August 28, 1998
From Who Owns the Environment?
Edited by Peter Hill and Roger Meiners, Rowman and Littlefield, 1998
(This chapter draws from Elizabeth Brubaker’s Property Rights in the Defence of Nature, published by Earthscan in 1995.)
When the Canadian government proposed entrenching property rights in the Constitution in 1991, the mainstream environmental community expressed virtually unanimous opposition. Career environmentalists objected that stronger rights would weaken government’s authority to legislate and shift undue power to the judiciary. Further, they asserted that property rights would confer a right to pollute. Such concerns betrayed an ignorance of government’s role in environmental degradation and a profound misunderstanding of legal history. For centuries, property rights have empowered people to protect the environment. More often than not, it has been the legislated erosion of property rights that has allowed industries to pollute.