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Beauty: A Lingua Franca for Environmental Law?

  • Benjamin J. Richardson (a1), Emily Barritt (a2) and Megan Bowman (a3)


This article investigates whether beauty in nature can provide a global language to inform environmental governance, such as by providing shared values and collaborative approaches across and within different cultures. Because art mediates how many people experience environmental aesthetics, such as through photography and music, this enquiry extends to the arts. As is the case for other aesthetic values, beauty is ultimately about relationships and ways of knowing our environment, and the law can best engage with such values through interpretive guidance and processes for participatory decision making. Prescriptive codification of beauty ‘standards’ is generally not a realistic goal for lawmakers. The article enriches our understanding of how aesthetics can contribute to human beings’ emotional empathy and ethical commitment to environmental stewardship, and identifies some conceptual and methodological difficulties that militate against beauty being a lingua franca for environmental law.

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This article is inspired by and draws on the discussions at the workshop on ‘Environmental Aesthetics: Beauty and Decision-Making’, held at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London (UK), 28 Nov. 2017.



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2 Paris (France), 16 Nov. 1972, in force 17 Dec. 1975, available at:

3 Ibid., Art. 2.

4 Prum, R.O., The Evolution of Beauty (Doubleday, 2017).

5 Hauser, M., Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong (Harper, 2007).

6 Finnis, J., Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 8788 .

7 See, e.g., Santayana, G., The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory (Dover Publications, 1955); Guyer, P., Values of Beauty: Historical Essays on Aesthetics (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

8 For an introduction, see Manns, J.W., Philosophy and Aesthetics (Routledge, 2016).

9 N. 2 above, Art. 2.

10 1949, c. 97, 12–14 Geo 6, s. 5(1).

11 Plum, R., The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal Worldand Us (Doubleday, 2017); Marwick, A., A History of Human Beauty (Bloomsbury, 2007).

12 Costonis, J., Icons and Aliens: Law, Aesthetics and Environmental Change (University of Illinois Press, 1999).

13 Bonyhady, T., The Colonial Earth (Melbourne University Press, 1999).

14 Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, A., Spatial Justice: Body, Lawscape, Atmosphere (Routledge, 2015).

15 Boer, B. & Wiffen, G., Heritage Law in Australia (Oxford University Press, 2006).

16 Palmer, A., ‘Legal Dimensions to Valuing Aesthetics in World Heritage Decisions’ (2017) 26(5) Social and Legal Studies, pp. 581604 .

17 Akhtar-Khavari, A., ‘Fear and Ecological (in)Justice in Edvard Munch’s The Scream of Nature ’ (2015) 6(2) Nordic Journal of Law and Social Research , available at:

18 Nixon, R., Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 5 .

19 Richardson, B.J., Time and Environmental Law: Telling Nature’s Time (Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 6 .

20 Given the expertise of the authors, these examples are largely from common law jurisdictions.

21 Bateson, G., Steps to an Ecology of Mind (University of Chicago Press, 1972).

22 Kelsey, R., ‘Reverse Shot: Earthrise and Blue Marble in the American Imagination’, in E.H. Jazairy (ed.), Scales of the Earth (Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 1016 , at 10, 12.

23 Miles, M., ‘Representing Nature: Art and Climate Change’ (2010) 17(1) Cultural Geographies, pp. 1935 .

24 Statute of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Oct. 1948, Preamble, available at:

25 UNESCO, ‘Recommendation Concerning the Safeguarding of the Beauty and Character of Landscapes and Sites’, 11 Dec. 1962, Preamble, available at:

26 UNESCO, ‘Guidelines on the Inscription of Specific Types of Properties on the World Heritage List’, World Heritage Centre 08/01, Jan. 2008, available at: The notion of ‘cultural landscapes’ has been recognized in World Heritage listing criteria since 1992.

27 Earth Charter Initiative, The Earth Charter, Preamble and Principle 1.4, available at:

28 UNESCO, ‘Fujisan, Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration’, available at:

29 Bird Rose, D., Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness (Australian Heritage Commission, 1996).

30 Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia (Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations), 2017 SCC 54.

