What is Earth Jurisprudence?
Earth Jurisprudence recognises that the Earth is embedded in a lawful and ordered Universe. Our Earth uniquely sustains life as we know it through a complex system of living processes and laws, as a self-regulating planetary organism. All species, including humans, are inextricably subject to these laws and processes.
Cultural historian, poet and geologian, Thomas Berry named this understanding of the Earth as the primary source of law, and reminded us that for most of human history, human societies across our planet have conceived law in this way. In order to comply with these life governing laws, traditional societies have derived their ethics, customary laws and governance systems from the laws of the Earth. This is rooted in the understanding that disturbing the dynamic equilibrium which sustains the conditions for life, would ultimately lead to chaos.
Earth Jurisprudence is a philosophy, a way of seeing and relating to the living world out of which we have evolved, with due respect and humility. It enables us to recognise that the dominant assumption underpinning the industrial growth model – that humans are superior and can extract from life endlessly – is both flawed and dangerous. We are now living the consequences of this inflated belief, as we face the chaos of multiple interconnected ecological, climate and social crises on a planetary scale.
The antidote to this hubristic conception of ourselves, said Thomas Berry, is to concertedly transform our way of thinking from the dominant anthropocentric or human-centred lens to an Earth-centred understanding of how we can conduct our lives in a mutually enhancing relationship with those with whom we have co-evolved.
Inspired by the cosmologies and cultural practices of indigenous peoples who see life from an Earth-centred, rather than a human-centred perspective, Gaia embraced Thomas Berry’s potent ideas and embedded them in our approach. We accompany communities in the Amazon and Africa and in nurturing an Earth Jurisprudence movement through trainings and collaboration. Together we are establishing policies for recognising Earth-centred governance, and tracking the evolution of the global Earth Jurisprudence movement – an idea whose time has come.
In recent years there has been a welcome global surge in recognition of Earth Jurisprudence – ranging from the United Nations’ Harmony with Nature dialogues, to International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as a growing number of precedents recognising Earth-centred customary governance systems and the Rights of Nature.
Principles of Earth Jurisprudence
By Cormac Cullinan with contributions from Thomas Berry. Cited in “Earth Jurisprudence: From Colonization to Participation” by Cormac Cullinan, State of the World 2010, State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (p.144 & 145.)
- The Earth Community and all the beings that constitute it have fundamental “rights”, including the right to exist, to have a habitat or a place to be, and to participate in the evolution of the Earth community.
- The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings to the extent necessary to maintain the other beings to the extent necessary to maintain the integrity, balance, and health of the communities within it exists.
- Human acts or laws that infringe these fundamental rights violate the fundamental relationships and principles that constitute the Earth community and are therefore illegitimate and “unlawful.”
- Humans must adapt their legal, political, economic, and social systems to be consistent with the fundamental laws or principles that govern how the universe functions and guide humans to in accordance with these, which means that human governance systems at all times must take account of the interests of the whole Earth community and must:
- Determine the lawfulness of human conduct by whether or not it strengthens or weakens the relationships that constitute the Earth community;
- Maintain a dynamic balance between the rights of humans and those of other members of the Earth community on the basis of what is best for Earth as a whole;
- Promote restorative justice (which focuses on restoring damaged relationships) rather than punishment (retribution; and
- Recognize all members of the Earth community as subjects before the law, with the right to the protection of the law and to an effective remedy for human acts that violate their fundamental rights.
With contributions from Thomas Berry and cited in “Earth Jurisprudence: From Colonization to Participation” by Cormac Cullinan, State of the World 2010, State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability p.144 & 145.
Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment
This book argues that the anthropocentric institution of private property needs to be reconceived; drawing on international case law, indigenous views of property and the land use practices of agrarian communities, Peter Burdon considers how private property can be reformulated in a way that fosters duties towards nature. Using the theory of earth jurisprudence as a guide, he outlines an alternative ecocentric description of private property as a relationship between and among members of the Earth community.