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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 25, 2014

Property Rights, Future Generations and the Destruction and Degradation of Natural Resources

  • Dan Dennis EMAIL logo


The paper argues that members of future generations have an entitlement to natural resources equal to ours. Therefore, if a currently living individual destroys or degrades natural resources then he must pay compensation to members of future generations. This compensation takes the form of “primary goods” (in roughly Rawls’ sense) which will be valued by members of future generations as equally useful for promoting the good life as the natural resources they have been deprived of. As a result of this policy, each generation inherits a “Commonwealth” of natural resources plus compensation (plus, perhaps, other things donated to the Commonwealth). It is this inherited “Commonwealth” which members of that generation must then pass on to members of the next generation.

Once this picture is accepted, the standard bundle of property rights is problematic, for it takes the owner of a constituent of the Commonwealth (e.g. that gallon of oil) to have the right to “waste, destroy or modify” that item at will. This paper therefore presents a revised set of property rights which takes seriously the idea that each generation has an equal claim on the resources that nature has bequeathed us, whilst allowing certain effects on those natural resources by each generation, and a degree of exclusive use of those natural resources owned by an individual.

Correction Statement

Correction added after ahead-of-print publication on mopp-2013-0007: The DOI of this article has been corrected to: 10.1515/mopp-2013-0007.


Thanks to: participants at the Climate change and global justice conference in Berne 2009; students that I have discussed this paper with; two anonymous reviewers for Moral Philosophy and Politics; and, especially, Andrea Lechler.


The ahead-of-print-version of this article was published under the DOI jmpp-2013-0007.

Published Online: 2014-09-25
Published in Print: 2015-05-01

© 2015 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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