31 M. Duchamp, Fountain, 1917; R.H. van Rijn, The Night Watch, 1642.

32 A. Lange, ‘Seven Leading Architects Defend the World’s Most Hated Buildings’, The New York Times (Style Magazine), 5 June 2015, available at:

33 Hogarth, W., The Analysis of Beauty: Written with a View of Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas of Taste (W. Strahan, 1772).

34 Burke, E., Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, P. Guyer (ed.), (1757 original, Oxford University Press, 2015).

35 Kant, I., Critique of the Power of Judgment, P. Guyer & E. Matthews (trans.) (original 1790, Cambridge University Press, 2000).

36 Clark, E.C., ‘The Islamic Garden: History, Symbolism, and the Qur’an’, in V.J. Comell (ed.), Voices of Islam (Greenwood, 2006), Ch. 11.

37 J. Ramsay, ‘The Aesthetic Value of Landscapes: Background and Assessment Guide 2015’, ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes, pp. 7–9, available at:

38 Berleant, A., Living in the Landscape: Toward an Aesthetics of Environment (University Press of Kansas, 1997).

39 Carlson, A., Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture (Routledge, 2000).

40 Brady, E., Aesthetics of the Natural Environment (Edinburgh University Press, 2003), pp. 369370 .

41 Braddock, A.C., ‘Ecocritical Art History’ (2009) 23(2) American Art, pp. 2428 , at 26.

42 Demos, T.J., Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (Sternberg Press, 2016).

43 Casaliggi, C. & Fermanis, P., Romanticism: A Literary and Cultural History (Routledge, 2012), pp. 119120 .

44 B. Tufnell, Land Art (Tate, 2006).

46 Allen, A.S. & Dawe, K. (eds), Current Directions in Musicology: Music, Culture, Nature (Routledge, 2015).

47 Demos, n. 42 above.

48 E.g., Grammer, K. & Thornhill, R., ‘Human (Homo Sapiens) Facial Attractiveness and Sexual Selection: The Role of Symmetry and Averageness’ (1994) 108(3) Journal of Comparative Psychology, pp. 233242 .

49 Frost, L., ‘“Doing Looks”: Women, Appearance and Mental Health’, in J. Arthurs & J. Grimshaw (eds), Women’s Bodies: Cultural Representations and Identity (Bloomsbury, 1999), pp. 117136 , at 119.

50 Wolf, N., The Beauty Myth (Chatto and Windus, 1990).

51 Health Council of the Netherlands and Dutch Advisory Council for Research on Spatial Planning, Nature and the Environment, ‘Nature and Health: The Influence of Nature on Social, Psychological and Physical Well-Being’, 9 June 2004, available at:

52 Fuller, R.A. et al., ‘Psychological Benefits of Greenspace Increase with Biodiversity’ (2007) 3(4) Biology Letters, pp. 390–4 , p. 390.

53 Dunnett, N. & Qasim, M., ‘Perceived Benefits to Human Well-being of Urban Gardens’ (2000) 10(1) HortTechnology, pp. 4045 .

54 Kaplan, S. & Talbot, J.F., ‘Psychological Benefits of a Wilderness Experience’, in J. Altman & J.F. Wohlwill (eds), Behavior and the Natural Environment (Plenum, 1983), pp. 163203 .

55 Martin, S.L., ‘Wind Farms and NIMBYs: Generating Conflict, Reducing Litigation’ (2009–10) 20(3) Fordham Environmental Law Review, pp. 427468 .

56 Adams, M., ‘Beyond Yellowstone? Conservation and Indigenous Rights in Australia and Sweden’, in G. Cant, A. Goodall & J. Inns (eds), Discourses and Silences: Indigenous Peoples, Risks and Resistance (University of Canterbury (New Zealand), 2005), pp. 127138 .

