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Green Planet

Reimagining Modern Economic Life via Franciscan Ecosophy

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.



“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image…so that they may rule…’ And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’…And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” –Genesis 1:26-31

“I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”— Mikhail Gorbachev

These reflections on ecosophy are a follow-up to my previous piece on the subject. Here I wish to explore the compatibility, or lack thereof, of ecosophy to Christianity. A rather common view is that deeo ecology , otherwise known as ecosophy in academic circles is a mere return to ancient nature worship pre-dating Christianity. We are all familiar with the term “nature religion” and “earth-centered religion” defined by its relationship to the natural environment. When we encounter those similar nature religions in our time, we immediately think of pre-Christian or pagan times, concerned primarily with nature, animism, shamanism viewing humans as a non-privileged part of a more-than-human community of beings; a sort of “dark green religion.” Then the question naturally arises: are we merely re-inventing the wheel?

Some contemporary scholars look upon pagan nature religions as a protest against the modern separation of nature and the sacred, against the separation of matter from spirit, sometimes called “gnostic” religion. In nature religions, by contrast, nature is neither fallen nor a prison from which one needs to escape; it is perceived as both sacred and interconnected; it has intrinsic value apart from its utility as a resource for human beings. By interconnected they mean that our being is determined by our ecology, by the cultural environment shared with all other living beings. We are immersed in a web of life which is our true community. In politics this is the ideology of the so called Green Parties. It is alleged that this awareness existed in ancient times, but has been all but forgotten within modernity.

The protest by ecosophists or nature religionists, supposedly has to do with the perceived disconnect of man from nature, with the desacralization of nature in thought and deed. Healing the rift, so the argument goes, will require a profound shift in our collective consciousness. This is the work of the priests of the religion. Some deep ecologists call it “the chthonic imperative” and some call it “the re-enhancement of the world,” and some call it “the realization of one’s ecological Self” as distinguished from one’s “ego-self.” This reconnection with nature may take place through education, even academic education, or ritual worship of Mother Earth, and other practices.

Some of the common attributes shared by most ancient and modern nature religions are: immanence or focus on this world and its embodied physical existence, focus on the immanent dimension of the sacred, its accessibility to all humans, the emphasis of experience over belief, on living in harmony in the natural world, on the teaching of spiritual truths found in natural cycles and nature processes, on the treatment of birth, death and sexuality as sacraments (the worship of Pan, the god of nature is another throwback), on relationship over mastery, on the tendency to ignore sacred texts and institutionalized religious hierarchies, on pantheism, on the affirmation of life in its totality, on Mother Earth as a goddess (Gaia), on deep ecology, on neo-animism and bio-regionalism, on eco-feminism, eco-psychology, eco-philosophy and eco-theology.

In any case, modern science continues to reorient humanity’s understanding of and relation to earth and the larger universe. Its discoveries and inventions have fundamentally altered our conception of how the universe evolved thus far and how it will evolve in the future. Left unasked by the scientific perspective is the age old question of why the universe was created and why it continues to unfold creatively. Some assume that the universe is eternal and that in itself settles the matter. The very question asked by Heidegger in Being and Time (why is there something rather than nothing) is meaningless. To be sure, the issue of the eternity of the universe preoccupied the likes of Aristotle and his medieval admirers Averroes and Aquinas, and is far from resolved philosophically. Be that as it may, the ancients of Athens and Jerusalem and later Meso-America, perceived an eternal intelligence or Wisdom to be at work shaping the course of the visible cosmos. They believed her fruit was better than the choicest gold or silver. They sought a way of life in concert with this universal cosmic intelligence (nous) responsible for creating and sustaining all temporal things. Further, they assumed that their portrayal of an ordered cosmos helped to create one, and their liturgies somehow maintained it.

