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…

Policies for a Post-Growth Economy

Alexander_Policies_PG_EconOccasionally an item comes along that deserves and requires greater attention than usual. In my view this is the case with a short monograph by Sam Alexander with the above title. I’ve reviewed it for the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) quarterly journal, Compass. The latter is only available to members so I’m placing the review here to provide wider access. A link to the monograph itself is provided on page one of the review.

One day it would be interesting to sit down and assemble some of the most significant ‘signals of change’ generated over the last half-century by concerned people of all kinds and from different fields. In an alternative history that is perhaps now lost some of those signals would have not been dismissed out as ‘loony left’, ‘Greenie fantasy’, ‘scientific nonsense’ and the like. Nor would some of the world’s most powerful actors have succeeded so completely in promulgating global agendas founded on their own rather specific requirements and needs. 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…

The Planet Talks, Womadelaide, March 2014

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A few months ago I received an invitation to speak at a Planet Talks session at the Womadelaide festival in early March. We were due to be heading overseas soon afterward so time would be short – but I decided to accept. I’m glad I did because the four day long weekend we’ve just had stands out as one of the most successful and enjoyable trips we’ve ever undertaken. In fact I don’t recall when I took part in any event that was as well organised as this one. (To read more go to the Action Resources 2014 section.)

The session I took part in was called Transforming Society and the other two speakers were Paul Gilding and Simon Holmes a Court. Robyn Williams was the host. It was broadcast in late May on the ABC program Big Ideas. Here is a link to the video recording.

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/05/21/4009084.htm

Socratic Lecture, Thirroul, Illawarra 20th March

It is an honour to be asked to present the second Socratic Lecture in Thirroul. The topic I chose is: Caring for future generations – why a wise culture trumps the growth economy. As part of my preparation I turned to Plato’s classic work The Trial and Execution of Socrates and was struck at how the genius of the man can still be communicated and felt over two-plus millennia later. It also occurred to me that, cultural and personal differences aside, the fundamentals of what are referred to as ‘human nature’ do not appear to have changed markedly over that extended period. Which may or may not be good news, given the fact that to have any chance of successfully confronting the global challenges facing us requires depth understanding in a number of domains, including that of our own interior selves.

To support this event I’ve placed two items in the Action Resources section of this weblog. First is a 5pp summary of the lecture. Second is a link to an exceptional (and remarkably brief) paper by Paul and Ann Ehrlich that attempts to answer the question: Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided? Don’t be tempted to pigeonhole this as ‘gloom and doom’ (a term I detest since it indicates lazy thinking / avoidance). Related items on this same weblog include a post and links to a session I was involved in that took place in Toronto last year. That session addressed what my North American colleagues refer to as the Global megacrisis.

Those looking for other related resources may wish to check the Foresight International site where copies, pdfs and ePub versions of recent works can be found: http://www.foresightinternational.com.au/

Finally, as this was being written I was finishing the ePub version of my book The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History. The book won an APF award last year as a ‘most important futures work’ and is highly relevant to the themes of the lecture.

Socratic lecture flyer (To open click here)