Does Nature Have Rights?

We all want a prosperous future, and we have rights to help us achieve that. We also want a sustainable planet. Are these two desires incompatible?

Human Rights

The issue of the rights that we have, as human beings, is one of great importance. In the founding documents of the United States, for example. mention is made to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights lays out various human rights like free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms, and several others.

Additionally, there are arguments over what other human rights should be. Should health care be a right? Does every person have the right to a job? A home?

Importance of Nature

From an ecological standpoint, we know that nature is very important. The vast array of life fits together in a great pattern. Each species has a niche, or a role, to play in making the world work properly. If you upset that delicate balance, it can have catastrophic impacts on all living things.

We humans are in the process of disturbing that balance. Through growing numbers, humans are crowing out other animals. We are clearing forest in order to grow crops for food or to support animal farming. Many species are endangered, and several have already gone extinct.

Humans and Nature

Tying these two ideas together, do we as humans have a right to have access to nature? Studies show that humans benefit from time in a natural setting. Time away from cities, and artificial noise, calms the nerves and leads to a more positive outlook on life. Should we all haveĀ  access to a place we can go to escape urban life? To forget, if only for a little while, the hustle and bustle of modern life?

Moreover, does nature itself have a right to exist? Should there be areas set aside that will not be used for human development? Not used for further cities, or for farming or other human-related activities?

There are several examples of the grandeur of nature that have been set aside as national parks or forests. These include the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, and many others. But beyond these natural wonders, should there be some land that exists to maintain biodiversity, and as a refuge for plants and animals, and the ecosystem in general?

Or is it the case that any parcel of land exists only for humans to use as necessary? If space or natural resources become scarce enough, can any and every place be used? Are the needs of humans more important than the needs of any other species on the planet?

Does nature have rights? Or are rights only reserved for humans?

Related questions: How can we maintain wonder? What is your retreat from the world? How can we appreciate life more? What is keeping us from sustaining the planet?

What Is Beauty?

There are many things that can be considered beautiful. For example, you might consider a painting a thing of great beauty. A particular song, a pair of shoes, a deer in the woods, an elegant theorem — all might be considered beautiful.

But what exactly does that mean?

Studies have been done where people rate the attractiveness of faces shown to them. As it turns out, people tend to prefer a face that is more symmetrical. Why? The presumption is that symmetry denotes health, which means a good candidate for successful mating. What we find beautiful is encoded in our genes as an evolutionary strategy.

Or is it? It seems that notions of beauty change over time. In the middle ages, women as depicted in paintings tended to be larger than the wafer-thin models that stride the catwalks.

Are we simply programmed by our society as to what constitutes beauty? The people we see in magazines and on television… are they in our media because they are beautiful, or do we consider them to be beautiful because they are in our media?

Similarly, we can consider the art world. Imagine a particular painting is prominently displayed in a museum, or is sold for a large sum of money, or is presented in an art history class. Might we not start to assume it has great beauty?

Some people describe ideas as being beautiful. But what does beauty mean in that case? Does it simply mean that it is useful? Some might describe a theory that explains a complicated idea in a few short words or equations as elegant. Is “beauty” in this case just a synonym for “simple”? And do we mean the same thing when talking about art, or ideas, or faces?

What is beauty?

Related questions: Why do we like what we like? How much of our thoughts are our own? How important is the artist to art?