These assumptions have become ‘sacred’, despite all evidence to the contrary – inequality, poverty and environmental destruction. Because it is unquestioningly accepted that these assumptions are ‘true’, the outcome is that it is assumed that the state does not need to get involved to make sure owners do indeed behave rationally and in the public interest.
In addition, it is assumed that state monitoring would be ‘expensive’ and ‘invasive’. Given that private property rights and specifically the right to destroy have created so many local, national, regional and global risks, it is irrational that the actions of owners of freehold land are not effectively managed and monitored. That this is just a cop-out is obvious from the fact that all Western countries happily maintain expensive and invasive systems to police the actions of its citizens receiving some form of social support. In today’s world, government excuses along the lines of “it is too expensive to monitor and to invasive to monitor” must be interrogated when it comes to the right to destroy.
Evidence of environmental destruction is everywhere and sustainability, in reality, is currently just a ‘buzzword’ with no underlying legal constraints that would put hard limits on both biomass extraction and destruction of ecosystems for human use. The right to destroy needs to be properly constrained when it comes to nature, or we will all face drastic consequences in the very near future. The costs of not managing and monitoring the right to destroy are much higher.
Of course, it would be difficult to create binding legal agreements both nationally and internationally that constrain the right to destroy nature, but precedents already exist when it comes to artwork and cultural heritage. The 2030 target of protecting 30% of terrestrial ecosystems and 30% of the oceans being currently considered for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework would be a step in this direction, but anything negotiated under the Convention on Biological Diversity is non-binding and we need binding targets and binding limits.
If we want to maintain a societal model with widespread private property rights, then the right to destroy the environment needs to be eliminated in international and national law. Adherence needs to be monitored and enforced and yes, this will be expensive and invasive.
Our Modernising CITES model for making the legal trade in wild flora and fauna sustainable is such a model – it includes both expensive and invasive monitoring (paid for by business who profit from the legal trade, not governments). Alternatively, the right to exploit nature will have to be severely constrained – this would be a return to a societal model based on taboos and commons management principles. Despite this being a valid approach to stopping the destruction that is undermining both the integrity of ecosystems and our own basis for existence, such a drastic departure from private property rights to a ‘commons’ system does not seem feasible at this current time.