Our concern for nonhuman nature can be justified in terms of a human right to liberty of ecological conscience. This right is analogous to the right to religious liberty, and is equally worthy of recognition as that fundamental liberty. The liberty of ecological conscience, like religious liberty, is a negative right against interference. Each ecological conscience supports a claim to protection of the parts of nonhuman nature that are current or potential sites of its active pursuit of natural value. If we acknowledge the fallibility of each conscience in its pursuit of genuine natural value, a policy of indefinitely extensive conservation can be justified. Destruction of an obiect of current or potential natural value is like destroying a church, mosque, temple, or other holy place. This justification for environmental conservation is analogous to the standard justification for individual negative rights, as upheld by the liberal tradition of Locke, Mill, and Rawls.
Lercher, Aaron. 2006. "Liberty of Ecological Conscience." Environmental Ethics 28, no. 3: 315-322.