When academics began asking if nature should (or even could) have rights under the law in the 1970s, no one imagined the huge shift that would take place, nearly half a century later, to transform this idea into a reality.
The philosophy of law originally termed Earth Jurisprudence by eco-theologian Thomas Berry - and now alternatively known as Ecological Jurisprudence - represents the fastest growing legal movement of the 21st century, says Southern Cross lecturer Dr Alessandro Pelizzon.
“Ecological jurisprudence is based on the idea that Earth is the total sum of all ecosystems within which humans exist, and that, consequently, humans are members of this interconnected network of ecosystems, beings and phenomena. Human wellbeing is connected to, dependent on, and ultimately predicated upon the wellbeing of the network as a whole," says Dr Pelizzon.
The United Nations has recognised 22 April as ‘Mother Earth Day’ to commemorate this philosophical shift. However, Ecological Jurisprudence is not just a theory. Many countries now recognise the rights of nature and Mother Earth as a means to promote sustainable development. Examples, says Dr Pelizzon, are now numerous, including the granting of constitutionally enshrined rights in 2008 to nature or 'Pacha Mama' by the Ecuadorian Constitution, various legislative initiatives in Bolivia and momentous judicial decisions in Colombia. New Zealand, India, Uganda and France have all moved recently to enshrine aspects of ecological jurisprudence in legislation, in particular by identifying natural features - primarily rivers - as legal persons.
The School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross has the highest concentration of academics in the country who are actively researching in the area of Ecological Jurisprudence says Dr Pelizzon. “Students with an interest in this area will find a community that has the concept of justice and critique firmly at the forefront of its rigorous academic programs”.
Dr Pelizzon is one of the founding members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance. He recently moderated a panel at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Harmony with Nature where delegates from around the world met to consider the implications of education and law and their impact on nature. Alessandro’s main areas of research are legal anthropology, legal theory, comparative law, ecological jurisprudence, sovereignty, and Indigenous rights.