Spiritual Values in Environmental Law?

Over the past couple years, the governing federal Conservative Party in Canada has sought to restore a measure of sanity to Canadian environmental legislation. In particular, some particularly onerous and scientifically indefensible provisions of the Fisheries Act were modified.

Of course, among many activists in the academic community, the reductions in environmental protection were not well received. An Associate Professor of Natural Resource Sciences at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia -- Brian Heise -- was so incensed that he wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper directed at the local Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Cathy McLeod.

Heise's letter read as follows (emphasis added):

I would like to dispute statements made by MP Cathy McLeod in her recent mailout.

She claims that habitat protections in the Fisheries Act needed to be reduced because the act contained regulations that 'have caused ditches and flood plains to be treated as if they were fisheries.' The fact of the matter is that floodplains do provide critical habitat for chinook salmon at this time of the year, and the elimination of these habitats would severely reduce populations of these fish ... South Thompson chinook salmon are worth roughly $10 million annually and are of significant spiritual value to local First Nations.

I implore Ms. McLeod and her government to preserve protection of these critical fisheries habitats that are much more important than they may appear to the casual observer.

Spiritual values should play absolutely no role in environmental law. In general, spiritual values should play no role in any aspect of government policy or legislation at the local, regional, provincial/state, and/or national level -- consistent with basic principles regarding the separation of church (i.e., religion) and state.

Environmental policy should be framed purely within economic and scientific boundaries. If we accept the spiritual values of one group when making environmental law, we must accept the spiritual values of all groups when making environmental law. Basic fairness rules require that all spiritual values are treated equally under the law, and as such, if a group (no matter how small -- including one person) has a view that environmental degradation is one of its core values, this must be treated equivalently to a group that views the prevention of environmental degradation as one of its core values.

In a democracy, the positions of all individuals on a legal and/or policy issue must be treated equivalently under the law. No so-called spiritual 'trump cards' can be accepted, otherwise a moral hazard results whereby the spiritual 'trump cards' of all citizens must be accorded equal deference. Such a situation would grind modern society to a halt.

Dr. Sierra Rayne writes regularly on environment, energy, and national security topics. He can be found on Twitter at @rayne_sierra.