Environmental activists, lawyers, and local governments experience deep frustration over the inability of our legal systems to halt the relentless degradation of Earth and her natural communities. Even after decades of raising public awareness, writing new legislation, creating agencies and regulations, and countless lawsuits, the ecological devastation continues. There is no doubt that many people have worked long and hard, and won major victories that benefit the planet and its community of life. To them we are eternally grateful. Yet these successes are tempered by the sobering fact that all the major indices of planetary health – clean air and water, soil quality, and biodiversity, to name a few – continue to decline.
The Need for an Earth-centered Approach: Over the years, with colleagues and course participants, Genesis Farm has reflected on this frustration with our legal system as well as the deep, underlying forces at work in all our major cultural institutions. In 2001, author and geologian Thomas Berry published the Ten Principles for Redefining the Origin and Role of Rights.This radically new document lays the foundation of law at its most primary source: the Universe that brings forth everything that exists. The fundamental principles that govern the Universe – interdependence, interiority, and diversity – may still be ignored by humans, who now have the power to disrupt life, but, tragically, only at the expense of the entire Earth community.
Yet ignore them we have. The root of this dilemma stems from meanings implicit in the development of Western cosmology, which maintains that humans are separate and apart from the rest of the planet. Thomas Berry describes this as a commitment to a “radical discontinuity between humans and the other than human world.” The dominant governance structures that human cultures have painstakingly constructed are in line with Western cosmology, but not reality. While we have focused on defining the rights and responsibilities of humans toward each other, our legal systems rarely address humanity’s complete and utter dependence on the larger community of life. The tragic consequence of this human-dominant approach is now obvious: a dangerously depleted planet.
The Need for Continued Advocacy: Though our governance system is not aligned with the reality of an interconnected planet, and is therefore inadequate, it is still critically important to continue to engage in environmental advocacy using the tools currently available to us. While Genesis Farm is fundamentally an ecological learning center, rather than an advocacy organism, it nevertheless has supported and collaborated with many environmental groups over our decades. Like every bioregion in every corner of the planet, the Ridge and Valley faces a number of ecological threats. In almost every conflict, the polluting or damaging entities are large corporations. The sad fact is that our best efforts may be able to limit their activities, thereby decreasing the rate of pollution or degradation, but that rarely stops them outright because it does not address the root cause. The problems continue to emerge as from a multi-headed Hydra.
Reconciling the Two Needs: These two contrasting themes – the importance of using our current governance system to advocate on behalf the planet, and recognizing that the current governance system itself is deeply flawed – inform this new “Five Smooth Stones” project at Genesis Farm. Last year we identified, from countless critical regional problems, three issues on which we will focus our advocacy work. They are:
While participating on these important issues, we plan to evaluate our advocacy tools as well. In particular, we wish to explore how aspects of Earth Jurisprudence – a philosophy of law that harmonizes humans with the planet -- is already being applied by others, and how new strategies might be effectively developed to stop or slow down the decision to move these three technologies forward. We invite you to learn more about Genesis Farm’s three major areas of environmental advocacy with this brief overview.
The Five Smooth Stones: In thinking about this integrated, Earth-centered approach, a powerful biblical metaphor emerged. The familiar story is of the young shepherd boy David who, armed only with a slingshot and five smooth stones, brought down the military giant Goliath. David was neither a warrior nor steeped in military strategies. He did not have Goliath’s impressive stature, experience, or weaponry. David’s strategy of choice –five smooth stones and a slingshot – was remarkably simple but also outside the giant’s frame of reference. In the end, David’s simple strategy did what all the armies of the Hebrews could not do.
This story symbolizes both the simplicity and logic of arguments in favor of a new approach to Earth governance. In seeking out these alternative approaches, we rely on those who have insights into – and beyond -- our current governance framework. From their work we have developed a set of “Five Smooth Stones” we hope will challenge our human-centric, Goliath-sized corporate-dominated system of governance. They are not the only “stones “ in the legal slingshot, and others are surely evolving every day. Yet these five stones are ones that continue to intrigue us, and ones that we believe deserve further support, exploration and development. They are strategies that we hope will someday delegitimize the amalgamated power of the corporate and financial giants, and prevent them from trampling the rights of individuals, communities and the natural world.
The Five Smooth Stones are:
We invite you to continue learning more about Genesis Farm’s three major areas of Earth advocacy: Transgenic seeds, fracking, and the local energy power line expansion.
We also ask you to explore the Five Smooth Stones, and to consider how any one or all of these strategies might inform Earth advocacy work in your bioregion.