Rights of Nature Tribunals

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22nd October, 2016, Banco Court, Brisbane

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is described as ‘a worldwide movement’ seeking to create ‘human communities that respect and defend the rights of nature.’ A founding member of this alliance is the AELA or Australian Earth Laws Alliance. Both organisations have held Rights of Nature (RON) tribunals, the most recent of which took place in the smart, modern surroundings of the Banco courtroom in Brisbane’s civil law precinct. Some 150 people were in attendance for this serious, yet inspiring and well-organised event. The day opened with a dance and welcome to Yuggera country by the Nunakal Yuggera Dancers. After brief opening remarks by the forum chair, Dr Michelle Maloney, the first of four sessions got under way. The program was as follows:

  • Session 1: Mardoowara / Fitzroy River (Western Australia) VS Federal and State Governments;
  • Session 2: Forests of Australia VS Federal and State Governments;
  • Session 3: Great Artesian Basin VS Federal and State Governments and the Unconventional Gas Industry; and
  • Session 4: Great Barrier Reef and Atmospheric Commons VS Federal and State Governments and Fossil Fuel Industries. (The full brochure is here… )

The format consisted of opening statements by representatives of each natural constituency. This was followed by questions / comments from the panel, and expert testimony from a variety of people with close knowledge of each area. Foremost among these were people of the land whose laws and practices to protect and sustain it go back thousands of years. Supporting them were other workers in those areas, scientists and legal representatives. Each case concluded with a summing up phase during which details of specific actions, policies and recommended changes to laws and regulations were put forward. This deliberately formal structure proved much more effective than the usual lecture or panel since it brought into play a whole series of overlapping accounts, each representing a different aspect of the area and the issues it faces.

forest_community_2016_smallSome of the key points that emerged are as follows.

  • Instead of using the broad-brush term ‘environment’ which is arguably too static, we could usefully refer to our ‘life-support system.’
  • Terms like ‘Gaia’, ‘Mother Earth,’ ‘nature spirits’ may be too amorphous to have sufficient impact. We could perhaps ascribe to certain natural features the status of ‘a living person.’ This would help us to recognise the living, systemic qualities of, for example, the Great Artesian Basin, the Great Barrier Reef and what remains of Australia’s ancient forests. There’s an ironic precedent here in that companies were provided with this very status by a US court many years ago, with predictably disastrous results.
  • In the Bunya Mountains near Brisbane there’s an interpretive sign that explains how clearing the forest replaces biotic volume with mere area. During the second session a similar point was made – the older forests are far richer in terms of species requirements, services, niches for life, carbon uptake, resistance to fire and so on. The current policy, however, is to replace old forests with new ones that are essentially monocultures set out in rows (for easier harvesting). There’s thus a double loss of volume and rich diversity that city dwellers are unlikely to appreciate.
  • For native peoples their law is the only law that matters because it is based on caring for and protection of the land. Post-colonial laws have proven to be inadequate and primarily address how the land and its resources are to be harvested, dug up or otherwise exploited.
  • Even though laws, regulations and legally binding agreements exist they are routinely ignored by federal and state governments. (Hence the need for RON forums.) In the case of forests, for example, existing laws provide triggers and referral options that are devolved to states. But they are seldom applied or enforced because the latter have unresolved conflicts of interest between development and protection. De facto exemptions that circumvent attempts to protect natural features are regularly provided to large-scale, commercial operators. This is another legal failing but it could, in principle, be corrected.
  • The overall lack of interest by the Federal government is demonstrated by the fact that the Forestry Act currently in use dates back to 1959.

Toward the end of the third session one of the panel members identified the central issue that underlay much of the detail of the day. The point was made that the multiple failures of law and administration noted throughout were ‘not accidental.’ They were and are direct consequences of a system that’s primarily evolved to serve the rich and powerful. Furthermore, the worldview of the latter could not be more different to that of native peoples.

