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02/12/2008 01:46 PM     print story email story         Page: 1  | 2  

Wild Law: The New Jurisprudence

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Every component of the Earth Community has three rights:

**The Right To Be
**The Right to Habitat
**The Right to fulfill its role in the ever-renewing processes of the earth community - Thomas Berry


Wild Law, the acknowledgement in law and governance that nature and all its elements have rights, is a concept whose time has come, and you'll likely be hearing more about it from now on.

Remember how suddenly the Iron Curtain came down, despite how solidly it had been in place for almost 50 years? And remember how the entrenched apartheid system in South Africa ended so abruptly? Many people struggled for decades, but when the world was finally ready for a paradigm shift, it happened quickly.

With global warming waking up even those previously in deep denial about the dire state of the environment, the embrace of wild law may be the next paradigm shift.

The Law of the Wild  

Wild law recognizes the rights of rivers to flow unimpeded, the rights of mountains to remain intact instead of having their tops blown off for coal mining, the rights of old growth forests to remain unlogged, and the rights of all humans, animals, birds, insects amphibians and other beings to a habitat that supports their existence.

Wild law requires that decisions made by communities, governing bodies, courts or other social or cultural authority adhere to, rather than violate, these rights. Wild Law does not place humans above other members of the "Earth Community," as visionary Thomas Berry puts it. It is ecocentric (Earth-centered) rather than anthropocentric (human-centered). If we make the paradigm shift, we will enter what Berry calls the "Ecozoic Era," taking our rightful place in the Earth Community instead of attempting to rule it.

Wild Law is a framework for the reform of our current approach to law and governance which currently accords corporations the right to pillage and plunder, destroying human habitats as well as that of other beings, sending species after species into extinction.

It's bad enough that humans abuse the Earth, but we have allowed corporations to gain "personhood," meaning they have the same rights as individuals. This enables them to override communities that try to stop pollution of their air, soil and water by a factory farm, for example. Corporations can claim the attempt to keep them out violates their civil rights - the community is forced by courts and state and federal government to comply. So, humans, too, have lost their rights, along with those of all of nature.

South African attorney and former anti-apartheid activist Cormac Culliinan coined the term "Wild Law" and authored a book by that name to serve as a text for a new movement. Four recent developments in the field give hope that the paradigm shift may be closer than we think: the establishment of a Wild Law center inside a U.S. law school; the first Wild Law conference in the U.S.; a web of Wild Law communities around the world; and the first actual wild law enacted in the U.S.

In April 2007, the first Wild Law conference took place at the first Wild Law center, the Center for Earth Jurisprudence (CEJ). CEJ, which opened in 2006, is cosponsored by two Catholic universities, Barry and St. Thomas, in Miami, Florida. The Gaia Foundation held a similar conference in South Africa and the UK two years earlier.

Landmark Law Passes  

On September 19, 2006, the Tamaqua Borough Council in Pennsylvania became the first U.S. municipality to strip corporations of rights and recognize the rights of nature. The council passed an ordinance prohibiting corporations from applying sewage sludge in the borough. Four other communities in the state have since passed similar ordinances denying corporations personhood.

The municipalities were able to do this with the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit law firm in Pennsylvania. CELDF's cofounder attorney Thomas Linzey now receives calls from around the country from communities facing unwanted incursions by corporations.

The first thing he helps them figure out is how to regain control of their local government and what ordinances are necessary to keep out toxic waste incinerators, sewage sludge, factory farms, cell phone towers or other environmental hazards.

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