VLS Energy Clinic White River Community Solar News

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 clinic@vermontlaw.edu


Call for Papers, ClassCrits IX The New Corporatocracy and Election 2016

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 classcrits@gmail.com, and for more information see https://classcrits.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/classcrits-ix-call-for-papers-and-participation/.


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Life to the Limits: Designing New Economies in Times of Scarcity

Marta Ceroni, executive director of the Donella Meadows Institute and associate fellow of the NELC, gave a lecture at Vermont Law School on February 25, 2016 as part of the Spring Faculty Speaker Series.

View the video here.

Poorer Countries and the Environment: Friends or Foes?

Corporate Bias in the World Bank’s Group International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes: A Case Study of a Global Mining Corporation Suing El Salvador

Reframing Development in the Age of Vulnerability: from case studies of the Philippines and Trinidad to new measures of rootedness

Third World Quarterly, v.32, n.6, coauthor John Cavanagh.


ABSTRACT: This article argues that the contemporary triple crises of finance, food and environment, which have shaken the global economy since 2008, have exposed what should be seen as the Achilles heel of the dominant development theory and practice of the past 30 years: vulnerability. We argue that the crises not only add momentum to the delegitimisation of the old model, but also offer legitimacy for paths that lessen vulnerability and increase what we call ‘rootedness’ (a term we prefer to ‘resilience’ or ‘sustainability’). After offering a brief history of ‘vulnerable’ development and reviewing the literature on vulnerability from the development, economic and environmental fields, we use this vulnerability versus rootedness frame to present analysis from our field work in two ‘vulnerable’ countries: the Philippines and Trinidad and Tobago. Integrating the article’s sections, we then propose a new interdisciplinary framework for development that builds on and supplements the human rights, ecological, equity and democracy frames: the notion of ‘rootedness’ at the household, local and country levels.

Economics for Earth’s Rights

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.

Fighting for Our Shared Future - coverTo 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.

[ii] ELC’s December 2015 report Fighting for Our Shared Future is available at: http://bit.ly/1Ng3VyQ.

[iii] See http://www.earthlawcenter.org/literature/ and http://www.earthlawcenter.org/earth-community/ for more information.

[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/.

[vi] See, e.g., http://therightsofnature.org/.

[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.

New Frontiers in Environmental Policy

This seminar, offered at Vermont Law School, and originally developed by Prof. Gus Speth, explores the proposition that successfully coping with today’s environmental threats requires deeper challenges to our prevailing system of political economy than mainstream environmentalism in the United States has been willing to mount.

It develops the idea that a new American environmentalism is needed and with it new environmental policy and law that go beyond the traditional realm of environmental affairs. The nature of the modern corporation and its role in politics and in an increasingly globalized marketplace; consumerism and commercialism and the lifestyles they offer; the overriding priority routinely accorded economic growth; social injustice and its links to environmental prospects; the anthropocentric, materialistic and contempocentric values that currently dominate in American culture; and the prospects for a new environmental politics are among the topics that will be examined.

The question will be raised whether it is desirable and possible to transition to a new economic model where the priority is to sustain human and natural communities, and, if so, what new policies and politics might promote such a transition.

Syllabus New Frontiers spring 2016 NELC