Property Rights, Future Generations and the Destruction and Degradation of Natural Resources

Moral Philosophy and Politics 2 (1):107-139 (2015)
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The paper argues that members of future generations have an entitlement to natural resources equal to ours. Therefore, if a currently living individual destroys or degrades natural resources then he must pay compensation to members of future generations. This compensation takes the form of “primary goods” which will be valued by members of future generations as equally useful for promoting the good life as the natural resources they have been deprived of. As a result of this policy, each generation inherits a “Commonwealth” of natural resources plus compensation. It is this inherited “Commonwealth” which members of that generation must then pass on to members of the next generation. Once this picture is accepted, the standard bundle of property rights is problematic, for it takes the owner of a constituent of the Commonwealth to have the right to “waste, destroy or modify” that item at will. This paper therefore presents a revised set of property rights which takes seriously the idea that each generation has an equal claim on the resources that nature has bequeathed us, whilst allowing certain effects on those natural resources by each generation, and a degree of exclusive use of those natural resources owned by an individual.
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