April 2011

The Rights of Nature Book Launch

Back Row (L-R): Bill Twist, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Brian Swimme. Middle Row (L-R): Pat Siemen, Mari Margil, Shannon Biggs, Cormac Cullinan. Front Row (L-R): Robin Milam, Nati Greene, Linda Sheehan, Tom Linzey.

Sister Patricia Siemen, CEJ’s Director, joined an international group of environmental pioneers on April 27, 2011, at the publication party for The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Inspired by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth,  the book collects the work of writers, political leaders, and environmental and community activists from around the world, sharing their passion and insights about the need to recognize Earth’s rights and move toward a sustainable future. Many of the authors were present at the party, which was held at the Delancy Street Foundation, San Francisco, California.

The Rights of Nature is a publication of the Council of Canadians, Fundación Pachamama, and Global Exchange.

April 2010

Religion and Nature – Your Turn to Be Heard

The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture is hosting a conference titled “Living on the Edge,” from December 16 – 19, 2010, at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia. The ISSRNC has issued a call to scholars from all disciplines for papers to be presented at the conference, as well as proposals regarding sessions, panels and posters that address the theme of “Living on the Edge.” “Through a multidisciplinary framework of religion, nature and culture, the conference explores the relationships between people and nature, social and ecological systems, local and global economies, art and ecology, science and religion, and cultural diversity and biodiversity.” Proposals should include a 250 – 300-word abstract of the session and/or presentation, and a 150-word biography. The deadline for submissions is July 30, 2010; send these to issrnc2010@fmail.com directly. Learn more about the conference at www.religionandnature.com/society/conferences.htm.

March 2010

The Year of the Tiger

As the New Year of the Tiger gets under way, Asian faith leaders consider how best to promote efforts to promote the protection of the remaining, but dwindling, numbers of the great cat.

Daoists have prohibited food or medicinal ingredients from endangered species as one element of their eight-year plan, as do the Shanghai Buddhists. Pointing out that “human beings are far more dangerous than tigers,” the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyupa group likewise has urged his followers to shun products containing tiger parts and to do whatever possible to stop illegal animal trade: “Within the forest ecosystem there are natural protectors, and the tiger is one of them.”

They are joined in their efforts by a variety of others pursuing similar agendas. For example, the government of Nepal announced the establishment of a National Tiger Conservation Authority, to be backed by a Wildlife Crime Control Committee; it also has expanded the Bardia National Park by some 350 square miles. In January, Thailand hosted an international conference on the matter of tiger conservation: the intent of the First ASIA Ministerial Conference (AMC) on Tiger Conservation: Enforcement, Trade, Landscapes and Financing was to update the National Tiger Action Plans of tiger-range countries in coordination with law enforcement, financial and land use-planning agencies; to identify needs ranging from political to financial and to secure these with the support of the international community; and to define a Global Tiger Stabilization and Recovery Support Program for effective resource mobilization. A Global Tiger Initiative Summit is planned in November 2010.

At present, possibly only some 3,200 tigers remain in the wild. Failure is not an option.

November 2009

Many Heavens, One Earth

From November 2 – 4, 2009, Windsor Castle hosted representatives of nine major religions in a celebration organized by ARC-UNDP; religious leaders gathered to launch their long-term plans to protect the environment. Prince Philip was the host of the summit of religious and secular leaders and celebration of faiths titled, “Many Heavens, One Earth – Faith Commitments for a Living Planet.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the key-note speech, in which he discussed the role of the faiths and the United Nation’s interest in working with them. He underscored particularly, the power of the major faith groups to make a concrete difference. “Together, the major faith groups have established, run, or contribute to over half of all schools world-wide. You are the third largest category of investors in the world. You produce more weekly magazines and newspapers than all the secular press in the European Union. Your potential impact is enormous. You can establish green religious buildings, invest ethically in sustainable products, purchase only environmentally friendly goods. You can set an example for the lifestyles of billions of people. Your actions can encourage political leaders to act more boldly in protecting people and the planet,” said General Ban Ki-moon.