57 New York, NY (US), 13 Sept. 2007, available at:

58 Ibid., Art. 25.

59 Prior, J. & Brady, E., ‘Environmental Aesthetics and Rewilding’ (2017) 26(1) Environmental Values, pp. 3151 .

60 Limpitlaw, D. & Briel, A., ‘Post-Mining Land Use Opportunities in Developing Countries: A Review’ (2014) 114(11) Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, pp. 899903 .

61 E.g., Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

62 Selman, P. & Swanwick, C., ‘On the Meaning of Natural Beauty in Landscape Legislation’ (2010) 35(1) Landscape Research, pp. 326 .

63 Ness v. Albert, 665 S.W. 2d 1, p. 4 (1983).

64 N. Strochlic, ‘We Have a Painter to Thank for Yellowstone’, National Geographic Magazine, Apr. 2016, available at:

65 Kalland, A., Unveiling the Whale: Discourses on Whales and Whaling (Berghahn Books, 2009), p. 42 .

66 Bonyhady, T., ‘No Dams: The Art of Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis’, in R. Butler (ed.), The Europeans: Emigré Artists in Australia 1930–1960 (National Gallery of Australia, 1990), pp. 236253 .

67 Good, J., ‘The Aesthetics of Wind Energy’ (2006) 13(1) Human Ecology Forum, pp. 7689 .

68 S.O. 2009, c. 12, Sched. A.

69 E. de Wit & A. Guild, ‘Winds of Change: Wind Farm Amendments to Victorian Planning Schemes’, Norton Rose Fulbright, 17 Mar. 2011, available at:

70 2000, c. 37, ss. 82–93.

71 Selman & Swanwick, n. 62, above, pp. 13–5.

72 Statistics from Landscapes for Life are available at:

73 Pub. L. No. 59-209, 34 Stat. 225.

74 See further Klein, C.A., ‘Preserving Monumental Landscapes under the Antiquities Act’ (2002) 87(6) Cornell Law Review, pp. 13331404 .

75 Pub. L. 88-577, 78 Stat. 890.

76 43 USC ss. 1701–1784.

77 The Act was later amended to include another species, and is now known as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, 16 USC ss. 668–668c.

78 Pub. L. No. 93-205, 87 Stat. 884, 16 USC s. 1531(a)(3).

79 Public Act 2014, No. 51, s. 3(1).

80 Minnesota Statutes (1990), s. 116B.02, subdivision 4.

81 Murphy, T., ‘Environmental Law: Protection of Scenic and Aesthetic Resources under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act: State ex rel. Drabik v. Martz, 451 N.W.2d 893 (Minn. 1990)’ (1991) 17(4) William Mitchell Law Review, pp. 11901214 , at 1192.

82 Mining Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.14, Ontario Regulation 240/00, cl. 19.

83 S. Sentesy, ‘A Place in Time: The Natural Resources of Lanark County’, Community Stewardship Council of Lanark County, Dec. 2008, p. 108, available at:

84 Smith, G.P. II, ‘The Price of Beauty: An Economic Approach to Aesthetic Nuisance’ (1991) 53(15) Harvard Environmental Law Review, pp. 5383 , at 66–75. However, visual aesthetics have been found to be relevant in terms of access to natural light (Regan v. Paul Properties DPF No. 1 Ltd [2006] EWCA Civ 1391) and the notorious ‘sight’ of sex workers (Thompson-Schwab v. Costaki [1956] 1 WLR 335 (Court of Appeal)).