Moderns, in contrast, have become alienated from their origin in and forgetful of their responsibility toward the Wisdom of creation. Science, in the modern age, has lost sight of Wisdom and the moral vision she provides. There has been an attempt to replace philosophy, which literally means love of wisdom, with positivism or the idolization of the pre-eminence of science. Science has wed itself to the instrumentalism of market-driven technology, with an ever-accumulating body of specialized knowledge and the earthshaking power it makes possible. Even when mistakes are acknowledged, they are imputed to lack of precision, not lack of wisdom. Man-made models of nature have come to obscure modern humanity’s vision of the glory of creation.

For example, following the financial crisis of 2008, the thought of Ayn Rand, perhaps the world’s most popular purveyor of the myth of the market, saw something of a resurgence. There are influential political leaders, speaker of the House Paul Ryan is one of them, who brag about the fact that they grew up on a steady diet of Ayn Rand. In fact, sales of her novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) went through the roof as American business leaders struggled to hang on to their vanishing dream. The dystopian story’s mysterious protagonist, John Galt, along with other captains of American industry, decide to go on strike to protest government regulation, bringing the country to a standstill. The core of the novel is Galt’s 70-page speech, wherein Rand’s entire philosophy is laid out. In it, she denounces the Christian morality of love of one’s neighbor, calling it a “morality of sacrifice,” (similar to the “slave morality” of Nietzsche) while championing a “morality of life” based upon egoism and the sovereignty of the individual rational mind over the human community and the raw materials of nature.

“We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter,” she has Galt say, “a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate homes. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol, the sign of free trade and free minds, we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendor.” Can one get any closer to John’s vision of Babylon in the book of Revelation, where all wear the mark of the beast?

Former chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who joined Rand’s circle in the early fifties, helped her do research for Atlas Shrugged. In early 2010, Greenspan was asked if the financial crisis signaled an indictment of Rand’s free-market ideology. His answer is instructive: “Not at all…There is no alternative to competitive markets if you want to have economic growth and higher standards of living in a democratic society…If you merely look at history since the Enlightenment…when all of those ideas surfaced and became applicable in public policy, we’ve had an explosion of economic growth, especially in developing countries, where hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of extreme poverty and starvation…”

Greenspan and Ryan, and Rand are of course right about the explosion of economic growth resulting from global capitalism, but they appear blind to the eco-social costs of this growth. Half of the world’s 2.2 billion children currently live in poverty, almost a billion people lack access to safe water supplies, about 25 million acres of crop land are lost every year due to soil erosion, and 50% of the world’s non-human species may be extinct by the end of the 21st century. Further, global climate change resulting from “free market” industrial capitalism is threatening to make all these injustices far worse, in addition to other consequences.

As for past injustices, Rand’s celebration of the genocide of the native population (she calls them “impotent savages”) that once called Turtle Island home is a telling reminder that capitalism has always been wed to colonialism. In order to achieve perpetual growth, capitalist markets had to continually expand into untapped territories, there exploiting the labor and land of conquered peoples to turn a profit back at home. Today, what is exported, for profits, are not only the goods but the labor force. No wonder there are so many unhappy campers in the labor class who are now following a billionaire madman called Trump who has promised theme the moon in the well. From Rand’s and Ryan’s perspective, such exploitation was perfectly justified, since indigenous populations are not made up of free individuals, having no concept of rights or property ownership. Nor does Gaia or any of Her non-human creatures deserve the respect of properly rational individuals, since, following Lockean theories of property ownership, their value is inferior until produced for consumption in the human marketplace. The laws of the market are opposed to the Laws of the Creator.

In short, the accumulation of wealth has come to replace Wisdom as the most important aspiration in human life. Money has become the source of all value and meaning. “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money” says the wisdom of the Christian gospel. Not the beautification and celebration of Gaia and Her creatures in the Name of God, but the production and consumption of Her resources in the name of the dollar is now the normal, “the good” way of life. There is an ontological chasm separating questions of meaning and morality from those of mechanism and motion.

