Earth Law: the enabling constraints of collective living
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community; it is wrong when it does otherwise.
— Aldo Leopold (1949)
In order to share the gifts of life cooperatively we also need transformative innovation in national and international law. Laws provide enabling constraint and attribute rights and responsibilities. Ideally, they need to incentivize cooperation as appropriate behaviour and limit competitive behaviour that jeopardizes systemic health. What kind of laws and policies would facilitate the transition to regenerative cultures?
What if there were another system and jurisprudence, based upon the concept that the planet and all of its species have rights — and they have those rights by virtue of their existence as component members of a single Earth community?
— Thomas Berry (2001)
By asking this important question and inviting others to explore it with him, Thomas Berry catalysed a global-local conversation that is reaching more and more people and institutions. Berry understood that for the “universe story” (Swimme & Berry, 1992) to continue in ways that would allow our young and immature species to grow into mature membership of the community of life, we have to accept the responsibility that comes with the gift of self- reflexive consciousness and safeguard the rights of all the participants of that community.
In order to enable the creation of regenerative cultures everywhere “there is a need for a jurisprudence that recognizes that the well-being of the integral world community is primary and that human well-being is derivative” (Berry, 2001).
The ‘original participation’ expressed by the worldview of indigenous cultures means their members are born into that integral world community. They have been encouraged to speak on behalf of the four-legged-ones, the winged-ones, the finned-ones, the forest, the mountain, the river or the Earth. We label this practice as ‘primitive culture’ at our peril. It is in fact a sign of an evolved ecological consciousness that will be as vital to our future as it has been in our past, before the narrative of separation clouded our judgement.
The Great Work (Berry, 1999) of co-creating humanity’s transition into the Ecozoic Era (Swimme & Berry, 1992) requires us to create a legal basis for speaking on behalf of and defending the community of life. Our current laws are based on the narrative of separation and still enable corporations and governments to criminalize opposition to crimes against nature. Berry’s vision of an Earth Jurisprudence has inspired many others that are working in the same direction.
From Cormac Cullinan’s Manifesto for Earth Justice (2011), to work by Vandana Shiva (2005) and Polly Higgins (2010)[Eradicating Ecocide … The story of how she managed to initiate a UN-level dialogue about including ‘ecocide’ as a 5th international crime against peace is an inspiring account of the power of commitment and an individual’s potential for leveraging culture change.], and thanks to organizations like the Gaia Foundation, the Pachamama Alliance, Navdanya, and EnAct, the conversation about Earth Law has deepened and broadened. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is now working for “a universal adoption and implementation of legal systems that recognize, respect and enforce Rights of Nature” (GARN, 2010).
[The Gaia Foundation in the UK has supported the conversation about Earth law from its beginning, along with the Pachamama Alliancein the USA, Navdanya in India, and EnAct in Africa. There are now many other organizations supporting the implementation of rights of nature into local, regional, national, and international legislation. In the USA, the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) was set up as early as 1995 to help communities protect their natural environments against people, institutions, corporations infringing on it.
In 2010, a gathering in Patate, Ecuador, brought together people from all over the world living the questions “why does nature not have right?” and “what if we redesign our legal systems to declare and enforce those rights?”. The result was the creation of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN).]
Encouraged by the state of Ecuador, in 2008, including rights of nature in its new constitutional document and the draft for a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth that had come out of an earlier gathering in Bolivia, GARN declared that “universal adoption and implementation of legal systems that recognize, respect and enforce Rights of Nature” is “an idea whose time has come” (GARN, 2010).
Just as most people today would regard not awarding rights to someone on the basis of their sex, sexuality, ethnicity or the colour of their skin as an act of apartheid that is fundamentally unlawful and unjust, the regenerative cultures of the not-so-distant future will question how it was possible to believe that nature had no rights.
In Making Peace with the Earth, Vandana Shiva explores how the narrative of separation is a kind of “eco-apartheid” that causes human beings to be at war with the Earth and each other. She reviews the root causes of this war against nature and shows that a “destructive Anthropocene” is not the only possible future ahead, if we address the structural systemic conditions that are driving water wars, climate wars forest wars, and other resource wars.
Exploring the situation in India and globally, Dr. Shiva argues that we have designed hunger into the system via international trade agreements formulated under the control of multinational corporations. Shiva warns of the many pitfalls associated with the use of GMOs and certain types of synthetic biology.
We have to ask important questions to ensure that our approaches to creating a ‘bio-economy’ are not simply an “industrialization of life” but maintain and create real “biodiversity economies” (Shiva, 2012: 143). The proliferation of industrial, petrochemical agriculture and GMO monocultures is a “biodiversity war” and the suppression of small farmers and eradication of local variety is a “seed war” (p.148).
To create regenerative ‘living cultures’, lasting peace within the human family and peace with the Earth, we need laws and policies based on careful deliberation of the following questions (based on Shiva, 2012):
How will we move from a system based on privatizing the Earth to respecting the integrity of the Earth’s ecosystems and ecological processes?
How will we discourage and reverse the ‘enclosure of the commons’ and support the recovery of the commons?
How can we ensure that ecological costs are internalized and prohibit the externalization of environmental destruction?
How can we dismantle ‘corporate economies of death and destruction’ and create ‘living economies’?
How can we reverse the erosion of democracy and create ‘living democracies’?
How can we halt the destruction of cultural diversity and create ‘living cultures’?
Earth Law, well formulated and locally and globally enforced, will be part of living into the answers on these questions, giving communities the legal means to defend the healthy functioning of the ecosystems that their wellbeing depends upon.
[This is an excerpt of a subchapter from Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press, 2016.]