One of many points made by Proudhon in his defense against property was that nature can not be property. Proudhon argued one could not have dominion over air or the water and that the air and water were an unlimited supply but the land was limited in supply. This he claimed made the claim to land as property even less possible. If the resource is more scarce he seemed to believe the conclusion should be that one has less of a right to claim it as property. To deprive one of air is an assault on a person and will lead do death. The same is true of many necessary natural resources.
How can the supplies of Nature, the wealth created by Providence, become private property? and who replies by so gross an equivocation that we scarcely know which the author lacks, sense or honesty. What, I ask, has the fixed and solid nature of the earth to do with the right of appropriation? I can understand that a thing limited and stationary, like the land, offers greater chances for appropriation than the water or the sunshine; that it is easier to exercise the right of domain over the soil than over the atmosphere: but we are not dealing with the difficulty of the thing, and Say confounds the right with the possibility. We do not ask why the earth has been appropriated to a greater extent than the sea and the air; we want to know by what right man has appropriated wealth which he did not create, and which Nature gave to him gratuitously.
This line of thought on land and resources is worth revisiting in the 21st century even more so now for many reasons. Air and water can no longer be seen as having an unlimited supply. Even in his time they were not in unlimited supply, he was simply in a place where he could take them for granted. Water is property. Water is currently a resource that is controlled in the U.S. by regional monopolies. Access to water, a natural resource can be prohibited to some by these monopolies.
Land, air and water are under threat by climate change. What new elements does this add to the ideas presented by Proudhon? With increased scarcity it makes property even more of a threat.
As people enter into space exploration we see an environment where oxygen is in extreme scarcity.Don’t pay your water bill here on earth in the 21st century you get your water turned off. What then does the person living on Mars in the 22nd century do if they can not pay their oxygen bill? What is the difference between cutting off the oxygen and outright suffocating a person? If one appropriates Oxygen what then gives them the right to deprive others of this vital resource? Then again why does appropriation of water give one the right to deprive others of water under our current monopolies? The ruling class will maintain the stance that all human necessities can be appropriated for the purpose of profit by depriving those who need such resources if they do not submit the product of their labor to those who hold dominion over said resources. This could be the state or the capitalist.
At the heart of capitalism is the justification of the use of violence to maintain dominion over appropriated resources. Let the battle cry of the 21st century be ‘Property Is Theft!”