Economics, now considered a positive science and therefore beyond the pay grade of philosophers and theologians, was once defined as the science of morality. It stands today, rather awkwardly, at the helm of our techno-capitalist civilization. We now have, not philosopher-priests, but capital- engineers who rule over the contemporary geopolitical arena. The question arises here: is economic “science” just the purveyor of an oppressive upper class ideology? The answer may be yes, given that ecology, is widely dismissed by many conservatives as a front for socialism. Many dismiss global warming as socialist propaganda. The sense of the purpose of life has been banished from reasoned political discourse and has been replaced by tweeting and texting. We may soon have a tweeter, incapable of rational discourse, as president of the US. Next we will see democracy going down the toilet and good old fascism returning together with racism and xenophobia. The founding fathers, children of the Enlightenment, must surely be turning in their graves.

Ecology, and consequently ecosophy, is another fundamental scientific reorientation, a revolution in self- and cultural understanding that matches, if not exceeds, in importance the sixteenth-century Copernican astronomical revolution. Unfortunately, the influence of ecological science on public policy has been superficial, leading only to slightly more efficient light bulbs and hybrid gas-electric automobiles. So long as ecology remains narrowly scientific in the secular sense, concerned with how and not why, it can penetrate no deeper into humanity’s dysfunctional cosmo-political orientation. “Home,” in the individualized techno-capitalist context, means now my home or your home; Gaia–our home–has receded into the neglected background of human life.

To be sure, this eco-social crisis of our age has its roots in the rupture between religion and science, especially the science of economics. In order to reunite the how with the why, humanity must remember its proper relation to creation and its Creator. Ecosophy, I would suggest, is the fruit of such memory, the wisdom of home that, when watered, grows as a great tree from the soil of every earthly soul. Ecosophy brings economics back to its roots in moral science and theology, and enchants ecological science so as to renew humanity’s connection to a living creation. But it must not be just a resurgence of the paganism of old. The Christian religion is an especially important well to explore in relation to the contemporary eco-social crisis, since modern Western science and technology were born out of its cultural matrix. Secularity, in other words, can itself be understood by a Christian as an inevitable moment in the historical unfolding of Christ’s incarnation. Without historically situating modern Western civilization in the context of Christianity, secularity is all too easily misunderstood and identified with being modern and progressive, which eventually become inevitable and whose denial puts one at risk of being branded a medieval obscurantist.

As radical a break with the past as it may appear to be, Enlightenment secularism is evidently not best characterized as the rise of individual rationality above commonly held myths, nor as the firm grasp of scientific truths and technological powers that can replace religious delusions and magical incantations. The evidence of the inadequacy of such a triumphant characterization of modernity is legion: the isolated modern consumer is ruled over by perhaps the most deceitful, destructive, and oppressive myth of all, the myth of the market as above examined via Ayn Rand and Greenspan.

Secular philosophy’s failure to engage the market-driven metaphysics of techno-capitalism for fear of trespassing into theology has allowed the “science” of capitalist economics to upstage the Wisdom of creation. Any hope of finding orientation in these chaotic times depends upon a renaissance of the poetic science of God’s Wisdom. The human, as the imago dei, is tasked with the renewal and maintenance of the creation covenant. Genesis 1:28 calls us not so much to “subdue” and to “dominate,” but “to harness or to bind” heaven and earth, to “maintain the bonds of creation.” As the children of Wisdom, we are called upon by our Creator to be co-creators with Her in all our deeds and all our speech. To be made in the image of God is to be God’s poet, the namer and storyteller of creation.

So there are definitely two competing visions, that of the life of the market versus that of the miracle of life. The life of the market is that of ruthless competition, the struggle for existence between selfish animals, who come from dust and to dust return. The miracle of life is that of spiritual communion, the joy of co-creation amongst loving angels. The former is a morality rooted in the shallow pleasures of private accumulation, while the latter calls humanity to participate with Christ in the renewal of all creation.