Among the religious leaders making announcements was Sheikh Ali Goma’a, Grand Mufti of Egypt. Affirming that “Pollution and global warming pose an even greater threat than war, and the fight to preserve the environment could be the most positive way of bringing humanity together,” Sheikh Ali Goma’a announced that, under the Muslim seven-year action plan on the environment, Medina (Madinah), the second holiest city of Islam, is to become a model “green” city, along with Sala, Morocco, Dar Al Iftaa, Egypt, and others.

October 2009

Wild Law Spreads like Wildfire!
A report by Liz Rivers

 Some of the participants Down Under

Liz Rivers

“The future is not somewhere we are going, it is somewhere we are creating.”

In October 2009 Australia held its first conference on Wild Law. Attended by over 60 participants, representing every state in Australia, and greatly influenced by the annual UKELA Wild Law weekends, it was a resounding success. The participants included a mix of students, lawyers, civil servants, activists and educators. I was privileged to be invited to deliver the keynote address, giving an overview of Earth Jurisprudence (the philosophy on which Wild Law is based) and an update on developments in this field around the world. I commented that I felt like an Olympic torch bearer, carrying the flame across the world and connecting the existing Wild Law network with the flame in Australia, so that we are all connected and the network is enlarged and strengthened.

The event was the brainchild of Peter Burdon, a student who is currently doing a PhD on Earth Jurisprudence at Adelaide University, Department for Law, Society and Religion. It was organised entirely by a volunteer group from Friends of the Earth Adelaide, with sponsorship from the University. I was impressed with how this group pulled off such an ambitious project so successfully. I was also pleased to be able to share with them what we have learnt at UKELA from hosting our own Wild Law events for the past five years, and they drew heavily on our methodology and ethos when planning their own event.

Range of contributions
Peter was successful in engaging an impressive variety of presenters to input on a range of topics. Presenters were drawn from academia, government, NGOs and other activists. We heard about:

  • Rights for nature
  • Nature as property
  • Earth Jurisprudence and Science
  • Economics
  • Aboriginal perspectives on Earth Jurisprudence
  • Wild Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution

Dr. Greg Ogle of the Wilderness Society told us about activists’ unsuccessful attempts to mount a legal challenge to the construction of the largest paper mill in the southern hemisphere in a wilderness in Tasmania, which demonstrated very clearly the inadequacies of our current regulation systems. He observed that sustainable development is currently interpreted as pushing the system to its limits, but as long as those limits are not exceeded we still judge the system to be “sustainable”. This is very different to genuinely living in harmony with nature.

Dr. Nicole Rogers commented that what we call “environmental law” is really development law – it is not primarily about protecting the environment.

We also heard about the “de-growth” movement and challenges to the growth model of progress. I was surprised to learn that as early as the1840s the philosopher JS Mill posed the question: “towards what end is society tending by its industrial progress?”

The question is just as relevant and even more urgent today.

Where the Wild Things Are
I particularly enjoyed a presentation by Dr Nicole Rogers of Southern Cross University, New South Wales on cultural perspectives on “wildness” by reference to the 1963 children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak! She read the story to us and then drew out some of the underlying assumptions it makes such as: wilderness is something that needs to be controlled and subdued, wilderness is seen as separate from civilisation, it is a place where there are no other human beings and it is a place where white people go to play. It was fascinating to have these assumptions drawn out and brought alive by reference to an apparently very simple and much-loved children’s story.

Indigenous perspective
Earth Jurisprudence draws heavily on indigenous wisdom. One of the very interesting aspects of doing a workshop such as this is that in Australia the juxtaposition of indigenous perspectives (Aboriginal) and “first world” attitudes is very sharply defined, unlike in Europe where our dominant culture has evolved over millennia. There was a very lively breakout session on Aboriginal perspectives, led by Rebecca Butler, who attended the UKELA wild law weekend in 2008, and works in the field of aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Mind and Body
The event took place in the Adelaide Hills, in an outdoor activity centre, and in time-honoured “Wild Law” fashion we spent time in nature as a way of integrating the ideas we were listening to indoors. We were led in exercises designed to reconnect us with our senses and our natural surroundings. I loved connecting with the Australian trees and plants, and noticing the differences from European flora.

