Sustainability and Property Rights in Environmental Resources

Environmental Ethics 29 (4):389-401 (2007)
Abstract
How do we weigh the claims of current and future people when current exercise of rights to property conflict with sustainability? Are property rights over theseresources more limited due to the claims of posterity? Lockean property rights allow no right to degrade resources when doing so threatens the basic needs offuture generations. A stewardship conception of property rights can be developed, providing a justification for sustainable management legislation even whensuch law conflicts with the rights an owner would have, were the resource under more full-blown ownership. A protection indicator can be developed that is sensitive to a range of empirical factors such as scarcity, renewability, importance of the resource, and seriousness and reversibility of potential harm. The stewardship conception of rights over environmental resources can be applied in policy settings, for example, in decisions over emissions limits and land-use patterns. Such harnessing of Lockean intuitions to argue for environmental protection is in sharp contrast to Locke’s usual employment by those keen to show that such protection violates owners’ rights
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