The miracle of life can be understood through an ecosophic perception of the sacramentality of creation as a Theilard de Chardin or Thomas Berry understood it. Consider Gaia’s relationship with the Sun, that most generous of celestial beings. The Sun sacrifices its own body to give away vast quantities of energy to Gaia without any expectation of return. Not a single quantum of energy could be transacted between living beings upon the surface of earth without the Sun’s primordial generosity. This is what the quote by Gorbachev at the head of this article refers to. This is as true of the monetary transactions of the human economy as it is of the ecological transactions of soil and plants. Life is a gift, not an earning, a celebration of divine surplus, not a competition amidst material scarcity.

Contrary to Rand’s racist ideology, the native populations of pre-conquest America understood the meaning of the Sun’s splendor deeply enough to ritually organize their lives on earth to reflect the same patterns it was performing in heaven. Extravagant potlatch celebrations were held in honor of births, weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. Natives would gather together for great feasts gifted by wealthy families, and to sing and dance in honor of their divine ancestors. These ceremonies provide evidence that not barter, as classical economists assume, but gifting was the earliest form of exchange. Potlatch celebrations were outlawed by both Canadian and US governments in the late 19th century, and remained so until 1951. As modernity unfolded, traditional sacraments were increasingly considered to be culturally constructed symbolic performances, rather than theurgic events opening an economy between creature and Creator. Skepticism of inherited norms and revealed truths steadily increased as individuals turned to their own reason and values for guidance concerning ultimate matters.

Weber famously argued that it was the downplaying of communal ritual among the Protestant laity that first made possible the disenchantment of the world, the formation of the private modern subject, and the subsequent rise of techno-scientific capitalism. God, even if not quite dead, had all but fled the realms of space and time. Free of the sacred places and liturgical calendars of traditional sacramental religion, the modern individual no longer mirrored the celestial economy of angels, but remade the earth in his own fallen image.

Potlatch was practiced by native communities as a form of ritual participation in the divine effulgence of creation. Sharing in Gaia’s bounty, they lived like the Sun, for glory rather than for greed. The Great Economy is “reflected in God’s Sabbath delight, a celebration of all life, an affirmation of the right of all to be and to thrive.” The profane economy of the market, on the other hand, reflects the sinful nature of an alienated humanity, more interested in its own shortsighted pursuits than the flourishing of all creation. Reintroducing theologically grounded and ecologically sensitive morality into the norms of the marketplace will require an initially painful reorientation of modern human life, the crucifixion of the old to make way for the new. In order to come into alignment with the Wisdom of creation so as to participate in God’s ongoing artistry, everything from our scientific understanding of life and energy to the time-anxiety underlying our socio-economic commitment to work must be re-imagined.

Ritual practices like potlatch break down the dichotomy that normally exists between work and play. The Jubilee year and Sabbath commandment provide Biblical parallels to potlatch. On the 7th day of creation, God rested. Our human “holy days” call us to rebalance creation by making time for rest and re-creation. In Jesus’ time, Genesis was understood as the pattern of world history: the 6th day was considered the human age, the time when Adam is called to work with the Wisdom of the Creator to bring about the completion of the creation, so that all may rest on the 7th day. The completion of creation on the 7th day is the coming of the Kingdom wherein God becomes “all in all,” bound up in relational joy with creation.

In order to imagine, and to co-create, the Great Economy of the Kingdom, it is first necessary to free ourselves from the anxieties of the world of working. This, I submit, is best outlined in Franciscan spirituality which advocates enjoying and praising nature rather than the exploitation and the rape of nature. Anxiety makes the problems of the market apparent to us, but uncovering their solution requires that we release ourselves from its world-distorting grip. Unlike the anti-religion of the market ruling over the world of working, wherein “time is money” as Ben Franklin famously quipped, Christianity calls us to observe the birds of the air and the lilies of the field living without toil: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Time needs to be found to smell the roses.

