Living with Dystopia

Do you ever feel as though you are living in the early scenes of a dystopic film? I have to confess that I do.

In the background, the audience is being shown hints of the coming catastrophe. We hear the news radio mention increasing numbers of extreme weather events and related disasters. We see newspaper headlines declare, ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe‘ and ‘1 million species are facing extinction‘. And yet our heroes appear to be carrying on with their lives normally.

As the film progresses, this apparent normality is punctuated by signs of anxiety, despair and resistance. Parents sit up late quietly discussing their fears about the future. Colleagues share a bleak joke about the upcoming apocalypse. Grandparents start becoming radical. School children walk out of school.

Soon it becomes clear that the looming disaster has already arrived, and people react in a range of predictable ways. There are, of course, those who continue to deny the problem — either because they benefit from the status quo or because it is just too confronting to face the truth.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

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Can you hear the rivers sing? Legal personhood, ontology, and the nitty gritty of governance

by Cristy Clark, Nia Emmanouil, John Page and Alessandro Pelizzon

In 2017, multiple claims and declarations from around the legal world appeared to signal a tipping point in the global acceptance of a new and evolving legal status for nature. Whether it was litigation in the United States, India, and Colombia, or legislation emanating from New Zealand and Australia, the law seems to be grappling with a new normative order in relation to the legal status of nature. However, this shift has been a long time coming, being at least forty- five years since Christopher Stone famously asked whether trees should have legal standing.

This Article explores what this emerging Ecological Jurisprudence means for the legal personhood of rivers. Nature, the environment, and even single complex ecosystems, are seldom easily quantifiable as bounded entities with geographically clear borders. Within the complex spectrum of establishing where a legal subject ends and another begins, however, rivers are more easily identifiable. A river’s very being is premised on historicized boundaries that measure its watery ambit from riverbed to riverbank. Still, rivers elude a final, clearly defined, and uncontroversial description. As a result, they inhabit a liminal space, one that is at the same time geographically bounded, yet metaphorically transcendent, physically shifting, and culturally porous.

Drawing on comparative case studies from Ecuador, Colombia, India, New Zealand, the United States, and Australia, this Article explores the deep and often murky bond of the river and us. This relational, ancient, and ultimately environmentally urgent bond forms the prism through which the rich story of legal personhood, ontological change, and the consequential nitty-gritty of river governance is told. Indeed, this complex story is best heard through the metaphor of song, since “[i]f we are to take metaphor seriously, we must explore its poetic dimension, the persuasive power of its rhetoric, coupled with its aesthetic appeal.” In seeking to discern a river’s legal personality, we ask, can we hear the rivers sing?

Vegan protesters reject righteous domination

On Monday, a coordinated series of animal rights protests took place across the country. Vegan protestors occupied abattoirs in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and blockaded one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections. To say these protests were controversial would be an understatement.

Social media was flooded with angry meat-eaters posting photos of their meat-based meals, which they claimed were inspired by the ‘vegan terrorists’ or ‘vigilante vegans’. The Prime Minister called the protestors ‘unAustralian’, arguing: ‘This is just another form of activism that I think runs against the national interest, and the national interest is [farmers] being able to farm their own land.’

More intriguing, to me, was the reaction of many progressive people, who expressed responses ranging from discomfort to outright rage. The protestors were accused of using coercive tactics to force their personal views on other people, and of choosing tactics that didn’t help their cause because they were either disruptive to traffic, trespassed on private property, or harassed farmers. Others accused vegans more broadly of being racist, classist, ableist and blind to their privilege.

— Read the rest of the article over at Eureka Street

Children speak truth to climate inaction

When I was a young child, I had nightmares about Ronald Reagan. I was terrified he was going to start a nuclear war and destroy us all.

People often laugh when I recount this tale. To many it seems funny, almost cute. Others have described my fears as the product of a childish imagination or parental brainwashing. But the fact is that nuclear war was a genuine possibility. The world was not in safe hands.

Although I was lucky enough to have parents who took my agency seriously, the most overwhelming and depressing aspect of that experience was how little my fears counted. As a child, I had no power and very little voice, despite the fact that the adults in charge were risking our very survival.

Fast forward 35 years, and my own children are faced with a similar predicament in relation to climate change, but now there is a crucial difference: it’s not a genuine possibility, it is a reality. We are already changing the climate and creating devastating changes to the planet. The only question that remains is how devastating will these changes become? How many ecosystems will collapse? How many rivers will run dry, species die out, diseases spread, famines ravage, wars rage?