Reflection, Critique and Paradigm Formation

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Post-colonial law is a law for the rich as defined by Western Colonial interests. It is also founded on Judeo-Christian culture that embodies an injunction to ‘subdue’ the Earth and its creatures for human use. We now know that the utilitarian principles that emerged from this culture and permeate its worldview are utterly unsuitable for our present world, its natural features, the people who are alive today and their descendants. By contrast, the laws, rules and practices of the world’s native peoples should be respected and given new legal standing. A combination of science, rights of nature law reform and the leadership of native peoples are needed to make this happen.

Richard A Slaughter, Brisbane, 23rd October 2018

A tribunal for the Earth: Why it Matters by Cormac Cullinan

Imagine how different the world would be if courts decided on the legitimacy – or otherwise – of human conduct on the basis of whether or it was in the best interests of the whole community of life. Imagine if there were an international tribunal that concerned itself with the fundamental rights of all beings, including humans, and decided matters on the basis of what was best for the Earth community as a whole, regardless of politics; an Earth Tribunal of respected individuals that drew on the wisdom of humanity as whole, respected the laws of Nature and was not beholden to governments or corporations. The establishment of the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature is intended to give effect to this dream. Read more…

Summary of Tribunal on the Great Barrier Reef by Michelle Maloney, 2014

I am honoured to present this case on behalf if the Great Barrier Reef to the International Ethics Tribunal that the Rights of Mother Earth are being violated, because the Great Barrier Reef’s very existence is under threat. The Reef is under threat from a combination of land based marine pollution, the existing and proposed expansion of coal port development in human settlements adjacent to the reef and the escalating pollution of the atmosphere, which is causing devastating climate change. Read more…

Global Integrity Summit Day One: The Big Picture

Griffith University, Brisbane, 13th October 2015

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It’s rare to attend an event such as this one that ticks nearly all the boxes. When my wife and I decided to register it was simply on the basis that it offered three consecutive sessions on issues of major significance. They were:

  • Free speech, freedom of the press and integrity in journalism
  • Big data, privacy and surveillance, and
  • Climate change and climate justice.

The event was held at the impressive Brisbane Conservatorium on South Bank. Read more…

Overshoot Day 2015 – The Biggest Story of the Year?

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In Australia, as in most other places, Thursday August 13th 2015 came and went without any particular fanfare or comment. Yet on that day the Global Footprint Network (GFN) issued a press release that was picked up and commented upon mainly, it seems, by certain on-line ‘niche’ media. It turns out that August 13th was the day that humanity crossed a threshold that went far beyond the merely symbolic. It was the day in 2015 when the collective demands of humanity upon natural systems exceeded what can be regenerated within a year.

The costs are evident in a number of ways that include deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Interestingly enough, what the GFN calls Earth Overshoot Day fell last year in early October – which means that our demands on an increasingly constrained world have grown much more rapidly, perhaps, then even the environmentally aware among us may have suspected. Even more interesting is that these challenging facts achieved virtually zero exposure in terms of conventional column inches or airtime. Humanity carried on oblivious to the implications of its spiraling demands. The fact that these are undermining its present and future is evidently a truth that cannot be spoken. It therefore continues to be avoided and overlooked.

The GFN calculates the date of Earth Overshoot Day in the following way. It:

calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in 2015: (Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day).

No doubt many people would be willing to contest the methodology and its conclusions – and so they should. After all the implications are profound. But the sad fact is that the conversation is simply not taking place out in the open where it can gain traction and inform any meaningful public discourse. There’s a precedent for this elision of uncomfortable reality that refers us all the way back to 1972 and the publication of the first Limits to Growth (LTG) study. As Karen Higgs (Collision Course, 2014) and others have pointed out, it has become increasingly clear that the conclusions of the LTG constituted a rare and valuable gift to humanity that humanity was unprepared or unwilling to receive. The study and its authors were subjected to severe abuse because they challenged the primacy of economic growth – one of the fundamental assumptions of the social and economic order. Now, however, the results of failing to heed and understand the LTG over several decades means that we are currently facing extreme versions of the problems that had earlier been foreseen.