Play, like the perception of Wisdom, opens up a non-ordinary reality, allowing us to transcend the everyday world of work. The idea is not to transcend work entirely, but to recognize its relativity in regard to all the other experiential realities that are engaged with during a full 24-hour cycle of earth’s rotation (sleep, dreams, etc.), or the full span of a mortal life (birth, love, near death, death, spiritual vision, etc.). Work will always be necessary for survival, but the question remains: why survive? If not to play, then for what? We are back to the question of the purpose of the universe.

Ritual performance, and the creative efflorescence it encourages, is at the existential core of our lives, and indeed is the beating heart at the center of creation. We might sometimes reflect and recall that the purpose of all our science, technology, industry, manufacturing, commerce, and finance is celebration, planetary celebration. That is what moves the stars through the heavens and the earth through its seasons, as Dante intuits at the end of his journey in the Divine Comedy. The final norm of judgment concerning the success or failure of our technologies is the extent to which they enable us to participate more fully in this grand festival.

The meaning of the world and the order of the cosmos must be enacted, or imaginally bodied forth. The human imagination, the Seal of creation, does not receive the world’s meaning ready-made, but must participate in its making: The meaning of earthly life soon dissolves unless we are willing to play, to make imaginally present what would not otherwise be so. Imagination is the soul’s temple, the holy of holies within which immanence and transcendence meet and give birth to worlds worth living in. In this way, everyday is made holy, and all our work becomes a form of worship. Religion, science, art, and indeed, culture in general, are all born out of playfulness. Humans may not be the only creatures who play, but surely only we take play seriously enough to die for it. Perhaps Socrates had something like that in mind when he said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Contrary to this vision of creation rooted in play, biologists since Darwin have tended to understand evolution primarily as a vicious competitive “struggle for existence” amidst scarcity, where only the fittest survive. More recently, the work of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis has entirely transformed Darwin’s picture of the biosphere, a picture that perhaps reflects the economic conditions holding sway in 19th century England more so than the natural conditions of earthly life. Lovelock’s Gaia theory has shown that life is necessarily a planetary affair, constituted by a massively interconnected web of biotic and abiotic feedback loops. Margulis’ research on the bacterial basis of all life and her theory of the origin of species via symbiogenesis reveal that lateral gene transfer (gene gifting) and cooperative symbiosis are the primary engine of evolution.

Energy is not compulsive work, but “Eternal Delight.” Nor is God’s ongoing creative artistry tyrannic or compulsive, but Genesis’ acts of creation must be read in concert with the wisdom of Proverbs and the passion of the Gospels. God did not create the world out of nothing, but beget it and suffered it with Wisdom. Lacking such an ecosophic perception of the true nature of reality has left modern humanity ignorant of why Gaia is the way She is ever hearing, but never understanding…ever seeing, but never perceiving. This ignorance hardly stopped us from learning how many of Her seemingly isolated parts worked, and how we might manipulate them for our own profit. Cunning power became our knowledge.

As a St. Francis clearly perceived the Great Economy is in our midst and it does not reside in accumulated wealth. Wisdom, too, is all around and he who has ears, let him hear. If the heart be reached, not through reason, but through imagination, then healing humanity’s eco-social wound must begin there. Enlightenment conceptions of the “state of nature” must be entirely re-envisioned, such that Gaia’s values become the soil out of which the human soul imagines its own. To be made in the image of God is not merely to be capable of thinking His plan after Him, but to be co-creator with Christ of the Kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven.

In conclusion, I wish to suggest that ecosophy should not be a mere throw-back to pagan “nature worship” as a way to reconnect to the sacred (all well and good in itself), but it should be more; it should be the culmination of a genuine Christian Franciscan spirituality which remembers God’s creation and through nature finds the way to a new imaginative journey such as the one begun by Dante “in the middle of the journey of our lives” which ends, in the last line of the Divine Comedy, with “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Let those who have ears, let them hear.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Green Planet

Sea-Level Rise Could Sink The U.S. Southeast: How To Fight It As Individuals

Dr. Arshad M. Khan



Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust

The latest news on rising sea levels can be described as another example of human folly.  The Anthropocene has seen plant extinctions, animal extinctions, both at an unforeseen pace, and now there is not only worsened coastal flooding but a vast area of low-lying south-eastern United States eventually could be under water.  Who says so?   And with what level of confidence can we make such a prediction? 

