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November 10, 2022 | Recognizing the 'Resource' as an Active Partner: Report on the Planetary Colloquium Perspectives on the Rights of ›Nature‹ 

In the face of the ongoing loss of biodiversity on the planet, more and more voices are calling for an entrenchment of solid rights of 'nature' within Western legal systems. In our planetary colloquium, questions about whether, how, and why the planet's myriad animal, plant, microbial, and other inhabitants can shape human politics were debated on.

In his opening keynote "What rights does nature need?" sociologist Frank Adloff (University of Hamburg) traced the development of different conceptions of rights for animals, plants, and ecosystems. It quickly became clear that Western debates on sustainability, environmental protection, or animal welfare are still far from acknowledging the intrinsic value of non-human life forms.  Adloff therefore proposes a "methodological animism": Based on the basic principle of many indigenous cultures, according to which all planetary components are understood as animate and animate, living beings such as worms, mushrooms, or rivers could be programmatically conceived as quasi-subjects. He thus combines indigenous cosmology with a Western understanding of law so that non-human life forms can be grouped together as collective legal subjects. In response to Adloff, sociologist Doris Schweizer (Goethe University Frankfurt) raised concerns about the transferability of human conceptions of law to non-human 'legal persons'. Although she acknowledges the political potential behind the idea, legal systems can only relativize their anthropocentric orientation, never overcome it. Ecosystem researcher Emily Alice Poppenborg (JLU Giessen) followed by raising further doubts: Nowadays, human societies are so closely entangled in the functioning of ecosystems that the term 'nature' is not used at all in Poppenborg's research; moreover, it underpins misguided notions of a nature-culture divide. Nevertheless, lawyer Franziska Johanna Albrecht (Green Legal Impact, Berlin) was able to show that rights of 'nature' - however imperfect they may be - can serve as effective tools in terms of representing non-human interests.

As recently as October 3, 2022, the Spanish lagoon "Mar Menor" was declared the first natural legal entity in Europe. Whether this status will actually help the immensely threatened ecosystem out of its crisis remains to be seen and is already questioned by experts (cf. Soro Mateo and Álvarez 2022). In attempts to further refine the concept of nature as a legal entity so that it can be implemented effectively, indigenous models undoubtedly represent pioneers for orientation. Within these attempts, rights of 'nature' can and should by no means be understood as a cure-all against anthropocentrism, but must always be scrutinized as to their motivations. However, as instruments to be continuously further elaborated, they can contribute to the relativization of anthropocentric thinking - and thus perhaps counteract the extinction of species.


A recording of the hybrid event will be available for streaming on our Youtube Channel shortly.

Poster: Perspectives on the Rights of Nature


June 4, 2021 - Planetary Colloqium "Planetary Perspectives"


Planetary colloquium on June 4, 2021 © Frederic Hanusch
The Panel on Planetary Thinking from the JLU Giessen, in cooperation with the Planetary Thinking Working Group (Goethe University Frankfurt, Senckenberg, ISOE) and the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, organized the planetary colloquium “Planetary Perspectives”. In a pleasant digital atmosphere, around 30 participants from different academic backgrounds exchanged thoughts and ideas on the challenges facing our planet and the urgent need of inter- and transdisciplinary approaches in order to tackle them. Our key note speaker, David Christian from the Macquarie University in Sydney, opened the floor with an inspiring talk about Big History, a multi-disciplinary approach that examines earth’s and humanity’s past, and by learning from it, it explains present and contributes to imagining sustainable futures. The discussion was followed by two sessions of short impulse talks from our colleagues from JLU Giessen and the Goethe University Frankfurt. The first session provided an input on the planetary perspectives from the social sciences and humanities, provoking a discussion on the ways in which we can learn from past societies, have to extent sociological thought to the earth’s core as well as to outer space, the need to change human behavior and the way we think economics by valuing more the future benefits compared to benefits in the present, and how poetry and human artistic expression can relate us with the planet. The second session offered planetary visions from natural sciences, with nevertheless creative contributions that cross the boundaries of separate disciplines. From conversations on the inherent rights of nature in the context of biodiversity, what kind of agricultural practices are needed for sustainable future, to envisioning the planetary by focusing on subatomic elementary particles, were some of the thought-provoking dicussions our participants were keen to delve into. The participants agreed to deepen their inspirational discussions in future planetary colloquia to open up a new collaborative research endeavor of both, JLU and Goethe University Frankfurt.