Rights Of Nature, Earth Democracy And The Future Of Environmental Governance

This paper formed part of the Green Institute Report ‘Rebalancing Rights: Communities, Corporatations and Nature’.

Around the world, people are working hard to protect their local communities and local ecosystems from the destructive impacts of excessive industrial developments.  One strategy that is receiving growing attention is changing the legal status of nature from being human property or, at best, a protected ‘object’, to being recognised as a living entity with its own legal rights – a subject of the law. But can this approach make any difference to the legal protection of nature?

In this essay, I’ll outline criticisms of traditional environmental law that are used to argue that a paradigm shift is needed in western industrial legal systems and trace the origins of the Rights of Nature movement and the developments around the world that have now seen the Rights of Nature shift from being a “fringe” legal issue, to one that is capturing the imagination of courts, lawyers and communities around the world. While the concept is potentially open to many of the same problems faced by ‘traditional’ environmental law, it also represents an exciting and optimistic development in legal theory and practice that is being embraced by a range of communities, and can offer an effective way to advocate for Earth democracy.

Continue reading →

Signing Up For Extinction

“We’re worried that we’re going to see the extinction of [the Swift Parrot] within our careers—before the end of them” 1

Tarkine, west coastLast November, Prime Minister Morrison signed up for extinction. He put his name to the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) through which the Commonwealth devolves environmental responsibility to the states and washes its hands of the outcome. Unless overturned by a court or a future government, native forest logging in NSW will remain exempt from Commonwealth environmental laws until at least 2039, even as species like the Swift Parrot, Greater Glider and Koala are pushed to the brink.

How do we know that species are heading for extinction? Because the Commonwealth’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has identified logging in one form or another as a threat to more than 60 animals on the government’s own list of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered species. The direction of change for these species is inexorably worse as more are added to the list and those already on it are moved to higher threat categories.

Continue reading →

Our Power: The Latrobe Valley, Hazelwood, And Our Energy Future

The Latrobe Valley is home to three brown coal mines and four power stations which have provided Victoria with over 80 per cent of its power, every day, for over 90 years.

The documentary Our Power traces the footsteps of the Latrobe Valley’s history, starting from the coal community’s birth in the 1920s to the establishment of the State Electricity Commission Victoria (SECV), while focussing on the effects of the privatisation in the 1990s, which severely demoralised the community’s pride in electricity production. Since 2014, the Latrobe Valley community has been sparked into action and are taking control of their health, community and future.

Green Agenda spoke with film director Peter Yacono about Our Power, the Hazelwood Mine Fire, and opportunities for a just energy transition for Australia.

Our Power is screening as part of the Transitions Film Festival. The screening is on Saturday the 2nd of March 2019, 2:15pm at Cinema Nova (380 Lygon St, Carlton, Melbourne). Tickets available here.

Continue reading →

Green Anti-Immigration Arguments Are A Cover For Right Wing Populism

With the backdrop of dramatic decrease in migration to Australia in 2018 to a 10 year low, the population debate has reared its ugly head. In recent months Dick Smith has run an advertising blitz with the title ‘overpopulation will destroy Australia’ that compares population growth to cancer and recently took stage at Dark + Dangerous Thoughts at Mona arguing “no” for the proposition “Do We Let Them In?”. Dick Smith’s intervention comes as members of the far right continue to focus on immigration as a major issue. For example, the newly minted Katter’s Australian Party senator, Fraser Anning, praised the White Australia Policy in his inaugural speech and echoed Nazi rhetoric saying “the final solution to the immigration problem of course is a popular vote”. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also recently spoken about reducing Australia’s immigration intake. 

The two views, although, coming from different perspectives, one nominally in the name of “sustainability” and the other a throwback to colonialism steeped in racism and xenophobia, arrive at the same destination, a hermetical view of the world projecting fear onto an outsider. In Dick Smith’s view the outsider is coming to destroy the environment and it Anning’s version they threaten the “European-Christian” ethno-white state. 