85 Myrick v. Peck Electrical Company, VT 4 (2017).

86 Ibid.

87 Waterhouse Properties v. Hyperception Properties [2004] ZAFSHC 97.

88 Smith II, n. 84 above, pp. 73–80.

89 Washington Environmental Council v. Bellon, 732 F.3d 1131 (9th Cir. 2013).

90 Juliana v. United States, 271 F. Supp. 3d 1224 (2016).

91 N. 2 above, Art. 2.

92 UNESCO, ‘Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention’, July 2012, p. 21, available at:

93 Florence (Italy), 20 Oct. 2000, in force 1 Mar. 2004, available at:

94 Ibid., Preamble.

95 Ibid., Art. 2.

96 Nicholls, H., The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China’s Political Animal (Pegasus, 2011).

97 Branch, J., The Cartographic State: Maps, Territory and the Origins of Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 2014); Miles, K., ‘Insulae Moluccae: Map of the Spice Islands, 1594’, in I.J. Homhann & D. Joyce (eds), International Law’s Objects (Oxford University Press, 2018 forthcoming).

98 Connell, D., Water Politics in the Murray Darling Basin (Federation Press, 2007).

99 Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, n. 14 above.

100 Watt, G., Dress, Law and Naked Truth (Bloomsbury, 2013).

101 Waitangi Tribunal, ‘Tribunal Site Visit, Wairau’, available at:

102 Manderson, D., Songs Without Music: Aesthetic Dimensions of Law and Justice (University of California Press, 2010), Preface.

103 Nussbaum, M., Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life (Beacon Press, 1997).

104 Hinz v. Berry [1970] 2 QB 40; Miller v. Jackson [1977] QB 96.

105 Taralga Landscape Guardians Inc v. Minister for Planning and RES Southern Cross Pty Ltd [2007] NSWLEC 59 (12 Feb. 2007).

106 Ibid., para. 116.

107 Ibid., para. 123.

108 Ibid., para. 136.

109 Ibid., para. 160.

110 R. Lumber, M. Richardson & D. Sheffield, ‘Beyond Knowing Nature: Contact, Emotion, Compassion, Meaning, and Beauty are Pathways to Nature Connection’ (2017) PlosOne, available at:

111 Wilson, E.O., Biophilia (Harvard University Press, 1986).

112 Kolb, G. & Needham, J., ‘Antarctic Dreams’ (2014) 47(2) Exposure, pp. 47 , at 7.

113 GHD, ‘Multiple Benefits of Landcare and Natural Resource Management’, Final Report for the Australian Landcare Council, 7 July 2013, pp. 13–7, available at:

114 Curtis, D.J., ‘Using the Arts to Raise Awareness, and Communicate Environmental Information in the Extension Context’ (2011) 17(2) Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, pp. 181194 .

115 Leopold, A., A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 262 (emphasis added).

116 Akhtar-Khavari, n. 17 above, p. 130.

117 Baichwal, J., Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes (Zeitgeist Films, 2006).

118 Brady, E., ‘Aesthetic Regard for Nature in Environmental and Land Art’ (2007) 10(3) Ethics, Place and Environment, pp. 287300 .

119 Asma, S.T., Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture of Natural History Museums (Oxford University Press, 2003).

120 DeMeo, A.M., ‘Access to Eagles and Eagle Parts: Environmental Protection v. Native American Free Exercise of Religion’ (1995) 22 Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, pp. 771813 .

121 Prior & Brady, n. 59 above.

122 Lorimer, J. & Driessen, C., ‘Wild Experiments at the Oostvaardersplassen: Rethinking Environmentalism in the Anthropocene’ (2014) 39(2) Transactions, pp. 169181 .

123 See further Lorimer, J. & Driessen, C., ‘Experiments with the Wild at Oostvaardersplassen’ (2014) 35(3–4) ECOS, pp. 4452 , at 47.

124 See further at:

125 G. Monbiot, ‘Why Are Britain’s Conservation Groups so Lacking in Ambition?’, The Guardian, 18 Oct. 2013, available at:

126 The advertisement is available at:

127 Miller, T., Greenwashing Culture (Routledge, 2013).

128 N. Khomami, ‘BP to End Tate Sponsorship after 26 Years’, The Guardian, 11 Mar. 2016, available at:

129 Selman & Swanwick, n. 62 above.

130 UNESCO, n. 92 above, cl. 77(vii).

131 Stewart, J. et al. (eds), Why Noise Matters: A Worldwide Perspective on the Problems, Policies and Solutions (Earthscan, 2011).

