The zoöp project is a practice-based research into the design and application of a new kind of legal format for collaboration between humans and collective bodies of nonhumans, in order to support ecological regeneration.

Patricia de Ruijter,

Patricia de Ruijter,

An early version of the concept was the outcome of the Terraforming Earth series of workshops that were held in the context of the Gardening Mars exhibition in 2018 in Het Nieuwe Instituut. Zoöp makes a connection between on the one hand innovations in the legal system of New Zealand (where since 2016 Whanganui river, Mount Taranaki and Te Urewera national park have been granted legal personhood) and on the other hand the DAO construction of Terra0 and concepts from the white paper of the Regen Network.

The goal of this first phase of the research is to establish at least two pilot-zoöps in the first quarter of 2020.  Architecture studio Space & Matter works on Fort Abcoude on behalf of the Dutch Forestry Board (Staatsbosbeheer) and has the intention to establish a zoöp in Fort Abcoude. Boerderij Bodemzicht will be the other one.

Zoöp concept - version augustus 2019

As environmental and societal pressure on non-human populations has increased way beyond their adaptive capacity, the search is on for ways to give these populations a means to counterbalance our human-centered systems. This is what a zoöp tries to do. Zoöp is a proposal for a new kind of organization that supports nonhuman populations. The word is a combination of co-op (short for co-operation) and zoë (Greek for ‘life’) and is the name we have chosen for a new type of cooperative legal entity, one in which humans as well as multispecies ecological communities can become partners.

The zoöp project has two aims:

  • to strengthen the position of nonhumans within human societies
  • to engender ecological regeneration and growth that is resistant to the extractivist dynamics.

Zoöps lead to increased biodiversity, growth in biomass, cleaner air, cleaner water, and benefit the quality of life of nonhumans as well as humans. In order to do this, the zoöp introduces the concept of zoönomy, next to that of economy. Zoönomy refers to the quality and density of ecological relations inside and among multispecies communities. Zoöps are part of the economic framework, but have an added, important aim: to develop their zoönomy.

How to start a zoöp?

Very different organisations can become zoöps, as long as they have agency over a certain volume of biosphere - a piece of land, forest, a park, a lake or pond, coastal waters, et cetera. The necessary knowledge to start and maintain a zoöp is kept and developed by the Zoönomic Mother Board (to be formed).

When a hotel, school, sports club, business resort, energy company, farm or other organisation wants to turn zoöp, it asks the Zoönomic Mother Board to set-up a local zoönomic foundation. This foundation is bound by its charter to only act on behalf of the multispecies ecological community at the organisations’ piece of earth.

A zoöp comes into being when the requesting organisation enters a contractual cooperation with this local zoönomic foundation. Within the operations of a zoöp, the interests of the local collective body of nonhumans are then represented by its zoönomic foundation, which has voting rights on strategic and policy decisions regarding the zoöps affairs.

Within the daily operations of the zoöp, the interests of the local collective body of nonhumans are represented by its zoönomic foundation, which has voting rights on strategic and policy decisions regarding the zoöps affairs.

How do zoöps operate in the economy?

Zoöps function in the current economic framework just as their constituting human organisations do. Their products, services or yields can be sold to customers, which can also be zoöps. Zoönomic foundations will add a crucial condition to this economic traffic: it should benefit the quality of life of the local collective body of nonhumans, in the short or longer term. A local zoönomic foundation is aimed at developing its local zoönomy. It does not generate financial capital but generates ecological quality for its collective body of nonhumans.

Zoöps can also exchange zoönomically. This always implies the transplantation (or grafting) of a part of the collective body of nonhumans from one zoöp to another. These kinds of exchanges can greatly support the zoönomic development of starting zoöps, without reducing the quality of a fully flowering zoöp.

Zoöps may deliver important ecological functions, such as sequestering C02, cleaning air or cleaning water. This implies the quantification and monetisation of ecological processes as well as actual labour on behalf of the local nonhumans. The extent to which a zoöp is prepared to deliver (monetised) ecological services, is something on which the local zoönomic foundation needs to deliberate carefully, because it aims to protect nonhuman communities from exploitation.

Zoönomic development and zoönomic instruments

Zoönomic development is another word for the actual primary tendency (a notion not overlapping with, but for practical purposes understandable as ‘aim’) of the local nonhuman collective body. Zoönomic development is what organic nonhumans do, also if they are not assisted by humans. But within a zoöp, humans do not so much abstain from interference with this zoönomic development, but rather actively support it.

When a zoöp comes into being, the first thing it has to do is a zoönomic baseline assessment. This frames the current quality of life of the local multispecies ecological community in relation to specific spatial and contextual characteristics of the zoöp and the amounts and skills of the humans involved. On the base of this baseline assessment, every zoöp states its own zoönomic development ambition, which has to be acknowledged by the Zoönomic Mother Board. The actual development of a zoönomy is then assessed with the aid of a collection of different zoönomic instruments and methods, each embodying a different knowledge practice and each offering a different qualitative assessment. These instruments are acknowledged, maintained and calibrated against the baseline measurement by the Zoönomic Mother Board. They assess the qualitative development of a zoöp, they express this development both internally and externally and make zoönomic development auditable to other zoöps and external parties and therefor make it possible to hold a zoöp accountable for its own zoönomic development.

What difference do zoöps make?

Different zoöps can make very different kinds of difference, depending on

  • contextual elements like climate and weather, whether a zoöp is part of a city, an industrial area, a rural area or at sea for instance,
  • spatial and material characteristics like size, kinds of structures present, orientation towards sun, wind, presence of open water et cetera,
  • the type of organization that became a zoöp and the amounts and skills of the humans involved.

For example: a primary school or a sports club with some playing fields in a European city may over the course of a few years successfully increase soil life, plant life, insect populations, maybe bird populations and could even grow some crops in the borders of the fields. A university in Arizona with a large dedicated human community may successfully generate one or more oasis in the Arizona desert. An energy company building wind farms in the North Sea may regenerate huge areas of marine ecosystems by supporting the growth of mussel- and oyster banks, sea weeds, etcetera. In some places the work of zoöps may come down mostly to conservation and protection of and existing multispecies community. In other places zoöps may generate entirely new multispecies communities, in which species meet for the first time, and engage in foodwebs that did not exist before.

The aims of the zoöp project for 2020 are to start at least two pilot zoöps and to raise funding to develop the project on a larger scale.

Neuhaus, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2019. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Neuhaus, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2019. Photo: Johannes Schwartz. 

Source: Het Nieuwe Instituut - Zoöp

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