An assessment by 106 specialists, who study sea-levels and were selected on the basis of peer-reviewed published research, projects a meter rise by century’s end.  Earlier, in September 2019, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report estimating, with statistical confidence levels, a global mean sea level rise of 0.3 to 1.1 meters by 2100.  Present sea levels are already about a foot higher than in the 1970s, and coastal communities are experiencing chronic flooding that is worsened by storm surges and extreme rainfall events — now more frequent due to climate change.

If global warming remains within 2 degrees Celsius, the experts estimate a sea level rise limited to an average 0.5 meters by 2100 and to between 0.54 — 2.15m by 2300.  This is the scenario resulting from the Paris Agreement.  However, Donald Trump representing a country that is one of the major contributors to climate warming has already withdrawn from the Paris accord.

The earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 1C since the preindustrial era but the trajectory uncontrolled is expected to lead to another 3.5C rise by 2100.  This predicts a 0.63 — 1.32m sea-level rise by 2100.  But by 2300, this scenario also means a possible 1.8m increase from melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as noted by the experts with knowledge of this aspect of climate change.  The resulting total rise by 2300 is then estimated at 1.67 – 5.61m.  To those of us used to thinking in terms of the English system, the last figure amounts to 18ft. 5ins.

Consider that some 10 percent of the world’s population or about 770 million people live on land less than 5m above high tide levels.  Consider also that the scenarios above are based on mean sea levels.  It implies there are areas with lower seas — the lucky coastal areas — but also the unfortunates living beside higher seas in low-lying regions.  Hence, the unfortunate southeast of the US.

If the figures quoted previously are not scary enough, it is worth noting what happened during the melting of the Eurasian ice sheet 14,000 years ago — it raised sea levels by 8 meters or 26 1/4 feet.  All of which leads once again to the question of what we can do as individuals to alleviate global warming in the age of Trump, a man who believes climate change is a hoax.  Thanks to him making an ass of himself during his coronavirus news conferences, there is a chance he may not be around.

As individuals, aside from avoiding unnecessary auto trips and walking short distances, one of the best things we can do is to eat less beef (lamb is even worse, pork much less).  As ruminants, cows emit gases, mostly methane when chewing their cud and then also from the other end — although there is now hope for a vaccine that can inactivate the digestive bacteria causing it.  Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat.  It is why livestock cause 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity.  It is said, if cows were a country, they would rank third in emissions.

On the positive side, replacing meat with poultry, fish, vegetables and fruit — the Mediterranean diet  — helps us live longer, healthier lives.  So, what do we have to lose?

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Green Planet

Development but Not At The Cost Of Biodiversity: A Plan For “Living In Harmony With Nature”



Authors: Partha PratimMitra and Prakash Sharma*

The United Nations General Assembly in 2006 adopted 22nd May every year as the International Day for Biological Diversity.The day commemorates the adoption of the agreed text of the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD).This year’s slogan is “Our solutions are in nature”, which emphasizes upon ‘hope, solidarity and the importance of working together at all levels’, and a future built in harmony with nature. This year is important because it is the final year for three major instrument, namely United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020), the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

The year is also important because CBD is revising and working on another strategic plan to adopt post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping stone towards the 2050 vision of “Living in harmony with nature”. The present paper discusses how ‘biodiversity’ is central to the development of environment discourse, especially when issues concerning ‘biodiversity’ makes international negotiations and agreements controversial and highly politicized. Amongst issues, perhaps three appears to be crucial i.e. national sovereignty; conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; access and sharing of benefits of biodiversity.

CBD: Relevance

CBD was signed in the year of 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development(the Rio Earth Summit).CBD links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of sustainable using of biological resources. CBD has ensured that international environment law recognizes the conservation of biodiversity as “a common concern of humankind”, and at the same time remains an integral part of the development process.CBD is legally binding, and nation-states that join it are obliged to implement its provisions.

