When asked to talk about “the environment”, what do you think of first? Eurobarometer reported answers that included climate change, pollution in towns and cities, protecting nature, disasters caused by humans such as oil spills, industrial accidents, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, and using up natural resources. It is no surprise that the issue of most concern varied between countries, for instance water pollution in the Baltic Sea for citizens of the Baltic states, while in Malta and Bulgaria it was air pollution.
This widespread concern for the state of the environment is very recent. In different cultures and throughout history there have been numerous religious and philosophical traditions regarding the relationship between human beings and the rest of nature. In the so-called “developed” world the general attitude has, until recently, been one of domination and exploitation. The wider public began to take serious notice of the extent of our destruction of the natural environment only in the early 1960s.
People realise that we cannot dump our wastes and expect them to disappear. It is obvious that what happens in one place impacts on another and that whatever we do – mine, log, build or farm – our actions have consequences both locally and globally, now and in the future. Thus our concerns about the environment cannot be separated from concerns about humanity and must be grounded in principles of equity, rights and responsibility. Here follow a few examples of how impacts on the environment are related to human rights: