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Reviews 319 Should. Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. By Christopher D. Stone. (Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1974, xvii + 103 pages, cloth $6.95, paper $2.95.) This is an important book. It should be read by all environmentalists, but especially those concerned about the landscape of the American West. Such a statement of the book’s value seems necessary at the beginning, to offset the possible negative reaction to the title. At first glance, the title might suggest an effusion by a super-romantic enthusiast who has gone the whole way in an anthropomorphic approach to nature. If this were true, the volume would hardly be worth the money or the time of the serious environmentalist. But this is not true. The book is a philosophically well considered proposal for new legal, economic, poli­ tical, and social approaches to the problems of harmonizing an industrialized society with a rapidly deteriorating environment. The author, Christopher Stone, is Professor of Law at the University of Southern California. His teaching and research have been particularly concerned with ethical and other humanistic aspects of the law. This essay originally appeared in The Southern California Law Review, but from the first it was not merely a scholarly article intended for a few professional specialists. Much more than that, it is a persuasive attempt to widen our perception of the nature of human interaction with the natural landscape. It proposes an entirely new approach to mankind’s relationship with natural objects and ecosystems. Stimulated by the Sierra Club’s legal battle to stop the proposed development by Walt Disney Enterprises, Inc., in the Mineral King Valley of the Sierra Nevadas, Stone used the case as a specific illustration of his theory that natural objects, in themselves, should have rights before the law. The Sierra Club ultimately lost its appeal, but three justices of the Supreme Court found in Stone’s article a significant new approach to such questions. The full argument cannot be rehearsed here, but some of Stone’s specific points might illustrate the nature of the essay. In proposing that natural objects themselves be given rights, Stone points out that now the law only recognizes the rights of the owners and users of such objects. Thus if a stream is polluted, downstream property owners might claim damages, be recompensed by the polluter, yet continue to allow the stream pollution. The rights of the stream itself, as a natural system, are not considered. Stone quickly disposes of the argument that natural objects are nonsentient and therefore cannot be endowed with rights. He points out that other non-sentient entities are given such rights, for example corporations, unborn children, even ships. He suggests that each widening of the concept of rights involves a widening and change in our consciousness. The holders and grantors of such rights have in the past in our society come to realize that non-white humans should have the same rights as whites, that women 320 Western American Literature should have the same rights as men, and that children are entitled to some rights and cannot be regarded as the freely disposable property of their parents. In each case, the change involved a change in perception, by the grantors, of the nature of those receiving the rights. A system for recognizing appropriate guardians for specific natural objects is also a part of Stone’s proposal. Under the guardian concept, he even has provision for the establishment of trust funds, into which damage claims may be paid. These funds then would be available to restore the damaged object or system and, interestingly, to meet any liabilities incurred by the object. On this point he reverses the situation and supposes the possibility that the object or system might damage the rights of others. Rivers flood, forests burn, and so on. As entities holding rights, rivers and forests may then also have restrictions and liabilities, as well. These few sample points can hardly give either the depth or scope of Professor Stone’s essay. They only illustrate the type of issue with which he deals. He ranges across the whole history of western civilization and draws not only on...


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pp. 319-320
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