Wesley Smith at National Review Online caught my attention while I was down here at Right Online with this piece on the question of nature rights.

The nature rights movement is real and extremely subversive to human freedom and thriving.

Most people think such a thing can never happen. But it already is happening. Bolivia and Ecuador have legalized the rights of nature, as have more than 30 U.S. cities, including Santa Monica. Moreover, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban-ki Moon has declared his support.

Smith is referring to an article at Commonweal which discusses the Pope’s upcoming encyclical and expectations that he may address the issue of climate change. For Smith’s part, he argues against such a move coming from the Vatican as it would cause a great schism because it would shatter the RCC’s intense focus on the unique dignity of man. I’ll leave that question for Ed, who is far more well versed on the habits and thinking of the Holy See than I ever will be. But Papal policy aside, there are some more general concerns about such a policy which should resonate with the layman.

Here’s some more from Commonweal.

When Pope Francis issues his encyclical on the environment this spring or early summer, some American Catholics will welcome it—but only some. Broadly speaking, Catholic opinion on climate change matches the American political spectrum, and thus the polemics around this polarizing issue are Catholic polemics as well. As numerous recent articles make clear, Francis is concerned about global warning. Catholics who oppose policies meant to halt or ameliorate climate change—Catholic climate skeptics—grant the pope’s authority in the moral realm, but dispute his expertise in climate science. Some have not hesitated to call him out on his views, at times harshly. One called Francis imprudent and apocalyptic; another said he was “an ally of the far left,” a “Marxist” who has been “snookered” by climate-change ideologues.

I suppose it all comes down to whether or not you believe that each and every word written or spoken by each and every Pope is the equivalent of text straight out of the bible or the Word of God. But historically it hasn’t been all that uncommon for at least some sectors of the faithful to disagree with the Papacy, though sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through. This is particularly true when discussing more “modern” matters of science or technology which were likely not thought much about – or even heard of – in biblical times. The case of Galileo comes to mind, and even the Vatican eventually came around on that one. The question of anthropogenic global warming might be a bit beyond the depth of His Holiness unless he’s receive some direct guidance from above to which we’re not privy.

But even beyond questions of Papal omniscience, we can observe this particular debate and return to the perennial question of whether or not “rights” can ever be assigned anywhere except to human beings. Whether you’re talking about ancient Greek philosophers or 20th century judicial findings, “rights” have traditionally been a fairly anthropocentric concept. We could spend the rest of the evening debating the relevance of noting that that the Earth, along with all its plants and animals, were a gift to man from God and, as such, should be treated as a precious thing. (Fair enough) But that still does not, as I read it, provide a sufficient ramp to make the jump from there to the point of saying that the government created by man should assign court-enforceable rights to creation.

Of course, now that I get to that point of the mental railroad tracks, it almost seems like I’m circling back around. I’ll toss it over to the readers to lend their insight.