One of the most delightful features of the weekend was that the catering was all done by Friends of the Earth volunteers. On Saturday evening they prepared a “bioregional banquet” where all the food was sourced locally. The head chef read out a list of ingredients and their sources before we tucked into our feast. I felt deeply touched by the effort and care which had gone into sourcing and preparing this meal, down to rosemary from a neighbour’s garden and eggs from the chickens kept in the chef’s back yard! It was both ethical and delicious.

On Sunday morning a group worked on a declaration as follows:
“We the participants of Wild Law, declare that the perceived separation between nature and human beings is a fundamental cause of the current environmental crisis. Our law reflects this by treating nature as property and in restricting rights to human subjects. We contend that law needs to transition from an exclusive focus on human beings and recognise that we exist as part of a broader earth community. We recognise that the universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not primarily of objects to be used. Each component member of the universe is thus capable of having rights. In many diverse ways we commit to evolving law so that it protects the natural world from destruction and cultivating Wild Laws that are consistent with the philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence.”

The start of something big?
By the time we came to the closing circle, friendships and deep connections had been made. Many reported on feeling inspired, plus a sense of relief in meeting like-minded people and a resolve to go back to their workplaces and communities and explore ways to put these ideas into practice. I was struck by how similar the atmosphere was to events in the UK, and once again felt very grateful to be part of this global movement. I reflected that Amnesty International started in a kitchen in London in the early 1960s and now has 2.1 million members worldwide. Are we starting a similar social movement?

Next steps
In addition to organising the conference, Peter Burdon has also arranged for a book to be published on Earth Jurisprudence by Wakefield Press in Adelaide. It will be a collection of essays by all the leading thinkers in this field. With over 30 contributors, it is due for publication in October 2010. The plan is to make the Wild Law Australia conference an annual event (possibly hosted by different Friends of the Earth groups around Australia), with the next event coinciding with the launch of the book.

My favourite quote of the weekend was from participant Alessandro Pelizzon, a Ph.D. student:

“Earth Jurisprudence is to law what quantum physics is to science.”

Liz Rivers is a member of the UKELA Wild Law group and has been involved with planning and facilitating UKELA Wild Law conferences and workshops since 2004. A former commercial lawyer, she works as a mentor and coach to leaders in the sustainability field as well as being a speaker and thought leader in the field of Earth Jurisprudence.

October 2009

Anglican Communion Environmental Network’s “The Hope We Share - A Vision for Copenhagen”

The Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) also has weighed in about the need to adopt a climate change agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that enshrines realizable, enforceable targets. On October 12, 2009, ACE issued “The Hope We Share: A Vision For Copenhagen,” a statement addressed to Anglicans and friends of creation worldwide regarding the moral consequences of climate change. The three-page document launches an appeal to the world leaders at the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009: “The Copenhagen Conference can either produce a bland, minimalist set of non enforceable targets or it can sketch a vision to inspire the world and its peoples. Leaders lead, please  …  do not let us down.” The entire statement is available at http://acen.anglicancommunion.org/_userfiles/File/copenhagen_ACEN.pdf.

September 2009

Pope Benedict XVI – “Gift of creation” under threat

At the end of August 2009, Pope Benedict XVI addressed an audience on environmental issues. He incited world leaders to work together, in solidarity with weaker global regions and with transparency, in devising means to address environmental devastation and in sending the right signals to their citizens to counter harmful environmental practices. Referring again to a “‘pressing moral need for renewed solidarity’ not only between countries but also between individuals,” he stressed that the social and economic costs of nature’s resources must be absorbed by those using them, rather than by the world’s poor and by our children. A transformation from the current model of global development, through greater and shared responsibility for creation, is urgent, both because of the gravity of environmental crises affecting the planet and because of “the scandal of hunger and human misery.” With this in mind, the Pope offered his encouragement to the leaders gathering at the world climate summit in New York on September 22 in the hope that they will “enter into their discussions constructively and with generous courage.” The meeting is intended to prepare the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009. See the Pope’s comments at www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20090826_en.html.

