Earth Law Principles
While specific Earth Laws are contextual, there are common principles which underlie the health and wellbeing of the whole Earth Community. These principles help to re-member - that is, restore the memory we have lost - and serve as a code of ethics or 'moral compass' to guide our personal, professional and collective practices.
To return to a mutually enhancing presence on Earth, these principles need to be embedded in all aspects of our lives and in the institutions we have developed - law, education, health, economy and religion.
It is our responsibility to make these principles the foundation of the new legal system all over the world. The time has come when human laws and Earth laws must be brought together.Thomas Berry, Rights of the Earth, 2002
The following principles are some of the core ones distilled from the practice of indigenous communities and discussions with allies over the past 20 years, including an international retreat for practitioners of the Global Alliance of Community Ecological Governance (CEG) in 2009.
Wholeness - Earth is a Living Being, a single community webbed together through interdependent relationships. No Living Being nourishes itself. The well-being of each member of the Earth Community is dependent on the well-being of Earth. This requires that we act in the interest of the whole, and of future generations, over the interests of the individual.
Lawfulness - The Earth is part of the Universe, which is ordered and lawful. All life is governed by these laws. We humans need to comply with these laws for our own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the whole. Our Earth is the source of life for all, the a priori source of law. Human law is therefore secondary and derivative. Humans must seek to discover, not make, Earth Jurisprudence/Earth Law. According to indigenous and local communities, who have lived intimately with Earth for millenia, two essential principles are: all life is sacred with inherent value, and that Earth has her thresholds and limits. If we create imbalance then we cause disorder in the Earth's dynamic equilibrium and illness of various kinds will spread. Earth Law requires us to restore the balance of Earth's system.
Duty of Care - Earth Law is not written law but living law. It is a way of life, guided by moral responsibilities. We have a duty of care to all members of the Earth Community, and a duty to contribute to the integrity and well-being of the whole Earth Community and future generations of all species.
Rights of Earth - Earth is a Living Being with intrinsic value. 'Every component of the Earth community has three inherent rights: the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfil its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community.' (Thomas Berry) Human rights come with responsibilities. One of these is not to deprive the rights of other members of the Earth Community.
Mutual Enhancement - Relationships within the Earth Community are reciprocal - a cycle of giving and receiving. For example, plants and trees give out oxygen for all members of the Earth Community to breathe, who in return give out carbon dioxide for plants and trees to take in. Flowers provide nectar for bees to make honey who in turn distribute pollen to assist the flower's reproduction. Our essential role in life is to participate and contribute to the health and resilience of the Earth Community. That which does not enhance the whole will ultimately not enhance ourselves either.
Resilience - The ability to grow, evolve and adapt to change and disturbance, without losing inner coherence, is an inherent quality of all healthy living systems. By practising Earth Law we strengthen our resilience because we are complying with the laws that maintain life's health and vitality. We have a duty to ensure that we do not deprive other species of their own resilience in the process. Further, to ensure that we contribute to the resilience of the Earth Community, of which we are an integral part. In order to read the laws of the Earth we need to become eco-literate. This means becoming literate in the language of the Earth - which requires us to spend time learning from Nature. It also requires us to engage our imagination and out other ways of knowing - feeling, sensing and intuition, as well as the mind. This is how we are able to read our own resilience and that of our wider Earth Community.
Principles distilled over the last decade
Over the past decade, Gaia and partners and allies in the Earth Law Network, have distilled the following Principles. These appear in chronological order.
Airlie Principles, Thomas Berry, approved at Washington, April 2001
Berry, Thomas., The Origin, Differentiation and Role of Rights, 2001
Valley of 1000 Hills Declaration, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa, 1-8 March 2002
Cullinan, Cormac., Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, (Green Books, Totnes, 2002)
Shiva, Vandana., and Navdanya, Earth Democracy, Ten Principles of Justice, Sustainability and Peace, 2002
Botswana Principles of Earth Jurisprudence, Oct 1 - 11, 2004
Hartbeesport Principles, South Africa, 2005
Berry, T. (ed.), Principles on Origin and Nature of the Rights of the Natural World, Evening Thoughts Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 2006), pp.110-111
Berry, T. (ed.), 'Ten Principles for Jurisprudence Revision', Evening Thoughts Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 2006), Appendix 2, 149 - 150
Gaia Foundation and Center for Earth Jurisprudence, Core Principles of Earth Jurisprudence, November 2006 edited by Siemen, P., January 2007
Gaia Foundation, 'Indicators of Earth Jurisprudence' in Gaia Foundation - UKELA, Wild Law Report: Is there any evidence of Earth Jurisprudence in existing law and practice, 2008
East & West African Biodiversity Network, Climate Change Resilience Principles, August 2009
Gaia and CEG Alliance, Earth Jurisprudence Retreat: Principles and Practice for Community Ecological Governance, International Retreat of the Global Alliance on Community Ecological Governance, Schumacher College (28 September - 2 October 2009).
Gaia Foundation, Principles of Earth Jurisprudence - A compilation from materials developed by the EJ Network over the last decade, 2009
See Earth Law Precedents for legal instruments, cases, customary laws and declarations which are rooted in these Earth Law Principles and are opening space for their legal recognition. For example, the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and the legal challenges led by communities in Venda, South Africa; Pira Parana, Colombia, and Karima, Kenya.