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Nature and Property: A Riparian Law Perspective

August 2004

Citation: ELR 10704

Author: Ashley S. Miller

I. Introduction

This Article will characterize how one area of property law, title rules for coastal and riverfront property, represents particular views of nature. In doing so it will examine how the law in this area defines the line between natural and non-natural. What does "natural" mean in riparian law? How do humans fit into that picture? In what ways do differing ideas of "nature" inform property rights? Does property law reflect any coherent notion or ethic of nature, or deliberately invoke a particular notion of nature to justify its institutions?

Property law is a particularly relevant institution to examine in this vein, as it can be said to represent the contact point between humans and nature, acting as the socially endorsed system through which all interaction with the environment occurs. Property law in that sense symbolizes the pervasive control and impact that humans have had on the environment; there is a trend in recent environmental thought toward conceptualizing the entire world as "unnatural," or impacted by human activity, a sort of worldwide garden which humans are cultivating on a global scale. Given this central role that property law plays in the human interaction with nature, it is inherently an environmentally charged area of law. Therefore it is crucial to understand the ethical content inherent in property law.

The author is a candidate for J.D., 2004, New York University School of Law; Executive Editor, New York University Environmental Law Journal, 2003-; B.A. in history cum laude, 1999, Columbia College, Columbia University. The author would like to thank Prof. Katrina Wyman for her guidance and many helpful suggestions, and the participants in the Seminar on Property Theory at New York University School of Law, Fall 2003, for their input.

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