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Nature as Subject: the problem of rights

Mihnea Tanasescu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Mihnea Tanasescu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Open Panel

Abstract

In 2008 Ecuador became the first country to recognize rights for nature in its constitution. Since then, others have tried to follow the example while others have tried to make good use of these historic provisions. This paper analyzes the case of Ecuador: what led up to the new constitution, what the reasons for giving nature rights have been, how it has been implemented so far, and what the philosophical and political implications of such a move are. After presenting the constitutional process and its aftermath, the paper focuses on the political and philosophical implications of the constitution, problematizing the idea of nature as a subject of rights and trying to understand both what it means and how it could be bettered. The very idea of rights for nature is very contested, and the paper will analyze what exactly ''rights'' means in this connection and how they are to be specified and used. The author argues for an enhanced role of ecology in any project of rights for nature, and signals several difficulties that need to be overcome in order to make this model a viable one for environmental responsibility. Political and human ecology need to better ground the idea of natural rights, and this paper is in part intended as a contribution.