Environmental rights can refer to the access of individuals or communities to unspoiled environmental resources such as land, shelter, water, food and air. Not only that but it can also refer to purely ecological rights such as the right for an animal or plant species to survive or for a person to enjoy a pollution free landscape. As such it can be said that the survival of an individual, a community or even a nation is inextricably linked to the environment.
Access to environmental resources is a right that has been exercised by society since before recorded history. Access to land and resources has been the cause of numerous wars and conflicts due to the need of society for more and more resources as it continues to grow and expand. While it is true that all cultures and societies have the basic human right to survival which is why they use environmental resources to survive it is the overuse and exploitation of these resources that presents an issue.
While it is true that some resources in the environment are renewable to an extent such as trees and certain animal species overexploitation of these resources results in them being unable to sufficiently renew themselves in number resulting in a subsequent decline and damage to the local or even global ecological balance.
Take for example the issue of deforestation, while people do have the right to jobs as well as materials for shelters the resulting ecological destruction that followed due to unsustainable logging practices resulted in a denuding of the forest that destroyed the possibility for future generations to enjoy them as well as resulted in landslides during the rainy season which was caused by the lack of trees to hold back the mud. An example of this particular situation is what happened in the Philippines on December 2003 on the island of Lyte (Ecologist 2003).
The landslides were a result of massive deforestation in the area due to the local populace pursuing methods of unsustainable logging practices. It must be noted that the Philippines is a third world country and as such a large percentage of the population subsist on $1 a day. Jobs in the logging industry are very lucrative for the locals due to the price that wood commands in the global market(Economist 2003). While these individuals are pursuing their basic human right to survival by having jobs the resulting ecological destruction due to their actions is nearly irreversible and could mean the destruction of their local environment.
Another example of the abuse of the environment would be the case of the blue fin tuna where demand for the fish has caused its numbers to dwindle to nearly 2% of its original numbers since the 1980’s (Chambers 2010). Bluefin tuna is a species of tuna prized for its taste, texture and appearance not to mention the price it demands in the international market however it is these things that is prized for that has driven the fish to near extinction at the hands of the fishing industry.
At a recently concluded conference at Qatar 175 nations met to find a solution to the growing threat of extinction for the blue fin tuna in the form of a temporary fishing ban to allow the species to grow in number and then be fished. Unfortunately such an effort was undermined by several representatives most notably the representative from Japan whose goal was to ensure that the global trade in bluefin tuna remains as is since Japan is a major consumer of the species. The result was an international stalemate between those that wished to save the species and those that want the trade to remain unabated regardless of the inevitable cost.
Few cultures are as dependant on the bluefin tuna as Japan, with its population consuming nearly 80% of the bluefin tuna generated by the fishing industry it is undoubtedly the largest consumer of the species and the primary cause of the overfishing since no matter how much of the fish is supplied the demand grows larger and larger (Annala 2009). The reasoning of the Japanese is that blue fin tuna is a staple food for them and its consumption is also a cultural tradition.
The reason they were against a fishing ban was due to the fact that a loss of the fish in the Japanese food industry would not only ruin the local fish markets in Japan but would also deny them their right to a cultural tradition. It is in this particular case that shows a culture assert a human right over that of an environmental one even if doing so would wind up causing the extinction of a species. From this and other similar cases wherein people destroy nature asserting their human rights to do so one must wonder whether human rights should take precedence or should environmental rights trump human rights for the sake of the environment?
This paper will seek to explore the different reasons for the assertion of environmental rights, the current state of the natural environment and will seek to explain why environmental rights should take precedence over that of human ones. Environmental Rights The Right to a clean and healthy environment Environmental rights actually go hand-in-hand with civil and political rights as such violations in environmental rights can in effect cause violations of human rights.
Take for example the cases of lung disease and cancer that occur in individuals living near or working at factories that continuously belch soot, carbon dioxide and a variety of other noxious gases into the atmosphere. Not only does this cause a negative environmental impact but it also results in the sickness and possible death of several hundred people which is in direct violation to their right to life. The need for a clean and healthy environment is an important one however in some cases human rights seem to take precedence over that of environmental ones even if the end result is potentially destructive for humans.
To prove this statement take for example the Kyoto Protocol, its basis was to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere by cars and factories this was to curtail the rapidly increasing effects of global warming. Unfortunately though the U. S. which is one of the largest if not the largest producer of greenhouse gases refused to be apart of it. This was due to the fact that the measures states in the protocol would have affected the numerous factories, businesses and even motorists that rely on greenhouse gas producing cars or equipment.
By signing the protocol it would have curtailed the rights of numerous individuals and would have also created a political backlash. Not only that but it is doubtful that the motorist culture that is part of American society would have allowed a limitation to their right to travel in the manner that they wished to. The end result of American noncompliance to the Kyoto Protocol meant that other countries that follow America’s lead in international affairs also did not join it making the Protocol useless.
