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  • Writer's pictureLeura Dalla Riva

The rights of nature as an "ecological imperative": the contributions of G. Stutzin

An important theoretical contribution regarding the rights of nature, often ignored or unknown, comes from the work of Godofredo Stutzin in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the text "Un imperativo ecológico: reconocer los derechos de la Naturaleza"[1], in which the author argues that recognizing nature as an integral part of environmental conflicts is an imperative to guarantee the protection of ecosystems.

Stutzin argues that recognizing Nature as an entity endowed with rights is legally possible and responds to a practical need. It is a conditio sine qua non for halting the process of destruction of the biosphere generated by the "dehumanized technocracy" artificially created by human beings for an exploitation of Nature that has deepened not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively in recent centuries. This is because"Despite being a product and an integral part of nature, man has become disassociated from it to the point of becoming its enemy, waging an increasingly intense and extensive war of aggression against it". In this reality, the (artificial) "technosphere" imposes itself to overpower the (natural) biosphere (STUTZIN, 1984, p. 97 and following).

Still for the author, the hypertrophic development of the "technosphere", artificially created by humanity, has cost the integrity and vitality of the biosphere and promoted the material separation between man and nature, which has resulted in the latter's mental and spiritual detachment from the natural sphere of life. Stutzin also links war with the destruction of nature and peace with the search for ecological balance and affirms the parallel between the exploitation of nature by man and the exploitation of man by man: "where nature is exploited without mercy, so too is man and vice versa" (STUTZIN, 1984).

For Stutzin, the recognition of nature's rights is not an attack on human rights, but a guarantee that they will be protected from the pressures caused by dehumanized technocracy. As long as nature is considered only as a "good", it will remain subordinate to human interests and will have its value measured by those interests. Nature needs to have its "interests legally protected", in other words, it needs to have rights so that it can be effectively protected in the legal sphere through the promotion of ecological justice (STUTZIN, 1984).

For Stutzin, nature operates on the basis of two fundamental and complementary principles: diversity and balance. The diversity of life forms is maintained thanks to balance, which is sustained by the diversity of elements in the natural world. Nature's basic interest, therefore, consists of living and evolving according to these principles which, however, are attacked by human activities that replace diversity with uniformity and disrupt the balance of natural life (STUTZIN, 1984).

G. Stutzin lists some reasons for promoting ecological awareness and creating an opinion and action in defense of nature. To this end, the author presents the values surrounding the biosphere, which can be classified as: 1) "intrinsic values of Nature" and 2) "values for human beings". The latter can then be divided into (a) material values or (b) immaterial or ethical values:

a) el interés material inmediato de proteger el medio ambiente humano actual contra la contaminación y el deterioro de sus elementos naturales;

b) the immediate material interest of protecting this environment and its natural resources for the benefit of future human generations;

c) the inmaterial interest of conserving the natural world for affective (affinity and love), spiritual (aesthetic enjoyment and emotional experience) and intellectual (educational training and scientific study) reasons; and

d) the moral interest in caring for and defending the forms and conditions of life in nature in view of their intrinsic value (STUTZIN, 1984, p. 97 ff.).

The author defends the recognition of legal personality for nature, either because it is considered in its existence and real value or even as a legal fiction, as in the case of legal persons. Nature, unlike many legal entities whose interests conflict with the "general good", has a "natural" existence (in other words, it is not a human fiction) and fulfills an essential function in maintaining the planet and life. Nature, therefore, must be recognized as a sui generis legal entity that goes beyond the traditional limits of the law (STUTZIN, 1984). According to the author:

"Given its status as a counterpart of humanity at all levels, nature revisits the character of a legal person at once supranational and omnipresent whose rights can and must be asserted in all spheres, from the global to the local. It is a legal person of public law that can be likened to a 'Foundation for Life', which has been created by itself (or has been created, if you like, by a Creator) to make the planet Earth the home of a universe of living beings" (STUTZIN, 1984, p. 104).

Nature, therefore, should no longer be considered just an interest to be protected, but should act as the subject of the protected interest as a "foundation for life", because, like other legal foundations, the Earth would have a heritage aimed at a goal that includes all the animate and non-animate elements of the natural world (STUTZIN, 1984).

Stutzin proposes that Nature should have its interests represented in environmental conflicts by "Nature's attorneys", "Nature's public defenders" or even "Nature's defense councils", i.e. autonomous public bodies, at global, national and local level, that represent Nature with broad powers and full independence. The author also points out that, as Nature is still seen in the guise of a "human environment", its protection by the law and by the authorities that are supposed to protect it serve the interests of the human community and not necessarily of Nature itself (STUTZIN, 1984). Thus the author argues:

"Like every legal person, nature requires representatives to enforce its rights in practice, complementing the capacity for enjoyment with that for exercise. Of course, these "attorneys for nature" must identify with the interests of those they represent [...] Finally, it will be necessary to create autonomous public bodies, at global, national and local levels, to represent nature with broad powers and full "de jure" and "de facto" independence, without prejudice to the intervention, whether complementary or subsidiary, of the aforementioned representatives. These "Public Defenders of Nature" or "Councils for the Defense of Nature", as they might be called among us, will also be responsible for carrying out the functions of an "ombudsman" who will collect and duly enforce the ecological concerns of the community." (STUTZIN, 1984, p. 107)

The author points out, however, that the recognition of legal personality for Nature is an evolving process, slow and complex, but possible, given that many things that were considered objects over time have come to be recognized as subjects, such as women, slaves, etc.

Access Stutzin's full text here.

[1] Stutzin's arguments had already been developed in previous texts, such as "Should we Recognize Nature's Claim to Legal Rights?" from 1976.


STUTZIN, Godofredo. Un imperativo ecológico: reconocer los derechos de la naturaleza. Amb. Y Des. v. 1, n° 1, págs. 97-114, dic. 1984

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