new approach.42
It appears that a true understanding of environmental philosophy can be achieved only if legal principle is defined in the context of moral pluralism. It may indicate an extension of jurisprudence beyond the orthodox concept of a right-duty relationship, but it should not occasion surprise for the philosophy of law [that] has been generally understood in the context of a moral order. In different constitutional systems, constitutional principles and conventions test the validity of individual and state action on the anvil of social morality, for social morality constitutes the basis of the pattern of relationships within a society. In an ecological society the needs, interests, and "moral considerableness" of all its affected components must be taken into account. There is merit in the view that the human right to a healthful environment should not be comprehended from a homocentric standpoint, but in the totality of an egocentric value system. Positioning environmentalism in a human focus to the exclusion of non-human elements restricts it from the wider sweep to which it properly belongs.
Inasmuch as this approach proceeds upon a holistic perception of man positioned in the natural order, it provides a value structure most harmonious and beneficial to his development, and therefore, of fundamental significance to an understanding of the right to a healthful environment.