As a result global greenhouse gas emissions went unabated in the countries that it mattered most in. Leading to an almost karmic situation in the U. S. and in other countries wherein the onslaught of deadly heat waves caused the deaths of hundreds of individuals as well as prolonged droughts and water shortages leading government leaders to believe that the policies they undertook in previous years regarding the environment may have been slightly misguided (New Scientist 2004).
Through these examples it is shown that asserting minor individual rights for the sake of comfort and convenience at the cost of ignoring the environmental ramifications of such actions would create inevitable problems of those involved. The environmental right to a healthy and clean environment takes precedence over most other rights since without a stable environment the risk to human life is severe. Also the actions of the U. S.
can actually be stated as a violation of the human right to life since through their inaction they inadvertently caused the death of numerous individuals that could have been prevented if earlier action had been undertaken. The Right to Water The right to water is one of most basic and fundamental of human environmental rights. Most communities in the world today need constant access to it if they are to survive. In some cases though this fundamental right clashes with certain human rights namely the right to ownership as well as the right to sustain oneself.
The river Nile is one of the most heavily contested rivers in the world due to the fact that it is one of the only sources of fresh water in that world. As a result numerous countries notably Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya are fighting for the right to source their water supply from the river. Citing the fact that it runs through their respective territories the numerous countries involved would like to source their water supply in an equal sharing scheme as a basic human environmental right.
Egypt which sources nearly 87% of the water from the Nile river basin is opposed to this idea due to the fact that it would supposedly affect their farmers ability to grow crops and would deny their own people the right to sufficient potable water (Klawitter 2005). Since Egypt is the largest of the countries involved in this dispute it has both the military and economic advantage to sustain a prolonged conflict with the other countries involved and has repeatedly threatened them with military intervention should any of the countries unilaterally source their water without the prior knowledge of Egypt (Klawitter 2005).
This action by Egypt effectively denies the diverse communities in the other countries involved in the dispute the environmental right to source their water using the rights of their own citizens as an excuse to do so. In reality though based upon studies conducted in the region there is actually more than enough water present in the Nile basin to supply both Egypt and the other countries involved with enough water (Roskar 2000). With an 87% share in the use of the Nile river Egypt actually has an excess of water in the form of numerous dams and reservoirs it has put up.
Why so then does it not want to allow other countries to source water from the Nile as well? The reason for this is due to the fact that since the time of the ancient Egyptians the Nile river has been the source of success of the Egyptian people. Its predictive seasonal flooding enabled ancient Egypt to grow the necessary crops needed to support a large population and an expansion into other territories. The Egypt of today knows that control of the Nile river means control over the region thus by limiting its usage to other countries it in effect dominates the region.
Though this may not be a case of human rights trampling over that of environmental ones it does show that in some occasions states exercise the right of control over a particular resource only to meet its own ends resulting in the denial of an environmental right which in effect violates the right to life and livelihood in the communities that are denied this resource since without sufficient water most communities would not be able to survive let alone thrive. The Right to a Sustainable Livelihood
The right to a job and to do business has been a fundamental right of humanity since through it the current system of economics has been born however in some instances this right can cause irreparable harm to the environment. An example of this is the incident in the country of Cameroon in the Miatta region 300 kilometers from the capital Yaounde. It is in this area that incursions by a subsidiary of a French company, Cameroonian Forest Corporation, have devastated the local ecology through their actions of supposed illegal logging that destroyed the numerous fruit trees that villagers relied on as sources of income (Cerutti 2008).
In 2002 Friends of the Earth France along with several villages filed a lawsuit against SA Rougier which was the parent firm of the Cameroonian Forest Corporation. The case though was thrown out due to a stipulation in French law that states that in order for a person to be found guilty in a crime done abroad the public prosecutor in the country must file a court case as well. Unfortunately due to the intense amount of corruption present within the country such an act wasn’t possible and the case was dismissed (Cerutti 2008).
In this particular case the right of SA Rougier to conduct business effectively denied the villagers in the Miatta region from their right to conduct a sustainable level of business. The way in which SA Rougier conducted its form of unsustainable business ruined the local ecology and violated the villagers basic human rights however due to technicalities in the law were not effectively prosecuted for their actions. What this shows that there is a distinct lack in effective international law that punishes violators of environmental rights.
When it comes to violations of human rights there are effective international laws in place to punish those responsible even in the countries themselves there are laws which protect the individual but from this particular case it shows that what is present right now is insufficient since corporations, governments and even individuals are capable of violating environmental rights with impunity with little effective action against it.
Animals and plants themselves have environmental rights to existence in that they are recognized as an important resource of the planet and their continued sustainability is important to both the local and global ecology. In some cases though the human right to livelihood has taken precedence over the environmental right of existence of animals and plants leading to a situation wherein the continued existence of certain animal and plant species is in danger.
