Judge Dennis Davis Speaks to Cormac Cullinan at the Book Lounge Launch of Wild Law: 2nd Ed
A special report by Tracey Saunders:
The launch of a new book is always an exciting event and the launch of a second edition – Cormac Cullinan’s Wild Law – doubly so. Last Wednesday The Book Lounge was awash with environmental activists and legal minds, eager to hear the author in conversation with Judge Dennis Davis whose sparkling wit is always a delight. Judge Davis managed to schedule in an evening to discuss the book just two week before he leaves to climb Kilimanjaro.
Since the publication of the first edition of Wild Law in 2002, Cullinan, a practising environmental attorney, has worked in Africa, Europe, North and South America and Asia advocating for broader environmental rights. In 2008, he was included in Planet Savers: 301 Extraordinary Environmentalists and has led the drafting of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Judge Davis described Cullinan as “before his time” and expressed a desire that the new edition of Wild Law become part of the curricula of law students and required reading for practising members of the bar.
In an explanation of the genesis of the book, Cullinan spoke of his relationship with Thomas Berry, author of The Great Work and The Universe Story, whilst working at the Airlie Centre in Virginia, USA.
Commenting on the current stance of the USA government towards climate change, Cullinan believes the debate is not really one between competing ideologies but more a case of how long one is prepared to hang on to one’s delusions. In the time of Copernicus there were many sceptics, today you would be hard pressed to find anyone who holds the earth as the centre of the universe. Similarly the future will likely see fewer people believing that man is the centre of this universe.
The audience were reminded that it is not the sole preserve of politicians, lawyers and the state to make an impact and that each individual has the capacity to make daily choices which will reduce our consumption. Protest does not necessarily have to be reactionary but can be made of smaller positive actions, like buying organic, supporting local produce and growing food. These actions lessen our individual impact on the earth. Cullinan suggested that it was better to start with a positive agenda and build from that; that an evolutionary leap rather than a revolution might be required.
Concerning the role of current environmental law, he gave the analogy of allowing slave owners to flog their slave a certain number of times a day as opposed to the abolition of slavery. Said Cullinan, “As an environmental lawyer I used to think I was one of the ‘good guys’. I don’t delude myself about that any more. Undoubtedly environmental law has a role to play, and a very important one, in ensuring that the earth is not pillaged any more than it is. But ultimately campaigning for good environmental laws is like campaigning for more benign conditions for slaves – fewer floggings, enough food, adequate housing. Wild Law is about the abolition of slavery.”
Current legislation condones environmental degradation with certain constraints rather than banning it outright. It is ironic that most of the endeavours that cause climate change are perfectly legal. A fundamental shift in jurisprudence is required to change this. The entrenched and almost hallowed rights of the property-owning citizens – and by extension corporates and commerce – must be juxtaposed against the rights of the environment. Without water and clean air there can be no greed! The red/green divide between social and environmental activists is being eroded by the realisation that campaigns for environmental rights are by their very nature campaigns for human rights and social justice.
The groundbreaking inclusion of rights for nature in the Constitution of Ecuador has already resulted in one case being brought on behalf of a river. The judgment was in favour of the river. Only when nation states embrace the concept of Wild Law will environmental law be able to combat the degradation and abuse of the environment. The concept of the earth as sacred was highlighted by the illustration of certain rivers in Ethiopia, which are regarded as sacred and remain unpolluted despite encroaching development. The importance of culturally specific jurisprudence and the contribution that indigenous cultures of Africa can make to that body of work should not be underestimated.
Cullinan’s closing remarks were to relate an anecdote about an incident he had witnessed at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change at Cochabamba. After standing in a long queue which snaked up to the first floor, a weather-beaten wizened old woman took the microphone. Dressed in traditional Bolivian attire she said that what was missing from the deliberations was that nobody had mentioned that they loved Mother Earth. Surely that was why they were all there?
It is easy to forget in the heat of ideological standoffs between corporates and environmentalists on carbon credit debates that at the core is a planet, the only one we have. The sooner we start protecting it with all available arsenal, including jurisprudence, the better for all of us and generations to come.
In closing Judge Davis commended the publisher for the invaluable contribution that the book will make to social discourse, outweighing its commercial value. No matter on which side of the climate change divide you sit, this important book marries the lucidity of legal argument with a poetic narrative, focusing on the intrinsic value of earth as a sacred space.
Cormac Cullinan’s Wild Law represents a foundational break in legal thinking about the environment and thus the preservation of our planet. Manifestly it deserves a far wider audience than the legal community, but it is work that must be read by lawyers working in the field and by law students at law schools. It poses a major challenge to the tired prevailing legal discourse. – Judge Dennis Davis
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Siber Ink (@Siber Ink) tweeted from the launch:
Dennis Davis at #WildLaw launch; those who have read this book before need to read it again. About an alternative way of running the world
Human life meaningless without water. Without water rights there will be no water. #WildLaw launch.
The law is important, but will not save the earth – must recognise we are part of a bigger system & cannot legislate out of crisis #wildLaw
S africans need to develop a new wave of civil society activism: not through protest, but through positive action. #WildLaw
Book ahead of its time – the old has died, the new is not fully born. Davis. #WildLaw
Cormac Cullinan: ‘Environmental Law is like trying to improve slaves’ conditions- fewer floggings, enough food… http://fb.me/QtdKogJ0