— Read the rest of the article over at Eureka Street

Of Protest, the Commons, and Customary Public Rights: An Ancient Tale of the Lawful Forest

In this article, John Page and I explore an ancient tale of customary public rights that starts and ends with the landmark decision of Brown v Tasmania. In Brown, Australia’s highest court recognised a public right to protest in forests. Harking back 800 years to the limits of legal memory, and the Forest Charter of 1217, this right is viewed through the metaphor of the lawful forest, a relational notion of property at the margins of legal orthodoxy. Inherent to this tale is the tension that pits private enclosure against the commons, a contest that endures across time and place – from 13th century struggles against the Norman legal forest, through to modern claims of rights to the city.

This article is now available as an Advance copy with the UNSW Law Journal.

Is the legal tide turning on climate change?

Late last week, the NSW Land and Environment Court refused approval for a new coal mine outside the town of Gloucester in the Upper Hunter Valley in a decision that the NSW Environmental Defenders’ Office is calling a ‘landmark legal win for climate and community‘.

While in many ways this decision was uncontroversial — in that it merely upheld an earlier ministerial decision — Chief Justice Preston’s judgment was significant in the Australian context both for its extensive reference to climate change and for his honour’s clear acceptance of the science.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

 

The Darling’s dead fish of late capitalism

Humans of Late Capitalism (HOLC) is a social media account that plays on the massively popular Humans of New York (HONY) phenomenon to starkly highlight the reality of what it is like to live on our planet today. Its darkly humorous images serve as an ironic critique of our society and, particularly, our economic system.

Over the last few weeks, Australia has produced two symbolic images that fit well into the HOLC narrative: a massive fish kill in Menindee lakes on the Darling River and Walgett, the town with two rivers and no water.

Water is critical to life on this planet. And yet clean water supplies are dwindling due to the impact of human activity, while demand continues to increase. The United Nations has estimated that ‘by 2050, at least one-in-four people is likely to live in countries affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater’.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

The inequity of this silent killer

When our kids were little, our family moved to Hanoi for my partner’s job. After we’d settled in to our new neighbourhood of Tay Ho (Westlake), we enjoyed walking the streets and admiring the beauty of the city. Hanoi is set around a number of lakes and filled with historic buildings and old winding laneways that are too narrow for cars. It is also surprisingly green. Plants grow on every available square inch, crammed into tiny pockets of dirt and pots.

But we hadn’t been there long until we begun bemoaning the frequency of foggy days and waiting hopefully for the rare clear days when Westlake would shine blue and we could see clearly over the rooftops from our sixth-story terrace.

I can’t remember exactly when I admitted to myself that it wasn’t fog that was obscuring visibility. But once I had fully acknowledged the extent of the airborne pollution, I felt a lot less keen on living in Hanoi with young children.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Climate change is here, now we need to adapt

Wentworth voters sent a strong message to the Coalition that it needs to start taking serious action on climate change or risk seeing its vote continue to fall.

The ALP should also sit up and take notice of exit polling from the Australia Institute, which found an overwhelming majority of voters (79 per cent) were influenced by climate change (and the need to replace coal with renewable energy), while almost half (47 per cent) indicated that this issue had a lot of influence on their vote, and a full third (33 per cent) named it as the most important issue.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the Hague Court of Appeal has upheld the historic decision in Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015), which ‘determined the Dutch government must reduce CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent (compared to 1990) by 2020 to fulfil its obligation to protect and improve the living environment against the imminent danger caused by climate change’.

— Read more over at Eureka Street

Ideology and idiocy in national energy policy

The Australian Greens have called for the establishment of a government-owned energy retailer, Power Australia, in order to bring down energy prices and drive emissions reduction ‘by providing a guaranteed buyer for clean energy’ to ‘contract the next wave of renewable energy projects’.

Of course, you’d expect such a call from the Greens, but calls for investor certainty in the clean energy market have also been coming from industry, as the government struggles to develop a coherent, bipartisan energy policy (as has just happened in New Zealand).

In the wake of the recent ousting of Malcolm Turnbull over the emissions reduction components of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), new Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided to decouple carbon emissions from government energy policy.

— Read more over at Eureka Street