Past conceptions of environmental rights : tensions and solutions
thesisposted on 12.05.2015, 09:19 by Ashley Harriman Dodsworth
This thesis will argue that environmental rights are not new, that they are not the response of the modern world to unique contemporary problems. Contributing to two areas of scholarship within environmental political theory, that of re-examining the political canon and developing the concept of environmental rights, it will show that there is a tradition of engagement with the concept of rights to natural resources within past political theory. This argument will be proved through an examination of past political texts, drawn from thinkers as varied as the republican theorists Niccolò Machiavelli and James Harrington, the natural rights thinkers Hugo Grotius and John Locke, the eighteenth-century radicals and the leading theorists of the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. As a result of this analysis, it will be clear that previous political thinkers were aware of the problems inherent in securing the rights of all to finite resources. Through their work on rights, and specifically environmental rights, labour and property, they engaged with the contradictions at the heart of this concept. Yet the value of the previous work on environmental rights does not rest only on their awareness of these tensions but in their responses. These thinkers reimagined and reconceptualised environmental rights as limits to property; as justification for reclaiming and redistributing resources; as entitlements to ‘as good’ equivalents and as necessitating the exclusion of some from natural resources. This examination of awareness of these inherent tensions and the creative solutions offered in response shows the depth and variety of the past conceptions of environmental rights. The historically informed understanding of environmental rights that results is one which endeavours to balance the claims, equality and freedom of all in the face of finite resources, offering both a source of inspiration and variety of options for contemporary environmentalists.