Honouring Thomas Berry – The Founding Father of Earth Jurisprudence

Today we honour Thomas Berry and mark the 13th anniversary of his passing.

A luminary of ecological thinking and the father of Earth Jurisprudence, his work has rippled across the world, with the newly formed African Earth Jurisprudence Collective the latest example of this.

For over two decades, Earth Jurisprudence has been the lodestar by which we navigate at Gaia: a way of seeing and being in the world that aligns with and supports thriving and biodiverse life on this living planet.

Earth Jurisprudence is founded on the recognition that the Earth – indeed the Universe – is alive and always in conversation with us.

Below, we share this month’s Earth Jurisprudence update, which invites us to crouch low and learn from our ancient kin, moss, as well as to attune our senses to the playfulness of the natural world. We also explore how in an age of climate catastrophe we, as Earthlings, might align with the ever-unfolding processes of emergence in living systems. Finally, we share the latest ecocentric legal developments, a webinar on the sacred Yamuna river and a pioneering approach to rewilding that centres time-honoured traditional knowledge to rewild both ecology and culture.

In loving memory of Thomas Berry.

 

Thomas Berry, 1914-2009

 

Laws of Nature Ancient Green: Moss, Climate, and Deep TimeRobin Wall Kimmerer reflects on what moss might teach us in an age of climate chaos and the broader implications of these lessons. “We humans pride ourselves on living by the rule of law, but the laws we choose to obey are only those of our own making. We ignore ecological laws as if the fiction of human exceptionalism meant that thermodynamics did not apply to us. Whether we choose to heed them or not, natural laws will prevail. Arrogance has brought us to the brink. The laws of nature will bring us to our knees. And then perhaps we will see the mosses.”

Tree Frog, Ethiopia. Will Baxter for The Gaia Foundation

Reanimating our Worldview Does Nature Play?Flowing from a discussion about the rights of rivers, Ashish Kothari asks “Does Nature play?…Who is to say that a river cascading, bubbling and frothing, jumping over and splitting around boulders, disappearing underground, tumbling down a cliff, breaching its banks, and over generations, changing course, is not playing?…If we recognize that it is not only humans that have emotions, self-perception, fun, and agency, then we can no longer find it acceptable to treat other species or the rest of nature as commodities, or resources meant only for our exploitation.” Rights of Nature at the BorderLorraine Eiler speaks on behalf of the more-than-human beings of Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis in the Sonoran Desert just two hundred yards from the US-Mexico border. Recognised as one of the most sacred sites for the Hia-Ced O’odham people, the springs and their ecological community, including Saguaro cactus, are threatened by border wall construction.  “So many in this country, including Indigenous peoples, have been uprooted—forcibly or by choice—from places, culture, and a sense of belonging. This lack of rootedness can make it harder to see other rooted beings as beings who deserve to live with integrity in the places where they belong.” Emergence We Are Earthadrienne maree brown reminds us that “We are Earth” – a “mix of stardust, oxygen, cells, mating rituals, photosynthesis, and dirt that makes up everything on our planet” – and affirms that to “change the course of the climate crisis, we must draw on the strategies of our fellow life-forms, ensuring collective survival through interconnectedness.” In this article she introduces principles of emergent strategy as a basis for cultural change in a context of climate catastrophe, including adaptation with intention, decentralisation, fractal patterns and creating more possibilities. Quoting Prentis Hemphill, adrienne maree brown closes: “The kind of change we are after is cellular as well as institutional, is personal and intimate, is collective as well as cultural. We are making love synonymous with justice.”

Patterns of bark. Will Baxter for The Gaia Foundation

Rewilding & Traditional Knowledge Rewilding: Traditional Knowledge Guides Protection of Planetary Health in FinlandProviding a model for initiatives elsewhere, Gaia’s partner the Snowchange Cooperative is pioneering a collaborative approach to rewilding that brings together Finnish traditional and Indigenous knowledge holders with scientists to protect peatlands and associated forests and rivers, turning them into carbon sinks again, while bringing back wildlife and supporting fishing and hunting. “Snowchange researchers and traditional knowledge holders stood as equals in the decision-making and governing efforts to rewild Linnunsuo: The team used traditional knowledge to guide the process of restoring the landscape to its former health, while science was used to measure and evaluate ongoing rewilding and report the results to the global community. Using traditional knowledge gleaned from centuries of experience living in a particular place proved essential to choosing bottom-up solutions that work”.

 

Ecocentric Legal Developments India: Madras High Court Affirms that Mother Nature Has RightsFollowing in the footsteps of several other state high courts in India, Madras High Court in Tamil Nadu has ruled that Nature has the “rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.” A similar ruling was overturned by India’s Supreme Court in 2017 due to concerns about the implications of attributing “duties and liabilities” to natural bodies. The judgment invokes “parens patriae jurisdiction”: the power of the government to act as a guardian for those who cannot care for themselves.  Spain: Congress of Deputies Vote to Recognise Rights of Mar MenorEurope’s largest saltwater lagoon, Mar Menor, will be the first ecosystem in Europe to be recognised as a rights-bearing entity following a grassroots campaign and popular legislative initiative petition. With the support of a robust majority of parliamentarians, work is now underway to draft legislation to realise these rights. The Rights of Cenotes: The Last Attempt to Rescue Mexico’s Sacred SitesMayan communities are advocating for the recognition of the rights of the Cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula in response to ongoing pollution of the underground lakes. “If achieved, the recognition would be a new milestone on the road to granting legal personhood to Nature in Mexico, where small steps have already been taken in that direction. The idea has already been incorporated into the constitutions of Mexico City and the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, although no particular ecosystem has yet been recognized as a subject of law in the country.”

 

On the Horizon A Consultation on Water: River Yamuna, IndiaOn 30th May, Center for Earth Ethics hosts a discussion between those working to bring healing and restoration to the Yamuna River. “The river Yamuna is one of India’s most sacred rivers. Closely connected to the stories of the Hindu deity Krishna, the Yamuna is venerated and worshiped by Hindus worldwide. Despite this, the river is considered to be “dead”, so heavily polluted that no life can exist within it… Despite several high-profile campaigns over recent years, the plight of the Yamuna is no closer to being resolved.”

 

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Ferns in the Ethiopian rainforest. Will Baxter for The Gaia Foundation