Climate science and policy is under attack from the new Trump administration, but this assault faces a legal roadblock in the form of a group of young plaintiffs asserting their right to a livable climate. The landmark case Juliana v. U.S. survived a motion to dismiss and is now proceeding to what observers expect to be “the trial of the century” this summer of fall. In the following piece featured in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law Top Ten Watch List 2017, Professor and New Economy Law Center co-founder Melissa Scanlan examines the legal questions in this case, including constitutional and public trust claims.
Can the current profit-driven, exclusive and gentrified housing market give way to a limited equity, inclusive and affordable model of homeownership? New Economy Law Center Fellow, Janelle Orsi (Director of Sustainable Economies Law Center), explores this question in the following blog post that encourages us to consider “a different model of property ownership” in alignment with new economy objectives.
“Chase it down and read it!” is what New Economy Law Center Fellow, David Bollier, advises in regards to a recently published (Sept. 2015) new economy book by British design expert John Thackara. From establishment of a “food commons” to bioregionalist redesign of urban landscapes, Thackara’s How to Thrive in the Next Economy illustrates emerging examples of what life in a more socially responsible, environmentally sustainable economic system might look like. See below to read Bollier’s full review.
David Bollier, “John Thackara’s Intimate Tour of the Emerging New Economy,” October 5, 2016, http://bollier.org/blog/john-thackara%E2%80%99s-intimate-tour-emerging-new-economy
The movement to create an “economy for the common good” has officially reached the United States. Austrian author and alternative economic advocate, Christian Felber, who started the movement five years ago, recently completed a U.S. tour to introduce the concept and initiate partnerships. The New Economy Law Center at Vermont Law School hosted him on September 20, 2016. During his time here, he met with community leaders from the Building a Local Economy (BALE) center and he presented an evening talk on campus. Click the link below to read the full report of his U.S. tour.
Paul Raskin of the Great Transition Initiative explores several scenarios regarding the future of human civilization in a new book titled “Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization.” In doing so, he offers hope for a global transformation of our destructive system, driven by a global citizens movement. According to NELC Fellow and co-founder Gus Speth, building this powerful, bottom-up movement “should move rapidly to the top of our collective priority list.” Speth praises Raskin’s latest work, calling it “a stirring guide to a world that works.” To read Speth’s reflective piece in its entirety, see below.
Gus Speth, “Reflection on ‘Journey to Earthland,’” Great Transition Initiative (October 2016) http://www.greattransition.org/publication/jte-reflections-speth
South Royalton’s local economy center, BALE (Building a Local Economy), is hosting several events as part of a yearlong series focusing on the new economy, localization and wellbeing –“Localize the Economy: Build Resilient Communities”. Tuesday, September 27 Gwendolyn Hallsmith speaks about transforming the money economy to fund infrastructure needed to address climate change. The series continues Thursday, October 6 with a screening of the film “The Economics of Happiness” followed by a discussion with filmmaker Steven Gorelick. Then on Tuesday, October 11 author George Lakey will talk about “Viking Economics,” discussing lessons learned from the economic model used in Scandinavian countries. All events start at 7:15pm at the BALE center, 35 S. Windsor Street, South Royalton, VT 05068.
Gwendolyn Hallsmith of Vermonters for a New Economy, takes up the challenge recently offered by Bill McKibben about the unimaginably huge scale of the effort needed to stall climate change. Hallsmith’s talk, “Coining Infrastructure” looks to a transformative view of the money economy (used before and essential now).
Meet filmmaker Steven Gorelick and watch his film, “The Economics of Happiness” as BALE partners with the international group, Local Futures. Join the dialogue following the film. See the trailer HERE.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016: George Lakey
George Lakey, author of Viking Economics, is active in the Earth Quaker Action Team. Turning economics “talk” into engaging, understandable dialogue is his skill. Here he speaks about research into the political struggles and victories of the Scandinavian people; how they now enjoy more equitable, entrepreneurial, and successful economies. Dialogue follows on how we might move toward a system based on abundance instead of scarcity.
A global movement is coalescing advancing systemic change in the law through enacting nature’s rights provisions as well as through legal activism promoting international recognition of ecocide as a fifth crime against peace. Femke Wijdekop discusses the latter development in a new piece for the Great Transition Initiative. In the following commentary, Earth Law Center Executive Director and NELC Senior Fellow Linda Sheehan responds to this piece reflecting on the role of legal activism and strategies for pushing ecocentric systemic reform forward.
