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Environmental Ethics

Volume 17, Issue 3, Fall 1995

Andrew Kernohan
Pages 245-257

Rights against Polluters

When there is only one source of pollution, the language of rights is adequate for justifying solutions to pollution problems. However, pollution is often both a public and an accumulative harm. According to Feinberg, an accumulative harm is a harm to some person brought about by the actions of many people when the action of no single person is sufficient, by itself, to cause the harm. For example, although no single car emits enough exhaust to do any harm, the emissions from many cars can accumulate to an unhealthy level. In this paper, I argue that rights, understood in terms of the will theory of Hart and the interest theories of Lyons and Raz, cannot justify protecting people from public, accumulative harms. I conclude that pollution regulation should focus not on protecting people’s rights, but on preventing harm to people’s interests.