2001 volume 19(5) pages 695 – 711

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O'Neill J, 2001, "Property, care, and environment" Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 19(5) 695 – 711

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Property, care, and environment

John O'Neill

Received 7 December 1999; in revised form 2 February 2001

Abstract. One influential approach to environmental problems holds that their solution requires the definition of full liberal property rights over goods that will enable their value to be registered in actual or hypothetical markets. How adequate is that solution? In this paper I offer reasons to be sceptical, by placing recent liberal arguments in the context of older debates about property, in particular those concerned with the distribution of care. Although proposals for the extension of liberal property rights over environmental goods often appeal to arguments from the need to distribute care, I show that there are conflicts between them. Care for particular places that embody the life of a community that has an existence over time is often expressed through resistance to liberal property rights. We express mutual obligations to members of a community through a denial of exclusive property rights over certain common goods. Also, what constitutes care for environmental goods itself is contested across class, occupation, culture, and history. Conflicts between those with different conceptions of care are often expressed through conflicts in property rights. The justification of property rights by appeal to particular accounts of proper care has, from the time of Locke to the present, been invoked to legitimate the appropriation of goods. The introduction and maintenance of liberal property-rights regimes involves the creation and sustenance of a particular distribution of social power, and should be understood as such.

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