Earth Jurisprudence symposium in Orlando

02/29/08 Seán Kinane
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A cutting-edge legal field known as Earth Jurisprudence seeks to fortify legal rights for the natural world. Today in Orlando, the Barry University School of Law hosted the country’s first symposium on the topic.

The Center for Earth Jurisprudence is a collaborative initiative of the Miami area’s Barry and St. Thomas Universities. That center, along with the Barry Law Review, sponsored the symposium, "Framing an Earth Jurisprudence for a Planet in Peril."

Sister Patricia Siemen, executive director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, discussed the program.

A symposium like this one has not happened in the country before, according to the Dean of the Barry University Law School, Leticia Diaz.

Activist Winona LaDuke was Ralph Nader’s running mate on the Green Party ticket for president in 2000. LaDuke lives on a reservation in northwest Minnesota and spoke about how many indigenous groups hold tenets that lead to sustainability, contrary to the laws and customs of the U.S. and other nation states. There are differences even in the way they name natural objects, LaDuke contends.

Another difference between U.S. law and indigenous customs is reciprocity, LaDuke said. She defines reciprocity as giving back to the natural world whenever anything is taken from it. LaDuke doesn’t see that in the American culture.

Cormac Cullinan is an environmental lawyer from South Africa and the author of Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice.

Andrew Kimbrell is director of the Center for Food Safety and is an environmental lawyer. He says there is hope for Earth Jurisprudence. For example, a judge ordered that the spread of a genetically modified alfalfa plant be halted because it would pollute the gene pool of the alfalfa crops of other farmers.

Kimbrell said that making sure the natural world can get legal standing is a priority for those seeking Earth Jurisprudence.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Earth Jurisprudence Symposium

Center for Earth Jurisprudence

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