4th April 2017
The Hon. MARK PEARSON (18:39): Wild law, also known as Earth jurisprudence, extends the Western understanding of governance, which focuses solely on human interests, to include the concept of governing for the benefit of the whole Earth and its inhabitants. Wild law is Earth-centric rather than anthropocentric. Animals, plants, waterways and ecosystems have intrinsic rights to exist and flourish. New Zealand, Bolivia and India are leading the way in formulating wild law that protects the right of natural systems in perpetuity. Wild law is based on humankind’s most primeval understanding that we share our environment with all living beings, giving and taking in balance. The ancient lore of the Aboriginal peoples ensured that more than 1,000 generations thrived on this island continent without degrading natural ecosystems. However, within 250 years of European colonisation our environment has become severely damaged. Many plants and animals are at the brink of extinction, forests and grasslands are depleted, waterways have been poisoned and our reefs and mangroves are dying. Animal agriculture has polluted our groundwater, eroded our precious soils and destroyed vast tracts of native habitat.
The Western view of the environment sees an expendable resource for profit and pillage. For the sake of future generations, government must incorporate wild law into our regulatory framework. How do we go about enshrining Earth jurisprudence into our laws? The modern originator of wild law, academic lawyer, Cormac Cullinan, in his “A Manifesto for Earth Justice” proposed that ecosystems be given legal personhood with enforceable legal rights. There is precedence for giving non-humans legal personhood, with corporations being given legal rights to promote commerce and trade. If corporate personhood is required for healthy economies, then why not legal personhood for the protection of natural systems that ensure the very survival of the planet?
Wild law is in the early stages of evolution as modern legal doctrine. The framework is little more than a philosophical basis for developing legislation, policies and environmental protection, but there are encouraging recent developments. Australia was once a progressive nation. We were at the forefront of the growth of international human rights and the establishment of the United Nations. In the development of wild law, we are nowhere to be seen. Bolivia is world leader in wild law, drawing upon their indigenous concept of Pachamama, which means Mother Earth, in the adoption of their 2009 constitution:
Pachamama is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings.
The Bolivian Constitution gives natural systems the right to live, biodiversity, clean water and air. In a landmark agreement between the New Zealand Government and the Iwi, or Maori, people, the Whanganui River was granted legal personhood. The river and tributaries become a single entity—Te Awa Tupua—with legal rights and interests overseen by guardians, including an Iwi elder. Following on from the New Zealand agreement, the High Court in India granted legal personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers, appointing three State officials as guardians. The judges wrote, “Ganga and Yamuna provide spiritual and physical sustenance.” Wild law is the modern practice of an ancient knowledge that seeks to prevent us from wreaking our own destruction. Will we act in time? Our survival depends upon it.