132 Cornelis Dorland v. Anna Aletta Smits [2002] ZAWCHC 20.

133 Boer & Wiffen, n. 15 above.

134 Dutton, D., The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (Bloomsbury, 2010), passim; Appleton, J., The Experience of Landscape (Wiley, 1975), pp. 7374 .

135 Briggs, J., Fractal Patterns: The Patterns of Chaos (Touchstone, 1992).

136 Nichols, W. & Cousteau, C., Blue Mind (Back Bay Books, 2015).

137 Unger, R.M., Law in Modern Society (The Free Press, 1976).

138 Meredith, C.A., My Home in Tasmania: During a Residence of Nine Years, Vol. 1 (John Murray, 1852), p. 261 .

139 A.D. Smith, ‘On the Trail of the Wolf, Europe’s Much Maligned and Misunderstood Predator’, The Guardian, 3 Jan. 2016, available at:

140 Richardson, B.J., ‘Aesthetics and Environmental Law: Valuing Tasmania’s “Ordinary” Nature’ (2018) 27(1) Griffith Law Review, available at: .

141 Doremus, H., ‘The Special Importance of Ordinary Places’ (2000) 23(2–3) Environs, pp. 316 .

142 Low, T., The New Nature (Penguin, 2017).

143 Vikka, L., The Intrinsic Value of Nature (Rodopi, 1997).

144 E.g., the work of Stephen Axford, discussed in J. Davis, ‘Micro Fungi of Australia: In Pictures’, The Guardian, 23 June 2014, available at:

145 See the artistic portrayals of coral reefs by Alex McKenzie and Miranda Lowe: Royal Museums Greenwich, ‘Who Are the Radical Fun Advisors’, 27 Sept. 2017, available at:

146 See the work of Inés Cámara Leret, available at:

147 N. 45 above.

148 Reynolds, F., The Fight for Beauty (Oneworld, 2016), pp. 177186 .

149 European Commission, EU Guidance on Wind Energy Development in Accordance with the EU Nature Legislation (European Union, 2011), available at:

150 Aarhus (Denmark), 25 June 1998, in force 30 Oct. 2001, available at:

151 Kysar, D., Regulating from Nowhere (Yale University Press, 2010).

152 See Luhmann, N., Ecological Communication (University of Chicago Press, 1989); Luhmann, N., The Differentiation of Society (Columbia University Press, 1982).

153 Luhmann, N., Social Systems (Stanford University Press, 1995).

154 Teubner, G., Law as an Autopoietic System (Blackwell, 1993); Orts, E.W., ‘Reflexive Model of Environmental Regulation’ (1995) 5(4) Business Ethics Quarterly, pp. 779794 .

155 L. Henderson, ‘Q&A: A Plastic Ocean – Can a Movie Help Us See this Invisible Crisis?’, The Conversation, 7 June 2016, available at:

156 Royal Museums Greenwich, n. 145 above.

157 E.g., the French-sponsored, Baudin scientific expedition to Australia: Fornasiero, J., Lawton, L. & West-Sooby, J. (eds), Nicolas Baudin’s Voyagers 1800–1804 (Wakefield Press, 2016).

158 Brady, E., ‘Climate Change and Future Aesthetics’, in A. Elliott, J. Cullis and V. Damodaran (eds), Climate Change and the Humanities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 201220 .

159 Demos, n. 42 above, p. 112.

160 Smith II, n. 84 above, p. 75.

161 Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), Executive Summary TWWHA Management Plan (DPIPWE, 2016).

162 Palmer, n. 16 above.

163 K. Sanders, ‘Beyond Human Ownership? Power and Legal Personality for Nature in Aotearoa New Zealand’ (2017) Journal of Environmental Law online articles, available at:

This article is inspired by and draws on the discussions at the workshop on ‘Environmental Aesthetics: Beauty and Decision-Making’, held at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London (UK), 28 Nov. 2017.

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