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The Anti-Human “Rights of Nature” Movement

Environmentalism is growing increasingly antii-human. Just look at what Milwaukee County did.

Environmentalism is growing increasingly anti-human. The “nature rights” movement epitomizes the misanthropy. If the suppose rights of Nature (with a capital N) were ever enforced legally–human thriving would be throttled by elevating the entire natural world to quasi-personhood status deserving — at minimum — equal consideration with humans.

Moreover, nature rights laws generally allow anyone to sue to enforce nature’s supposed rights, which would mean that human enterprise would be subject to lawfare by the most extreme environmentalists.

Milwaukee County has jumped on the bandwagon. From a formal “Resolution Supporting the Nature Rights Movement:”

WHEREAS, major bodies of water within Milwaukee County, including the Menominee River, Milwaukee River, and Fox River as well as Lake Michigan, provide essential biodiversity and wildlife habitats; and
WHEREAS, these bodies of water require a “rights of nature” protection, which will help Milwaukee County to be the healthiest in the State of Wisconsin due to its restoration as a natural wonder; and
WHEREAS, the “rights of nature” policy is symbolic in nature, which recognizes Milwaukee County’s bodies of water as integral and essential to the environment, as this policy returns rivers and lakes to its their natural purpose; and
WHEREAS, the Committee on Community, Environment, and Economic Development, at its meeting of September 11, 2023, recommended adoption of File No. 47 23-785 as amended (vote 4-0); now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors hereby supports the “rights of nature” movement across waterways and bodies of water in Milwaukee County for protection and ensuring human activities do not interfere with nature and its ability to be healthy, robust, and resilient.

Almost anything we do, at least in some fashion, “interferes with nature,” including controlling vermin, preventing floods, and building housing projects.

Waterways can, should be, and are protected from pollution and improper uses through proper regulations. But granting “rights” to nature — including geological features — profoundly undermines the concept of “rights” itself by removing it from exclusively applying to the human realm. Moreover, if “nature” has rights, so does everything within it, from guppies, to mosquitoes, to weeds.

I know that, in some sense, this is virtue signaling. It is non-binding legally and includes the now obligatory nod in this issue to the wisdom of indigenous people. But it is a worrisome sign. Until and unless opponents of such nonsense begin taking the movement as seriously as its supporters do, the nature rights movement will continue to make inroads large and small until human enterprise is throttled–which, of course, is the point.

Cross-posted at National Review.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.

The Anti-Human “Rights of Nature” Movement