One of the latest examples of the use of the right to livelihood as an excuse to violate environmental rights is the case of the bluefin tuna. The bluefin tuna industry is a $7. 2 billion dollar industry which provides jobs to hundreds of individuals throughout several regions in the world notably in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. One particular aspect of this portion of the fishing industry is that individual bluefin tuna can be worth thousands of dollars ranging from lows such as $16,500 to a record breaking $180,000.
As such fishermen can actually make their entire years wages within the span of one month as compared to capturing other varieties of fish that don’t command such a high price. It has been estimated that the current stocks of bluefin tuna has gone down by 97% since the 1970’s when the fish stock was still abundant (Chambers 2010). This is due to massive overfishing over the span of for decades which severely depleted the stock to near extinction levels.
The problem of overfishing all boils down to one thing namely money since people make money from the fishing, processing and exportation of bluefin tuna. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) actually set a cap of 15,000 tons for all bluefin tuna captured this is to ensure that there will still be viable breeding stock left over to ensure the survival of the species unfortunately the amount that is actually caught is close to 60,000 tons which is several times the amount prescribed by the ICCAT (Chambers 2010).
This would explain why the population of the fish is declining since the industry captures more than what is allowed. Tuna industry officials have said that they are adhering to the restrictions imposed upon them by the ICCAT however they mention that the capturing of tuna is at times a free for all and that while they may adhere to the policies other unscrupulous individuals may not resulting in overfishing in certain areas. One aspect to consider is that should a ban on fishing be put into place what would happen then to the individuals who work for the bluefin tuna fishing industry?
They’d be all out of jobs and with the current economic downturn causing fewer jobs to be available few world leaders would like to come back to their home countries saying that they were able to save a species but caused thousands of people to lose their jobs. Not only that but a ban on bluefin tuna would affect not only the fishing industry but also the numerous other industries that rely on a steady supply of tuna to supply their customers such as restaurants, hotels and markets (Havice 2010).
A ban on bluefin tuna fishing would have far reaching consequences and would result in the collapse of multiple other industries so it is understandable that there are a lot of individuals that are reluctant to so readily impose a ban since this would have a considerable backlash in the end (Limburg 2009). As a result of the actions of the fishing industry that refuses to place a temporary ban on the fishing of bluefin tuna the end result is the potential extinction of an entire species due to the numerous companies and individuals exerting their right to a livelihood.
The end result of which would be the eventual loss if an industry as well as a species due to short sightedness and the willingness to put human rights ahead of environmental rights which in the end results in greater eventual problems. Current State of the Natural Environment The current state of the natural environment is such that due to human overconsumption, overpopulation and a rapid industrialization of numerous countries all for the sake of progress the environment has in turn suffered.
While there may be naysayers citing that the problems with the environment are not at all connected with human interference statistical data shows otherwise. For one thing the temperature of the world in the preindustrial era was several degrees lower than it is today. The seas were cleaner and not full of garbage, the air that is being breathed outside did not contain the risk of pollutants and the environment was not ravaged due to systematic deforestation and overconsumption of numerous species leading to their extinction (Suwanwaiphatthana 2010).
What must be understood it that with the way the current environment is developing in a few decades time the natural wonders that are seen today will not be seen by the next generation. That in itself is a violation of their rights. Before they are even born they are denied the right to clean air, the right to unpolluted water, the right to an unspoiled landscape and most of all the right to live in a clean and healthy world.
The fate of humanity is inextricably linked to that of the environment as such ensuring its health and abundance takes precedent over any other concern due to the fact that if the environment is damaged beyond repair as a result of our negligence then in all likelihood the human species will follow soon after. Conclusion Based on the findings of this paper it can be said that environmental rights should trump that of human rights due to the fact that since environmental and human rights are so inextricably linked the violation of environmental rights will eventually lead to violations of human rights.
This is due to the fact that humans as a species are dependent on the environment for survival as such any major interference in the local environment will find its way back to humans and cause even greater problems than what started. The abuse of environmental rights by states should be stopped as compared to the case of Egypt and the Nile river since in cases such as this while not leading to any form of humanitarian abuse in their home countries does lead to instances of death and famine in others.
The environment should be protected at all costs since its continued destruction will lead to that of humanity’s. As such any human right that is expressed such as the right to livelihood when in direct conflict with the environment should be overturned in favor of the environment. As evidenced by the case of the bluefin tuna and that of logging in forests the ability to abuse a right is present and as such its use should be limited and if abused should be condemned and punished.
This is all in a need to uphold the greatest of human rights, that of the right to life. Since if the environment is continually abused and destroyed the ability of the planet to sustain life will disappear and as such the present generation would deny the succeeding generations the right to live in a world that can support them. List of References Cerutti, P. , & Tacconi, L. (2008). Forests, Illegality, and Livelihoods: The Case of Cameroon. Society & Natural Resources, 21(9), 845-853. (2004). Deforestation causes deadly mudslides in the Philippines.
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