Earth jurisprudence? What's that?

Ian Mason | 13 years ago

Hello. I’m Ian Mason and this is my blog. I am writing for Eric because a deep interest in Earth Jurisprudence and a long background in the law have led to my abiding interest in the developing possibilities of environmental law. Not many lawyers are philosophers, but I believe that there is a real responsibility on lawyers not just to know and practise law, but also to think about the law we practise and its real social, human and psychological effects.  We are the practitioners: we see what the law does and what can be done with the law. We have the obligation to really understand the implications of what we are doing and working with.

I first heard about Earth Jurisprudence when I met Thomas Berry, about five years ago. He was already in his nineties and he died earlier this year. He was that rare combination: an intellectual visionary with a deep emotional and experiential connection to the world around him in its everyday detail, its cosmic scale and its sacred significance.  Thomas saw the need for a new jurisprudence as part of the human reassessment of its place in the cosmos and, particularly, on the planet, that the present scale of human damage to planet Earth calls for.

Earth Jurisprudence is the manifestation of the Great Jurisprudence, the great laws of the Universe that show themselves in universal order and harmony through the natural world of Earth. In a sense, Earth is a living textbook of its own law, and also of universal law. It speaks to us of order and harmony, of cause and effect, of rhythm and beauty and timeliness; and also of the effects of human ignorance, carelessness and, sometimes, insight and wisdom. It calls upon lawyers and policy-makers to examine how human laws can reflect and correspond with the balance of nature and to make sure that they do so. We need to learn or, more accurately, to re-learn, how to go with the flow of nature and regulate our own lives, individual, social and economic, so that the human–Earth relationship is mutually enhancing, and not as mutually destructive as it is at present.

Earth Jurisprudence is, in a way, an emergent property of the advances in environmental awareness and ecological consciousness of the past two or three decades. It is an articulation of the philosophic outlook that informs much contemporary environmental law-making and has informed more indigenous practices and lifestyles for ages. The best example of EJ in practice is the Constitution of Ecuador, adopted last year, which is the first in the world to recognise that nature has constitutional rights in the same way that people do. Its effect is – or should be – to empower individuals to take legal action to protect the environment, not on the basis of some human proprietary right, but on the basis that human beings (and inhuman corporations) must respect nature because it is valuable in its own right. Week by week, the aim of this blog is to explore and discuss the implications of EJ for all levels of human conduct and lawmaking. Speak to you soon.

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