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Keeping Nature Alive: From Moral Motivations to Legal Implications

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Ethics form the foundation of law, from the very origins of jurisprudence, to the development of laws into constitutions and statutes, to its application in judicial opinions, case law and other means of enforcement. Ethics asks us, as an individual and as a society: what is just? What is good and bad, or right and wrong, and when does responsibility attach? Law, as a system of rules that guides behavior through appropriate institutions, includes positive and negative rights, and reciprocal duties. It describes and enforces ethics, what a particular society deems to be right and wrong. For purposes of this article, ethics will refer to the realm of public ethics, or the ethics of a society.

Through comparative law, the focus of this article will be ethical principles of environmental conservation as found in constitutions and judicial opinions from around the world, guided by the ethical principles of truth; democracy; justice and equity; and respect and love, supported by the work of the Biosphere Ethics Initiative. It will begin with a comparative legal analysis of constitutions, the very framework of the nation-state (hereinafter, “state”). A constitution textualizes what is just and unjust, and offers protections for the vulnerable.

But ethics is much more than symbology and words, ethics is action. Therefore, this article will then give an overview of judicial opinions from states and international courts and show how those constitutions, and those ethical principles, are, or are not, being implemented. Some states carry more weight than others on decisions outside of their jurisdiction, but international principles of law are sources of law under many constitutions, as well as under the Statute of the International Court of Justice.

From these comparative analyses, this article will show that ethics that support a flourishing and sustainable future are already found in existing law and practice, and how they are continuing to expand and emerge in greater extent with each constitutional revision and judicial opinion.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Globalisation and Ecological Integrity in Science and International Law
    This volume returns to one of the major themes of the Global Ecological Integrity Group: the interface between integrity as a scientific concept and a number of important issues in ethics, international law and public health. The main scholars who have worked on these topics over the years return to re-examine these dimensions from the viewpoint of global governance.
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