The 10th of December is international human rights day, and not-coincidentally, the day on which the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. This year, the prize is being awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, presumably for their important work in Syria which eventually lead to Syria becoming a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention. But I digress...

Writing about human rights is hard. It's hard because in a world in which humans are literally consuming the Earth, it seems selfish and egotistical to talk about human rights. Whether you subscribe to the concept of natural rights or not, talking about human rights carries with it the implication of the primacy of humans in the grand scheme of things, and anyone who has paid attention to the degradation of the natural environment will tell you that human self-importance has not been good for it.

But I take a different view. We talk about "saving the planet" a lot, but that's not really what we're doing. We can degrade the environment all we want, the planet will keep on keeping on, and will continue to do so long after we have expired. What we're really trying to do, is keep this planet easily inhabitable by humans. I might even go so far as to say optimally inhabitable by humans. Whether we realise it or not, preserving a healthy planet is essential to the perpetuation of human civilisation. So "saving the planet" actually gets at the very core of human rights. It speaks to the most fundamental right of all - our right to life.

When I was at university, I took a course called "Contemporary Diplomacy". One thing that my lecturer once told me was "never insist that people do the right things for the right reasons, so long as you get the right result". A rights-based approach to saving the planet may be just what we need. It takes the multi-pronged approach of appealing to the human ego, as well as the cult of individualism while simultaneously giving us the fulcrum from which we can move the world into a more ecologically-balanced state.

It wouldn't be so much of a stretch to go from a "right to life" to also include a "right to food", or a "right to clean water". Then we can move to a "right to a (synthetic) toxin-free environment", and perhaps eventually a "right to a carbon-neutral and sustainable society". The tractability to human psychology of the rights-based approach may be just what the environmental movement needs more of, because it is losing the desperate battle with more selfish needs like economic growth - which, thankfully, is difficult to mould into an existential problem, making it difficult to frame it as a right.

As the saying goes, two wrongs doesn't make a right - but perhaps writing enough rights just might right the wrongs of the past.