Critical Reflections on Ownership

Critical Reflections on Ownership

Critical Reflections on Human Rights and the Environment series

Mary Warnock

In this thought provoking work, Mary Warnock explores what it is to own things, and the differences in our attitude to what we own and what we do not. Starting from the philosophical standpoints of Locke and Hume, the ownership of gardens is presented as a prime example, exploring both private and common ownership, historically and autobiographically. The author concludes that, besides pleasure and pride, ownership brings a sense of responsibility for what is owned and a fundamental question is brought to light: can we feel the same responsibility for what we do not, and never can, own? Applying this question to the natural world and the planet as a whole, a realistic and gradualist perspective is offered on confronting global environmental degradation. Critical Reflections on Ownership examines the effect of the Romantic Movement on our attitudes to nature and is a salient commentary on the history of ideas.

Chapter 7: Taking responsibility for the planet

Mary Warnock

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, legal philosophy


There exists one enormous part of the planet which is owned by nobody, which is almost totally wilderness and yet for which those who work in it and care for it take complete joint responsibility. This is Antarctica, the largest continent in the world, which contains within it more than 70 per cent of all the fresh water that there is. It is a vast natural laboratory, where 28 different countries are working side by side in more than 40 research stations; some nations have made territorial claims, but none of these has been recognised. This is in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, under whose terms the different countries work, and which the UK was the first to ratify in 1961. An updated treaty has recently been ratified. This treaty has been described as international law at its best. Under the terms of the treaty, anyone leaving Chile, from which Antarctica is reached, is briefed that they must take nothing out of the continent when they leave, and they must leave nothing behind. Absolutely all waste material, including sewage and food waste, must be put in bags, frozen and sent back to Chile. Speaking in the House of Lords in support of the updated treaty, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean told the House of his expedition two years earlier to climb Mount Vinson, in the interior, where it is so cold that no animals, not even bacteria, can survive.

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