Summer begins its unofficial reign here in Florida with the beginning of the rainy season. This is when the humidity rises and the afternoon rain showers soak the Earth—and restore some of the groundwater and Floridan aquifer. It’s not the favorite time for many visitors and residents as one hears people say, “It’s another terrible rainy day.” Interestingly, the day is generally only “terrible” for those of us who don’t want to be inconvenienced with carrying an umbrella! For the rest of the ecosystem—the other animals and plants—it’s a wonderful time of replenishment and restoration.

Here at CEJ, summer invites us to live more deeply from an eco-centric perspective, one that respects the rights of all species and ecosystems to exist and flourish. Indeed, this is challenging. It requires consciously changing the way we think and speak. Language reflects our cultural paradigms and biases. Therefore we strive in our programs and Earth jurisprudence classes, our writing and presentations, our community engagements and advocacy, to advance the essential concept that nature has inherent rights to fulfill its purposes. We understand that our human rights are enveloped within those rights. When our laws and public policies miss this concept they create regulatory systems that continue to prioritize business interests over land health. Implementation of environmental regulations is easily co-opted by economic drivers that seek short term profit rather than long term health. 

As we know, the ecological health of Florida did not fare well in this last state legislative session recently concluded in Tallahassee. Delaying comprehensive restructuring of water and springs legislation that would recognize water’s rights to be healthy, and to be freed from significant amounts of nutrient pollution and massive water consumption, does not bode well for Florida’s future. Instead, we envision a campaign that celebrates the beauty of Florida’s waters and fights to protect its diversity. We envision expanding the state’s trustee responsibility, through the public trust doctrine, so that the state has fiduciary duties to protect Florida’s publicly owned land and waters for the common good of future generations of all species.

To claim this vision–one of protecting the beauty and rights of nature—we need the artists and activists, the planners and the lawyers, the engineers and the economists, the seekers of beauty and the people of faith, to continue loving and protecting the natural systems of Florida. As one response, we join with other organizations that are supporting the Florida Water and Land Legacy Conservation Amendment on the ballot this November. Many other responses are possible—and essential, if Florida as we know it and as we envision it is to survive and thrive.

Let us know what steps you are taking to protect and love Florida’s natural beauty—for as Bill McKibben says, “Nature will never be more beautiful than today.”

Sweet Water (photo by Jane Goddard)

Happy Earth Day 2014!

We at the Center for Earth Jurisprudence are celebrating Earth Day in a variety of forums this year. Two weeks ago (to avoid scheduling conflicts at the Barry Law School), CEJ participated in hosting Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, who spoke to the law school community on the concept of “Creation Care.”  CEJ also has a presence at the Barry University main campus Earth Day activities on Tuesday, April 22.

I will also be speaking at a Winter Park Earth Day event, and then joining, via internet, the international community in celebrating International Mother Earth Day as the United Nations General Assembly presents its third Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President John Ashe will preside. Linda Sheehan from the Earth Law Center will be moderating the panel, which will discuss the implementation of the rights of nature and other strategies consistent with CEJ’s approaches to achieve Earth-centered public policies—and the cultural changes which support these governance changes. We invite you to check out these international initiatives.

Lots of fun and educational Earth Day events occurred this weekend. In keeping with CEJ’s commitment to the rights of Florida’s springs to be healthy, we continue to monitor and educate on the Springs Protection Bill wending its way through the Florida Senate—but with zero traction in the House. The outcome looks very dire as the proposed legislation continues to be gutted of any significant mandate to insist that the water has a right to be freed of waste and pollution. Nor does the current legislations insist upon a water budget to allocate sufficient water to the springs and rivers so they can be healthy—and so we learn to live responsibly within nature’s limits.

Continuing that theme, we are pleased to promote Equinox Documentaries’ forthcoming film, Hidden Secrets of Florida’s Springs, which will be released and made available on PBS stations soon.

Wherever you live, make sure to take time on Earth Day to recognize Earth’s gifts, and our humble place in the web of life. Earth is an unending source of wonder, awe and resiliency. However you say thank you, take the time to savor nature’s abundance and commit to acting responsibly for the sake of the common good. Now go, and get outside!

Suwannee Cypresses (photo by Jane Goddard)

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Valentine’s Day in the United States is a time to celebrate what we love—and is usually focused on rekindling our relationships with our romantic partners. This year I invite us to stretch our love to include Earth herself. The single, comprehensive Earth community provides us our life’s sustenance, our very home, and is the context for all the relationships that are essential for our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Clearly Earth deserves heart-felt protection!

My own heart was opened more deeply when I attended the Global Alliance on the Rights of Nature Summit in Quito and Otavalo, Ecuador, last month. Ecuador is the only country in the world that has constitutionally protected Nature’s rights to exist, persist, maintain, regenerate, and flourish. For five days I met with over 60 Earth jurisprudence leaders, international environmental activists, and indigenous leaders who spoke about the devastation happening to their lands, their people, and their cultures.  Their stories were stories of resistance and hope, stories highlighting how the law has failed to protect their communities.

The Summit concluded in Quito, with over 400 participants attending the world’s first Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, chaired by the internationally renowned Dr. Vandana Shiva of India. Eight international cases of violations of the Rights of Nature were presented to the Tribunal in an evidentiary hearing forum. After a day-long hearing, the Tribunal determined that each of the cases (which can be found at therightsofnature.org) would advance to the next World Tribunal on the Rights of Nature to be held in Lima, Peru, in December 2014.

Then I returned home and my heart expanded as I experienced the power, beauty, and solidarity of folks like the Silver Springs Alliance, dedicated to protecting the health of the Silver River, and the Preserve Brevard members. But soon my heart clinched again as this week the St. Johns Water Management District approved the Niagara Bottling permit allowing Niagara to double its pumping from the Floridan Aquifer to nearly a million gallons a day–in direct contrast to already low flows of the Wekiva River Basin and neighboring springsheds.  This approval was granted over an incredible amount of citizen resistance and registered public comments opposing the permit.

Our work to love and protect the natural systems that are our home areas expands daily. I used to live in Southwest Florida. Now an oil boom and hydro-fracking threat is taking place in that corner of the state. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently approved a proposed oil well located approximately three-quarters of a mile west of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently nearly 115,000 acres of mineral rights have been leased by a Texas company from Collier Resources.  This lease, which runs for five years and can be extended, includes large portions of the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW Lands), and even the famous Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with some of the last old-growth cypress in our state.

The onslaught feels endless and my heart wavers at times. But as I learned from the tribal peoples in Ecuador, our role is to defend with our lives the land that sustains the community’s wellbeing. Let our hearts burn in defense of our home areas. And may we take the time to savor the natural beauty and resiliency that the land community provides us. Be still my heart, and listen. Adelante!

Heart Pods (photo by D. Sharon Pruitt)

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