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The GFN can, therefore, in some ways be regarded as a successor to the LTG team. But the methodology has changed and, I would argue, improved. Looked at as a date that moves forward each year ‘overshoot day’ provides another clear signal about what is happening. Moreover, the GFN team draws a surprisingly positive implication in its press release. It suggested that: ‘the global agreement to phase out fossil fuels that is being discussed around the world ahead of the Climate Summit in Paris would significantly help curb the Ecological Footprint’s consistent growth and eventually shrink the Footprint.’ Similarly:

The climate agreement expected at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 this December will focus on maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This shared goal will require nations to implement policies to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2070, per the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), directly impacting the Ecological Footprints of nations. Assuming global carbon emissions are reduced by at least 30 percent below today’s levels by 2030, in keeping with the IPCC’s suggested scenario, Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back on the calendar to September 16, 2030 (assuming the rest of the Footprint would continue to expand at the current rate).

The press statement goes on to assert that ‘this is not impossible.’ Yet these hopeful suggestions adhere to a highly improbable trajectory. Given the current state of social upheaval and geopolitical conflict in the world – to say nothing of dissonant values and uneven development – the chances of contending nations and over-powerful corporations agreeing to rein in humanity’s demands on the Earth appear negligible.

The truth that seldom gets reported anywhere in mainstream media is that the human enterprise is running a long way beyond any reasonable prospect of moderation or control. It follows that the forces most likely to engender changes of course are those that are emerging from the global system itself. That is to say, the planet is adjusting to our collective impacts with glacial but unstoppable momentum. As a result we are, as James Lovelock puts it, in for a very ‘rough ride into the future.’ It’s hardly surprising that currently affluent populations would rather avert their gaze than admit to themselves that the world is running out of options.

Review of Higgs, K. Collision Course: http://richardslaughter.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/Collision_Course_Review_Final_070415.pdf

About Earth Overshoot Day: http://www.overshootday.org/about-earth-overshoot-day/

Global Footprint Network: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/at_a_glance/

Illustrations courtesy of the Global Footprint Network

Rally and March for the Great Barrier Reef

A large crowd turned out in Brisbane on Sunday 25th August to draw attention to proposed developments in northern Queensland adjacent to the reef. A rally was held in Queen’s Park followed by a good natured march around the CBD. The document below gives my impressions of the event. A few of the pictures I took on that day can be found on this site under ‘Images.’

Reflections on the Save the Reef Rally and March (To open click here)

Here are some other resources associated with the event and the vital issues it raises. To get a quick impression click on the Source News and ABC Reports below.

Bill McKibben’s piece on: How Australian Coal is Causing Global Damage: False Profits, was published in The Monthly, June 2013, No. 90.

Photos of the event: http://fightforthereef.org.au/photos-rally-for-the-reef/

The Source News Report: http://thesourcenews.com/2013/08/29/thousands-gather-for-rally-for-the-reef/

ABC News Report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-25/great-barrier-reef-on-protesters-voting-agenda/4911138

Also see Felicity Wishart, Politicians risk future of reef for sake of progress http://www.smh.com.au/comment/politicians-risk-future-of-reef-for-sake-of-progress-20130811-2rq4h.html Retrieved 12th August, 2013

Responding to the ‘global emergency’ or the ‘megacrisis’

I’ve just added a new section to the site.

It introduces five recently produced clips from a mid-2012 conference session in Toronto. The material may be useful to anyone wishing to review approaches to what, by any measure, is a vast and immeasurably challenging topic (but, I would argue, one we can no longer afford to ignore). It also acts as a kind of ‘marker in time’ that identifies the point that an extended conversation between Michael Marien, William Halal and myself had reached. We were also fortunate that Thomas Homer-Dixon was available to participate. If you only have time to view one clip, I suggest you look at his since there are few people anywhere with his depth of understanding and knowledge.

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History

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For the past year or so I’ve been working on project with the above title. I chose it because, rather than viewing the emerging planetary crisis merely in fatalistic or downbeat terms, I wanted to see if it was possible to re-frame it in a more positive light. Like most others who’ve been paying attention, I acknowledge the seriousness of our situation and also the fact that it could indeed bring the whole human enterprise to a relatively sudden and ignominious end. Given our careless uses of the environment and our penchant for ignoring planetary limits that, certainly, is the diminished future toward which many trends point.