Linda Sheehan, “Commentary on ‘Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for Earth,” Great Transition Initiative (August 2016), http://www.greattransition.org/commentary/linda-sheehan-against-ecocide-femke-wijdekop
Vermont Public Radio recently featured the VLS Energy Clinic’s White River Community Solar project that we have been developing with our community partners Building a Local Economy (BALE) and Putting Down Roots Farm. Putting Down Roots Farm is a local CSA business that has agreed to host the 150 kW community solar array which will be directly owned by the local participants and developed by our local solar partner Catamount Solar. This story features a discussion of the challenges facing community solar, including the challenge of utility net metering caps and the competition for interconnection capacity with projects that are neither locally owned or solar for the local community. Our Energy Clinic continues to work to advance true community solar and we welcome collaboration with new partners in this effort. We can be contacted at energy firstname.lastname@example.org
The ClassCrits Network invites paper and panel proposals for our upcoming conference, The New Corporatocracy and Election 2016, Oct. 21-22, 2016 at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Business Law Center. We are a group of scholars, students and activists interested in critical analysis of economic inequality and the law, founded in a commitment to integrating economic justice with racial, gender, sexual, environmental justice and beyond. We welcome papers on a range of topics related to those goals as well as specifically on this year’s theme of corporate political power. Abstracts for proposed papers can be submitted by May 16, 2016 to email@example.com, and for more information see https://classcrits.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/classcrits-ix-call-for-papers-and-participation/.
In parallel with the recently concluded climate talks in Paris, I was fortunate to take part in several initiatives to raise awareness of the fundamental flaws in our legal and economic systems. These flaws are the driving force behind climate change, species extinctions, drying waterways and other, serious threats to the integrity of natural systems.
Put briefly, our legal and economic systems drive nature’s destruction by treating it merely as property to be exploited and degraded, rather than as an integral ecological partner with its own rights to exist and thrive. Even our best attempts at addressing global environmental harms place nature within the context of incessant economic growth, undermining nature’s protection.
For example, the new U.N. climate change agreement uses the terms “economy” or “economic” 26 times, yet it only mentions Earth once, and Nature not at all.[i] The agreement’s focus unfortunately is not on creating law and economic systems that benefit the Earth. Its focus is on contorting the law to benefit the same economic system that is destroying the Earth. This mythology pretends the natural world is a dead resource, merely an element of commerce and trade. It seems strange that we must say this, but we cannot live on a dead world. Moreover, we are not human on a degraded world; we are less than human. We must reject such an impoverished future.
To call attention to this defective and injurious worldview, Earth Law Center released a new report in Paris demonstrating how our legal and economic systems increasingly violate basic human rights as well as nature’s own, inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. This report, Fighting for Our Shared Future: Protecting Both Human Rights and Nature’s Rights, details 100 examples of such “co-violations” of fundamental rights around the world and offers recommendations for change.[ii] Recommendations include recognition in law of the inherent rights of nature (as has been done in several countries and numerous U.S. cities and towns),[iii] immediate protection of the most vulnerable human and nature’s rights defenders (many of whom have been killed for their work),[iv] and implementation of economic alternatives, from new progress indicators to an overarching shift to ecological economics.[v]
Also in Paris, Earth Law Center acted as co-organizer of, and Co-Prosecutor for, the third International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.[vi] This citizen-created Tribunal provided people a voice to testify publicly as to the destruction of the Earth – destruction that governments and corporations not only allow, but in some cases encourage. The Tribunal featured internationally renowned lawyers and leaders for Earth justice, who heard cases addressing issues such as climate change, GMOs, fracking, extractive industries, and other sources of nature’s rights violations.[vii] The Tribunal offered judgments and recommendations for the Earth’s protection and restoration based on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
We hear often that we need “system change, not climate change.” Real system change requires uprooting the real problem: legal and economic systems that treat nature as property, not partner. Energy sources, food systems, or a climate convention grounded in our destructive economic system violate human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, and the rights of nature. These are fundamental rights, and they cannot be balanced against claimed rights of fictitious entities.
It is our responsibility to develop and establish solutions consistent with such fundamental rights. We must call for actions and laws that recognize the rights of the Earth and by extension, the rights of all her creatures, including but not limited to humans. This will require us to re-imagine economic systems that incorporate and respect nature’s rights, such as ecological (Earth-based) economics and Earth-centered indicators of well-being. Awareness of such legal and economic alternatives is rising, and 2016 will provide key opportunities to advance them further.
[i] U.N. Conference of the Parties, 21st Session, “Adoption of the Paris Agreement,” FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1 (12 Dec. 2015); available at: www.unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf.
[iv] As described in ELC’s report and elsewhere, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has found that “rights defenders are “increasingly branded ‘enemies of the state’ over development projects.” See: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13912&LangID=E.
[v] For example, Article 3(2)(l) of the 2010 Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, adopted by representatives of 140 countries in Bolivia, recognizes that we must “promote economic systems that are in harmony with Mother Earth and in accordance with the rights recognized in this Declaration.” Available at: http://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/.
[vii] The detailed Tribunal agenda and speaker list can be found here: http://bit.ly/1OngYhB, and a summary of the cases and results can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1mcSCRz. A complete video of the Tribunal will be posted shortly at www.earthlawcenter.org.