el Hombre del Sur

words for the wilderness

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New Thinking on Sustainability: Conference Summary (Part 3)

This post follows on from part one and part two of my summary of the New Thinking on Sustainability conference, and will culminate in part four (to be completed). It covers the most recent thinking on climate change, and how it relates to earth jurisprudence. Continue reading

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Insanity, Earth Law, and the Philosophical Roots of our Crises.

The following is a transcript of a short talk I gave at Chromoforum, a public education event organised by the good people at Chronophonium, on 8/3/14.


What is insanity? Can we say that our governments are insane? Our society? … Maybe. Einstein writes that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”. It has been 60 years since the explosion in environmental consciousness that helped to characterise the 50s and 60s in America, producing a vast and still increasing body of national and international environmental laws – yet despite this, conditions on our planet continue to deteriorate. Have we lost our collective mind?

Einstein - just the right level of sane

Einstein – just the right level of sane.

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New Thinking on Sustainability: Conference Summary (Part 2)

The following is part two of my summary of “New Thinking on Sustainability”, the law conference hosted at Victoria University of Wellington from 14-16 February 2014. You can read part one here.

Following Linda Sheehan’s presentation, we were treated to another lecture from Professor Klaus Bosselmann, following up on his keynote speech of the preceding evening.

Bosselmann’s talk built on his identification of property rights as the key bar towards adopting the limits inherent in sustainability. His contention was that, while useful, the reference to rights for Mother Earth has the risk of coming across as too “hippy” – continuing the individual discourse of entitlement (“my right”) while alienating those with historical antipathy towards the environmental movement. Several members of audience echoed this in the various question sessions, although it was pointed out that rights for nature are just one tool working towards sustainability, and that the attendant nature of our problems requires multifaceted efforts.

Instead Bosselmann’s suggestion was that it is better for New Zealand to tackle property rights up front via the inclusion of duties. No property exists in isolation from its social context, and Bosselmann spent some time talking about what he called “onion theory”: the idea that all action is contained within a social and ecological context – building towards a dynamic concept of property and human rights. New Zealand has no explicitly recognised right to property in our existing Bill of Rights, suggesting that such a shift might be easier in New Zealand than in other countries. Continue reading


New Thinking on Sustainability: Conference Summary (Part 1)

Last weekend I attended a conference organised by Victoria University of Wellington and the New Zealand Centre for Public Law, entitled “New Thinking on Sustainability”.  The three days of talks were an inspiring insight into what some of our best minds are working on with respect to realigning our legal and social system with the finite limits of ecology. What follows is part one of my summary.

The conference kicked off on Friday afternoon with a workshop on wild law and the rights of nature led by Michelle Maloney. Wild law, or earth jurisprudence, is a legal school of thought that rejects the separation between man and environment, instead working place humanity within the context of the wider biosphere. This key shift involves a number of related concepts: acknowledging the value of all life, obligations of stewardship and various legal mechanisms to help facilitate this change. Rights for nature form a key part of this canon, working within the existing legal paradigm to better balance societal conduct towards nature, empowering citizens to protect the environment we all depend on. Continue reading


A Law School Lament; or The Difficulty of Changing Direction

“If you do not change direction you may end up where you were heading.”  – Lao Tzu

Where am I headed? It’s a question all students ask, often to no reply. But for those of us down at the University of Auckland’s Davis library there were strong indications. The study of law was unashamedly directed towards a future career: we were being prepped for lives as lawyers and all that entailed. It didn’t matter how many of us pretended otherwise, the wheels were in motion and it would take more than flippant remarks and not doing the readings to stop their relentless roll.

Perhaps that was why one graduate felt the need to send a sensationalist group email, detailing his resignation in a poem and calling out his corporate employers in the process. He swanned down to staff drinks for one final beer, his controversial departure a response to the weight of the system and all its expectations. Why were people so surprised? Maybe it’s because no one had given any thought to what the study of law actually entails. Like me, they’d just dived in and gone for it – until it was too late to quit. Continue reading


The Safety of Separation: Why Auckland Needs Dedicated Cycle Lanes

This post was featured on the Generation Zero blog on the 22nd of January, 2014.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a cyclist. One of my earliest memories is Waihi Beach in the early nineties, on what might well have been Christmas Day. The light is soft and the sand is hard, and my heart beats furiously in my chest. I am balanced on my new BMX, resplendent in racing orange and full of fear and determination. I have already fallen plenty of times and my knees and pride sting from the sand. Dad runs behinds me, holding the seat steady, and the beach stretches off into the distance. Will this be the time? I pedal hard, teeth grit, and his words of encouragement fade into the background. There is a moment of confusion then Dad yells from behind me and I realise: I am doing it!

This is where it all began: that first moment of balance – speed and infinite freedom. It’s a hard thing to explain to someone who doesn’t cycle but it is this sense, this rush, that makes cycling so addictive. It’s been many years since that first ride on the beach in Waihi but still it rises, undeniable once the movement takes over. This is what psychologists call flow: the mental state where your task becomes primary, and all else falls away. Complete absorption, energised focus, engagement: I am the road, and the road is me – or so it feels. Continue reading

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Changing the Rules of the Game: How Law Might Shape our World for the Better

This is the transcript of a small talk about my research that I gave at Chronophonium. It covers the two principal reasons for eco-constitutionalism (negative environmental outcomes and a lack of democracy) and introduces my own suggestion for the form it might take in New Zealand: the Aotearoa Sustainability Charter. This is the first time I’ve publicly discussed the Charter, but I’ll be presenting it at a conference in February and releasing more explanatory material here – so if you’re interested, stay tuned. Continue reading


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