‘Earth jurisprudence’ is a term coined by deep ecologist Thomas Berry. Earth Jurisprudence calls for a shift from human-centred to Earth-centred governance, and a recognition of our interconnectedness with nature.
In his book ‘The Great Work: Our Way into the Future’, Thomas Berry provides a powerful critique of what he calls the fundamental ‘establishments’ that govern industrialised societies: law and government, economics, universities/education and religion. He argues that all of these underpinning structures are built on human-centred ways of thinking and doing. They have been forged through the development of ‘western’/European philosophies and socio-economic ways of organising – and they perpetuate an extreme separation between humans and the non-human world.
Earth Jurisprudence promotes the adoption of a number of key principles including: the intrinsic rights of nature to exist and flourish, the deep relationship we have with the rest of the non-human world; the need to create governance structures that enable human societies to fit within our ecological limits and the benefits of engaging with culturally diverse governance structures, particularly indigenous knowledge systems.
Earth Jurisprudence engages with a broad subject matter that includes (but is not limited to) legal theory, environmental law, economics, indigenous epistemologies, cosmology, science, religion and environmental philosophy. Innovative and creative work needs to occur in each of these areas if we are build a truly sustainable and mutually enhancing future society.
The Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA) was created in March 2012, and our work has been directly inspired by the theory of Earth jurisprudence, as well as the remarkable governance and legal systems of the First Nations Peoples of Australia, referred to by some Indigenous people as ‘First Laws’.
We use the term ‘Earth Laws’ to encapsulate the rapidly evolving field of Earth centred legal theory and practice that includes: the philosophy of Earth jurisprudence, the legal issues and approaches included within the emerging field ‘ecological law and governance’, the developing law of ecocide, rights based legal approaches (including Rights of Nature & legal personhood for nature), and other legal concepts and approaches that are being created within, and which directly challenge, existing western traditions of human-centred, positivist law. Some commentators also connect Indigenous legal systems or ‘First Laws’ to the framing of Earth Laws. For example, see the many articles and publications written by Dr Anne Poelina, from the Martuwarra River Council.