Human Rights

Dr Tom Kerns












“Everything and anything that influences the environment
directly influences our human condition, and a violation
of the environment is a violation of our human rights.”
- Jorge Daniel Taillant, Director
Center for Human Rights and Environment

Environment and Human Rights
PHIL 220

Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College

Click here to register

see also:
Environment and Human Rights Advisory

Course Description:

This Environment and Human Rights course examines the idea of human rights, the origins of the human rights movement and the recent work that connects human rights concerns to environmental issues. It explores ways in which environmental issues can be addressed when viewed through a human rights lens.

The course looks at specific human rights norms such as the rights

  • to security of person
  • to health
  • to inviolability of the home
  • to a safe workplace
  • to a healthy environment
  • the right of mothers and children to special consideration,
  • and others

It examines human rights declarations, treaties and laws in which these rights have been articulated, such as

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The Draft Declaration on Human Rights and the Environment
  • The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • and others
The course thus deals with ethical questions at the heart of many environmental issues, including ethical issues entailed by environmentally induced illnesses (such as cancers, reproductive disorders, respiratory and neurological disorders, etc.) and with more general ethical questions about the maintenance and improvement of the health and well-being of communities at both the local and global levels.


Assigned readings for the course include

Some topics explored in the course

  • Introduction to basic concepts in human health and disease, including the fundamentals of environmentally and occupationally induced illness
  • Introduction to the fundamentals of ethical decision-making, including teleological, deontological, and other methods of ethical thinking
  • An exploration of ethical relativism, ethical essentialism and the claim that some ethical norms can be applicable to all human beings
  • Philosophies of rights and obligation, sources of rights and duties and kinds of obligation (e.g., are there obligations to not-yet-actual future generations, to non-human animals, to the earth?)
  • Origins and history of the human rights movement
  • The distinction between human rights standards as ethical norms and legal norms
  • Case studies using current environment and human rights issues
  • Examination of ethical issues surrounding environmentally induced illnesses such as cancers, neurological conditions, chemical sensitivity disorders, reproductive disorders and asthma and other respiratory diseases.
  • The conflicts and synergies in the efforts to protect both public health and human rights
  • The environmental movement and the concept of sustainability
  • How international human rights instruments and norms are applicable to environmental concerns
  • NGOs, agencies and international courts and commissions that bear on environment and human rights issues
  • Practical methods for addressing environmental issues from a human rights perspective

Business stuff

Course materials

Research Resources

Relevant Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)


Books available in full text on the web