Study Questions on Property and the Environment


1.         What principle justifying ownership suggests that the U.S. should own the moon?

2.         John Locke argues that someone comes to own a previously unowned object by mixing her labor with it. Is this a good argument justifying ownership of previously unowned things?

3.         A Lockean restriction on the justifiability of owning land is that there must be as much and as good left for others after one has appropriated land. Why might this void land claims today?

4.         Are property rights absolute? Is it morally or legally permissible to do anything one wants with one’s property?

5.         Does ownership bring with it responsibilities as well as rights? For example?

6.         *What does the 5th amendment say about “taking” of private property? Does it allow it? Hint (here is the passage): “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

7.         *How does a “regulatory taking” (e.g., above endangered species case) differ from eminent domain taking (e.g., when government physically takes a citizen’s property to build a road through it).

8.         If because of the Endangered Species act one’ can’t cut trees on one’s property, does the government (i.e., the public) owe you compensation for the lost revenue? Why or why not?

9.         Under what conditions do all sides of the debate agree that the government may permissibly restrict what a landowner does on his/her property and not owe him/her any compensation for lost economic value? (Hint: Consider if the owner is considering using the land in a way that is a “public nuisance”– e.g., a pig farm or brothel in a residential area.)

10.       Should beaches be owned publically or privately? What reasons can be offered for each position? Should we have universal access to seashores? Should some beaches be private?

11.       Do measures that beachfront owners take to protect their property sometimes lead to restricted access to public beaches? How so?

12.       Should we increase or decrease the amount of “public land?” Is public space a good or a problem?

13.       What reasons are there for thinking privately owned beaches would be better taken care of than publically owned beaches? “Is protecting the property rights of beachfront landowners the best way to ensure long-term beach conservation?’

14.       What is “free market environmentalism?”

15.       What are some problems that result from public ownership of the beach?

16.       What would it mean to claim public property rights in the sky/atmosphere? Do governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the atmosphere?

17.       Does it make sense for the public to claim damages for those who harm our atmosphere? (We do this for oil spill in oceans, why not for the pollution of the atmosphere?) How would this work?

18.       Do you favor sending invoices to atmospheric polluting companies demanding payment for the harm they have caused?

19.       What is the public trust doctrine?