Reflecting Science in Law
A massive transformation in Western science beginning at the start of the sixteenth century shaped many of the legal and societal attitudes we hold, consciously and unconsciously, today. Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes and others uncovered many of the natural world’s physical operations with dizzying speed. While rapidly-expanding scientific findings provided invaluable insight into the workings of the world around us, they also radically inflated the perception of our ability to predict and control our environment. Moreover, as science increasingly reduced the natural world to more easily studied and quantified chunks, we similarly began to devalue and then lose our intuitive awareness of the web of connections among humans and environment.
Our current legal systems were developed during this age of science, when we assumed that nature could be controlled for human benefit. By contrast, modern day science, including ecological science, systems theory and quantum physics, illustrate that our actions can reverberate in ways we barely comprehend. Modern ecological science in particular demonstrates that our own health and welfare is inextricably and equally bound up with that of the world’s ecosystems.
Our laws have yet to catch up with modern science. Newtonian cause-and-effect gave us an inflated, and ultimately temporary, comfort that we could control the world around us. Modern science has shown that indeed we cannot, and our legal and economic systems need to evolve to reflect this new science.
Earth Law Center's Initiatives
Earth Law Center works to build relationships with scientists worldwide to engage involved spokespeople for a legal system based soundly in modern science. One example is Professor John Sterman, Director of MIT's System Dynamics Group, who has called for a rights-based movement for the Earth as necessary in the face of the spiraling costs of climate change. ELC highlights the work of such scientists in an online map that demonstrates the growing voices of science for change in how we govern our actions towards the environment.
Earth Law Center also works to support and advance evolving policy efforts consistent with recognizing rights for nature. For example, the California Water Quality Monitoring Council is implementing a “Healthy Streams” initiative that up-ends traditional water quality monitoring by tracking overall stream health, rather than monitoring contamination by specific pollutants. Such a health-based focus should be encouraged as the basis for evolved governance models that respect the rights of waterways and their inhabitants, rather than models that simply calculate the maximum amounts of pollutants that the waterways may potentially accept.
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere
Society for Conservation Biology
The Donella Meadows Institute
University of Victoria, POLIS Project on Ecological Governance: Cultural and Ecological Health
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
MIT Science Impact Collaborative
US EPA, California Integrated Assessment of Watershed Health (Nov. 2013)
Scientists' Consensus Statement on Maintaining Humanity's Life Support Systems in the 21st Century (May 2013)
Prof. John Sterman, Director, MIT System Dynamics Group, PowerPoint: "Systems Thinking and Modeling for Climate Change Policy" (Oct. 2010) (calling for a rights-based movement for the Earth)
National Academy of Sciences, Board on Environmental Change and Society, "Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis" (2012)
NZ Ministry of the Environment, "A Cultural Health Index for Streams and Waterways"
Rockström, Johan et al., “A safe operating space for humanity,” Nature, 461: 472-475 (Sept. 24, 2009)
Planet under Pressure Conference, "State of the Planet Declaration" (March 2012)
U.N. Summary of April 2012 "Harmony with Nature" Panel of Science and Economics Experts
[Martin Nowak, "Why We Help: The Evolution of Cooperation," Scientific American (June 19, 2012)(http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-we-help-evolution-cooperation)
Prof. John Sterman, Director, MIT System Dynamics Group, "Systems Thinking and Modeling for Climate Change Policy" (Oct. 2010) (calling for a rights-based movement for the Earth)
U.N. General Assembly, "Interactive Dialogue on 'Harmony with Nature'" (April 18, 2012)
Prof. Suzanne Simard, University of British Columbia, Dep't, of Forest Sciences, "Mother Trees" (July 2011)
Journey of the Universe
ETC Group, World-Wide Geoengineering Map
James Balog Photography
The Club of Rome (Limits to Growth)
Historical Ecology of the Ballona Creek Watershed - Interactive Website
Planet under Pressure Conference
Meadows, Donella, Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Sustainability Institute, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT) (2008)