Slide Mountain

It is more than an abstract issue just how far property rights can be extended into the natural world. SLIDE MOUNTAIN: OR, THE FOLLY OF OWNING NATURE explores the practical ramifications of this question through six specific instances: disputed ownership of new land deposited by rivers and streams (Indian treaty rights and the state boundary between Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River); the ownership of a body of water which depends on a court’s definition of it as either a river or a lake (Six Mile Lake on the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana); underground water rights (public versus private ownership of the subterranean aquifer beneath the state of Arizona); control of the weather (battles over commercial rainmaking in two adjacent Pennsylvania counties); ownership of the vertical airspace in large urban areas (skyscrapers and the large sums of money in buying, selling, and trading air-rights in New York City); and national and private claims to extraterrestrial real estate (who owns the Moon).

“Our impulse to turn everything into property has not just confused but impoverished our relationship with the natural world by reducing that world in all its complexity into a giant legal abstraction.” That the earth is our home is a powerful notion that we accept too uncritically. “The house analogy is powerful,” Steinberg argues, “precisely because it expresses a sense of entitlement while at the same time obscuring the assumptions on which that entitlement rests.” This book shows that when it comes to nature, if one pushes property law to its limits, what appears to be common sense can become absurd, illogical, arrogant, and even destructive.