June 2009

“EcoSikh” consultation guides Sikh community’s environmental efforts

As noted previously (see archives, May 2009), the UNARC Seven-Year Plan project is intended to help the world’s religions devise road maps for improving environmental stewardship and to contribute to the UN climate change agreement process in Copenhagen in December 2009. In response, the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE) has joined forces with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to develop “EcoSikh.” In an effort to discuss and agree to both a course of action and the infrastructure needed to support that course, a consultation is to be held in New Delhi, India, July 4, 2009. Dr. Rajwant Singh, the chairperson of SCORE, has said, “EcoSikh provides an unprecedented opportunity for the Sikh community. Throughout our history, Sikhs have been pioneers in environmental work and continue to be so today. EcoSikh will help the community to connect all that is already being done and will enable us to forge new paths toward the creation of a sustainable and eco-friendly planet.” The practical results of such efforts should not be underestimated, and the Sikh gurdwaras in India have been cited in example; feeding some 30 million people daily at no charge, their methods of sourcing food and conserving energy have a significant impact on the environment. To learn more, visit www.sikhnet.com/news/ecosikh.

May 2009

An Exciting Convergence of Events – Protecting the Planet

While the world prepares for  the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 (http://en.cop15.dk/), and many of the world’s major religions are encouraging bold governmental action by launching their respective “Seven-Year Plans”  to protect the planet (www.arcworld.org/news.asp?pageID=317), increasingly, houses of worship in the United States have started to walk the talk by building green. Since 2005, ten congregations have received LEEDs certification for environmentally friendly buildings, and another 54 have submitted their applications. In addition, a total of some 2,000 houses of worship participate in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Congregations program. The Rev. Elaine Strawn of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ohio says, “Having an environmentally friendly worship space is a reflection of spirituality.” Visit www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30481083 for more information.

April 2009

Stepping Back: Is Religion Necessary for Sustainability?

In “A New Genesis: Getting World Religions to Worship Ecologically,” an intriguing article found in the Miller-McCune online magazine, veteran journalist Tom Jacobs explores a pivotal question in the field of religion and ecology: Can ancient religious forms inspire the modern ecological worldview necessary to jump-start changed behavior among the larger populace? Jacobs’ pithy article brings valuable background information to the debate. In addition, it contrasts the views of eminent scholars John Grim and Bron Taylor, as they struggle with the larger question of whether religions are necessary for those making the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. Finally, the article poses a question that is both fundamental and foundational for the field of Earth jurisprudence: As religion re-enters the field of cosmology, can an understanding emerge that “consider[s] nature sacred, … view[s] all life forms as having intrinsic value and being worthy of reverence and defense, and express[es] a kinship ethic?” The article is available at www.miller-mccune.com/culture_society/a-new-genesis-getting-world-religions-to-worship-ecologically-1157.

March 2009

World’s Largest Interfaith Event to Address Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth, Making a World of Difference

The theme of the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, to be held from December 3 – 9, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia, is “Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth.” The Parliament invites participants from religious and spiritual communities, and all people to take action on environmental concerns as well as responsibility for cultivating awareness of our global interconnectedness; more than 8,000 people are expected to take up this invitation. Other significant topics include “Reconciling with Indigenous Peoples,” “Overcoming Poverty in a Patriarchal World” and “Securing Food and Water for all People.”

First held in Chicago in 1893, the Parliament of the World’s Religions brings together the world’s religious and spiritual communities, their leaders and their followers to a gathering where peace, diversity and sustainability are explored in the context of interreligious understanding and cooperation. For more information or to register, go to www.parliamentofreligions2009.org/email/email1.htm.

