At the Tipping Point: Defining an Earth Jurisprudence for Social and Ecological Justice

42 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2016

Date Written: 2012


The early twenty-first century is marked by momentous shifts. Protests for political and economic justice have gripped the globe. Aligned with contemporary movements for social justice are those claiming ecological equity for future generations and rights of nature. Respected scientists propose that Earth systems are shifting and are approaching or passing the tipping point in three significant areas: global warming, interference with the global nitrogen cycle, and loss of biodiversity.

What is the responsibility of the world’s systems of law and governance to meet these challenges? Clearly, a “business-as-usual” approach will yield more of the same: calamitous oil wars and oil spills, spiraling poverty and civil strife, mounting global warming, and the extinction of an unimaginable number of other-than-human species. This article proposes that a meaningful response to the ecological and social challenges of this era requires a shift of thinking at the jurisprudential level. Tinkering with our present legal systems will not change the direction of the world as it advances toward collapse of countries and the planet’s major ecosystems. Instead, the transition to a just and sustainable future also requires the transformation of the jurisprudence underlying systems of law and governance. Because the relationship between humanity and Earth is the template for society, the starting point for a new jurisprudence should be principles governing the functioning of Earth.

This article offers an approach to jurisprudence that inquires into the structure, purpose, assumptions, and values of law and governance for the well-being of humanity and the Earth community. Earth Jurisprudence is a developing field that rethinks law and governance from an Earth-centered perspective. To make the shift from the present systems of law and governance that are solely human-centered, Earth Jurisprudence draws from approaches both within and beyond existing law. In this transition, humankind takes its place as a member of the Earth community and exercises its proper role to establish legal systems that are just and sustainable for all members of the Earth community. In the process, humanity and human institutions will be transformed.

Keywords: Earth Jurisprudence, rights of nature, environment, environmentalism, ecosystem, ecological, sustainability

Suggested Citation

Koons, Judith E., At the Tipping Point: Defining an Earth Jurisprudence for Social and Ecological Justice (2012). Loyola Law Review, New Orleans, Vol. 58, No. 2, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Judith E. Koons (Contact Author)

Barry University School of Law ( email )

6441 E. Colonial Dr.
Orlando, FL 32807
United States

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