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The logic of ecosystems: capitalism, rights and the law of ‘ecosystem services’

Bruce Pardy

Keywords: law; ecosystem service; capitalism; environmental right; market; ecosystem; negative right; property right; natural selection; evolution

‘Ecosystem services’ consist of natural processes on which humans depend, such as photosynthesis, waste decomposition, pollination, and water and air purification. Current proposals for the targeted protection of ecosystem services ignore the logic of ecosystems: interactions between organisms are driven by competition for resources in a contest for survival, in which successful adaptations are responses to system conditions. Preserving or protecting ecosystem services is not possible without protecting the operation of the system within which they exist. Ecosystems have no purposes, interests or objectives, but only dynamics and consequences. While changes to ecosystems can harm human interests, ecosystems themselves cannot be harmed, but only changed. Therefore, the question for environmental law is not whether ecosystem services deserve protection, but whether people have a right to ecosystem services. Contrary to prevailing academic opinion, the answer to this question lies within the principles of capitalism. In its pure form, capitalism is a system of governance based upon the logic of ecosystems, modified in only one main respect: in interactions between people, physical interference is prohibited. Competition is thus transformed from physical struggle into a contest for commercial survival. The principle of non-interference is the conceptual foundation of negative human rights, including self-ownership, property rights, and the freedom to contract in markets. The question is: does the principle of non-interference mean that people have a right to restrict other people from changing ecosystems?

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