February 2009

Canadian Roman Catholic Bishop Evokes Precautionary Principle and Supports Canadian First Nations and Metis Communities

Bishop Luc Bouchard of St. Paul in Alberta, Canada, declared a proposed $150 billion oil sands development in Alberta’s Wood Buffalo municipality a serious moral problem that cannot be morally justified and called the project “extraordinary and controversial from a Catholic perspective.”

In a January 2009 pastoral letter titled “The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands,” Bishop Luc Bouchard writes that environmental ethics are “of great significance for mainstream Catholic life” and includes a thorough analysis of the proposed project. He concludes that the development has the potential to destroy the boreal forest eco-system, to damage the Athabasca watershed and to release large amounts of greenhouses gases into the environment. “Where there is uncertainty as to whether a development project seriously endangers the environment, a precautionary principle utilizing prudence and caution should guide the decision-making process, which itself must be administratively transparent.” Bishop Luc Bouchard notes, “I am forced to conclude that the integrity of the Athabasca Oil Sands, the second largest known deposit of oil in the world, is clearly being sacrificed for economic gain.” To read the letter, visit www.dioceseofstpaul.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=135&Itemid=11.

January 2009

A Historic Confluence on Behalf of a Just and Sustainable Society

Previous updates have reported on the initiatives of one or another of the world’s religions as they attempt to bring the resources of their traditions to bear upon the ecological challenges we face as a global community. This month, CEJ brings you news of an exciting corporate effort: the International Interfaith Investment Group, known popularly as “3iG.” Member faith groups commit to the mission of contributing to a just and sustainable society by promoting responsible investment in a spirit of interfaith and international dialogue and cooperation. Visit www.3ignet.org and click on “A Planet We All Can Share” to hear leaders of the world’s religions speak about Earth from the perspective of their unique tradition and to learn how, working together, world religions are becoming a powerful financial force for the preservation of the planet. Such initiatives contribute to creating the alternative economic responses that are critical to the transformation of consciousness and the development of laws that protect the comprehensive Earth community.

November 2008

China, Global Warming and Taoism

Here is the “Yin and Yang” of it: The carbon balance between the Earth and the sky is off kilter, causing instability and disasters. In a country where Taoist beliefs and values still hold enormous sway, a key concept of the ancient Taoist tradition is being employed  to build a more environmentally harmonious and sustainable China. Taoist temples and their masters are not only installing solar panels on their sacred temples, but they are increasingly addressing politicians and business leaders at all levels about environmental challenges. At a recent meeting in Nanjing, Taoist masters from all over China began discussing a seven-year plan for climate change action that may a leave a lasting imprint on the future of China and the world. For more information, visit www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/11/taoism_-_guidi.php. For more information about the Alliance for Religions and Conservation Seven Year plan initiative, go to: www.arcworld.org/projects.asp?projectID=358

October 2008

Barcelona World Congress of the IUCN Supports Efforts for Long-Term Conservation of Sacred Natural Site

Around the world there is a growing interest and recognition of the importance of the efforts of a wide spectrum of faith groups and indigenous and traditional peoples to conserve their sacred natural sites. Sacred natural sites, defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an area of land or water having special spiritual significance to peoples or communities, are increasingly recognized as critical elements in the preservation of biological and cultural diversity, both of which are threatened by globalization. The IUCN’s Guidelines for the Protected Area Managers grants international recognition for conservation of Sacred Natural Sites in protected areas. For the full text of this document, visit http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/PAG-016.pdf.

October 2007

Water World: H2O, Life and the Future

On October 23 – 24, 2007, the Center for Earth Jurisprudence organized “Water World: H2O, Life and the Future,” a two-day interdisciplinary conference held at both Barry and St. Thomas universities, about the future of our Earth’s most precious resource that explored moral, ethical issues of access to water. Featured speakers included photographer Clyde Butcher, author Michael Grunwald, reporter and editor Cynthia Barnett.  Florida Catholic covered the conference in its article, “Water Woes,” http://www.thefloridacatholic.org/mia/mia2007/miaarticles/20071109_mia_water_woes.php.


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