Yet, as has been known for a long time, ‘trend is not destiny.’ With our in-built capacities for foresight, forward thinking, anticipation and choice, there’s still time to come to grips with our predicament and to change direction. Human destiny is not set in stone. We are perhaps the only animals that can see emerging futures clearly enough to make decisions about how our everyday modus operandi can affect our collective prospects for good or ill. The big question seems to be ‘can we change course in time?’ There’s plenty of evidence to support both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.

As I discovered during my research, this fact provides a vital clue. While many continue to be entranced by the latest technological wonders – currently iPads and 3D televisions – the keys to our future lie elsewhere. But, as I reviewed a broad range of hard copy and on-line material, I found surprisingly few pointers to that widely overlooked territory.

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is an attempt to apply what I’ve learned over some three decades of futures and foresight work. Ironically, therefore, I had to set aside nearly all of the ‘futures literature’ and to scan more widely than ever before. As a result this work makes reference to many different fields of enquiry. Key questions that arose were: how can so many contributions fit together within a coherent whole? Also, how can many different kinds of truth be honoured and adjudicated? There’s never likely to be an answer to such questions that will satisfy everyone. Pluralism reigns. The culture wars continue – both within nations and between different cultural spheres. Nor will the post-modern tendency to critique everything subside overnight. Complexity, pluralism and difference are here to stay. That said, a method that can handle such challenges is a vital part of any credible attempt to respond to a world in deep crisis.

I’ve found an Integral perspective useful as it is perhaps most able to provide a panoramic and in-depth view of the issues and concerns before us. As a perspective and method it is far from static. It is a process that evolves and changes from year to year. To the extent the present work succeeds, it is to no little extent a result of the power, depth and inclusiveness that this perspective offers.

The work will be published in eBook, PDF and hard copy formats. In the meantime here are two ‘tasters’ of what is to come – a draft introduction and chapter outline. To access the full work, you may want to bookmark this weblog and check back from time to time. Please also note that I’ve provided a visual intro and overview of the book on the page here that also carries the same title. To access it just click on the relevant entry on the upper right section of this front page. Another page records some of the early comments received in response to pre-publication drafts.

Introduction To open click here

Overview of chapters To open click here

Applying Integral Thinking to HIV/AIDS and Climate Change/Global Warming

How do you demonstrate the value of new thinking? One of the best ways, perhaps, is to show how it can be released from various ‘ivory towers’ and applied to pressing concerns in the real world. The Integral perspective has been around for some time so opinions will vary on whether or not it represents truly ‘new thinking.’ What is clear, however, is that it is being applied to some of the most intractable and serious global issues. Two papers are provided here that demonstrate this very clearly. One, by Barrett Brown and Don Beck, looks at ‘How to tailor public communications about HIV/AIDS to different worldviews.’ It not only provides a layered account of the characteristics and implications of five different worldviews it also provides some striking graphic examples that illustrate some of these differences. The summary table on p. 6 is particularly valuable and I’m grateful to the authors for allowing me to post the document here.

In April 2009 I placed on this site a series of in-depth reviews I’d written of a number of works on climate change and global warming. The second paper provided here is the full text of the work that eventuated. It is called ‘Beyond the threshold: using climate change literature to support climate change response’ and was published in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, vol. 4, no. 4, 2009, pp. 26-46. The paper explores patterns in the literature and makes suggestions about how the integral lens can both clarify issues and support necessary actions. It concludes by discussing new kinds of motivation that will be needed to resolve the global crisis.

These papers are two samples from a rapidly growing literature. For those who would like a concise overview of Integral theory, the most useful and concise introduction I know of is by Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and it can be found here: http://integrallife.com/node/37539

Communicating about HIV/Aids

Beyond the Threshold (of climate change)

Beyond the threshold – overviews of 14 climate change related works

For the past several years I’ve been seeking out and reviewing some of what I consider to be the most useful works on climate change and global warming. The latter has become the single most serious threat to humankind, its world and other species. Yet social, economic and, in particular, political responses have, thus far, fallen a very long way short. So I decided to write a paper that employs integral methods to look beyond the current ‘threshold’ of understanding and action where humanity currently seems to be ‘stuck.’ That paper, however, became much too long. So I’ve placed the content reviews here, where readers can find them, and will later detail where the main paper can be found.