The environmental rhetoric of the population debate might be alluring to progressives. Who would argue against clean air and clean water? Who wouldn’t agree that the current paradigm of growth is unsustainable? The problem is that an analysis based solely in population is superficial, creating solutions that end up marrying with the worst parts of Australian politics – far-right populism. If unchecked environmentalists focused solely on population threaten to be co-opted and driving a wedge in the environmental movement – because on the surface the arguments sound appealing.

Continue reading →

What Would A Fair Energy Transition Look Like?

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced last week that a federal Labor government would create a Just Transition Authority to overseee Australia’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This echoes community calls for a “fast and fair” energy transition to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But disruptive change is already here for Australia’s energy sector. 2018 has been a record year for large-scale solar and wind developments and rooftop solar. Renewable energy is now cheaper than new-build coal power generation – and some are saying renewables are now or soon will be cheaper than existing coal-fired power.

Based purely on the technical lifetime of existing power stations, the Australian market operator predicts that 70% of coal-fired generation capacity will be retired in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria by 2040. If renewables continue to fall in price, it could be much sooner.

We must now urgently decide what a “just” and “fair” transition looks like. There are many Australians currently working in the energy sector – particularly in coal mining – who risk being left behind by the clean energy revolution.

Continue reading →

The Environmental Impacts Of UBI And A Shorter Working Week

Continuing our series on UBI: In this essay, republished from the Green Institute’s ‘Can Less Work Be More Fair?’ discussion paper on Universal Basic Income and a shorter working week, Professor Greg Marston argues that a UBI and shorter working week could play an important role in creating the conditions for a sustainable and equitable ‘good life’.

Continue reading →

The City And The Commons

Responding to Tim Hollo’s article Towards Ecological Democracy, Natalie Osborne explores the implications of these ideas for cities, arguing that urban commoning demands what will be, for many of us, a radical reimagining of land, boundaries, and notions of property and ownership that directly challenge capitalist modes of relations.

Continue reading →

The Commons: What, Why And How?

The commons is one of the key ideas that we can make use of in our efforts at developing a postcapitalist politics. 

In his keynote address at the Green Institute’s Conference, Everything is Connected, in October 2017, Dr Stephen Healy, discusses the what, why and how of commoning.

Continue reading →

An Ecological Human Settlement Theory

Responding to Tim Hollo’s article Towards Ecological Democracy Steven Liaros suggests cities as a space in which we can achieve ecological democracy. But doing so will require significant changes to the way we live in urban settlements.

Introduction

In Towards Ecological Democracy, Tim Hollo calls for the re-framing of the Greens political project around the principle that ‘everything is connected’. He argues that:

“We urgently need to articulate and build “ecological democracy” as something distinct [from social democracy and liberal democracy] – a radical political vision of deep interconnection and interdependence and of resilience in diversity. It is an enabling and nurturing politics for people and the planet, supporting people and communities to find their own way together.”

Green Agenda - Ecological Democracy - Girl - Spider WebThis article supports the call to reframe green politics and seeks to expand on Hollo’s suggestion that the concept of The Commons could be a guiding principle for an ecological democracy. Hollo draws on David Bollier and describes ‘The Commons’ as much more than a pasture open to all as suggested by Garrett Hardin in The Tragedy of the Commons. Instead, it is the combination of a resource, plus a community that shares that resource, plus the set of social protocols for managing the resource.

Continue reading →

The Breath Of Life: Scientific Reflections On Our Planetary Connections & Their Political Ramifications

It’s hard to escape the feeling that our societies are becoming more divided and fragmented, driven by powerful regressive and disruptive influences. Nonetheless, we remain fundamentally connected through our evolutionary history, our shared biology, and our dependence on the natural processes that constitute Earth’s life support systems.

In his keynote address at the Green Institute’s Conference, Everything is Connected, in October 2017, Professor Brendan Mackey explores how our Earth systems keep us inherently connected even in an era of neoliberal individualisation.

Continue reading →