CBD covers ecosystems, species, genetic resources, biotechnology, and links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources. It sets out principles for a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. While it reminds decision-makers that natural resources are not infinite and its sustainable use, it recognizes that ecosystems, species and genes must be used for the benefit of humans. The earlier conservation efforts were only aimed at protecting particular species and habitats. Further, CBD offers guidance based on the precautionary principle to the decision makers and demands that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.

To date the Conference of the Parties (COP) has held 14 ordinary meetings, and one extraordinary meeting, namely the Biosafety Protocol, which was held in two parts. From 1994 to 1996, COP was held annually, and thereafter meetings were held less frequently. However, following a change in the rules of procedure in 2000, COPs were held every two years. COP is the governing body of the Convention, and advances implementation of the Convention through the decisions it takes at its periodic meetings.

Through its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, it addresses concern of technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety issues. It is the first international regulatory framework for the safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms. Likewise, the Jakarta Mandate on marine and coastal biological diversity was adopted by the CBD Parties in 1995 to underline the importance of establishing coastal and marine protected areas. Subsequently, the CBD Parties have agreed that marine and coastal protected areas are one of the essential tools and approaches in the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity. In the same year, Protocol concerning specially protected areas and biological diversity in the Mediterranean was adopted in Barcelona(came into force on 12 December, 1999). It is a key facilitator of CBD implementation in the Mediterranean area. Under the instrument, Parties are obliged to take necessary actions, In order to protect, preserve and manage in sustainable and environmentally sound way, areas of particular natural or cultural value, notably by the establishment of specially protected areas, and to protect, preserve and manage the threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.

Another important instrument was the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization. Adopted in the year 2010, the instrument sets out core obligations for its contracting Parties to take measures in relation to access to genetic resources, benefit-sharing and compliance. It also creates incentives mechanism for conserving and sustainably using genetic resources for human well-being.

Balancing Intellectual Property Rights and Biological Diversity: Key Issues

Article 8 (j), CBD encourages to take steps that respect, preserve, maintain knowledge, innovations, practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It also suggests use of measures that promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits. Article 15(7), CBD mandates that each contracting Party, upon mutually agreed terms, shall take legislative, administrative or policy measures, with the aim of sharing in a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the contracting Party providing such resources. Under Article 16(5), CBD the contracting Parties are required to recognize patents and other intellectual property rights (IPRs)that may have an influence, and shall cooperate in this regard, subject to national legislation and international law in order to ensure that such rights are supportive of and do not run counter to its objectives.

Now, the current IPR regime encourages commercialization of seed development, monoculture, protection of new plant varieties, microorganisms, and genetically modified organisms. As a consequence, the rich biogenetic diversity is being eroded irreversibly. The relationship between the CBD and IPRs has been even considered by the COP in a number of decisions. In this regard, invitation was made to Word Trade Organization (WTO) to consider relevant provisions of CBD, their interrelationship with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement, and to further explore this interrelationship. Policy-makers and members of civil society have registered concerns that the TRIPS Agreement promotes private commercial interests at the expense of public policy objectives contained in the CBD. It is disastrous to allow commercial priorities at the expense of the diverse eco-systems. The extent IPRs are considered essential to the industries, and in view of the increasing corporate control of biotechnological research, demands revisit of CBD. In this sense many argue that CBD is now regarded as a case of a hard treaty gone soft in the implementation trajectory.

Indian Position on Biodiversity Conservation

India plays a significant role in the protection of biodiversity acknowledges the value of biodiversity for sustaining and nourishing human communities. There are17 “mega-diverse” nation-states that contain 70 % of world’s biodiversity. India is one of these megadiverse countries with 2.4% of the land area, accounting for 7-8% of the species of the world, including about 91,000 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants, that have been documented in its ten bio-geographic regions. In order to honour the mandate of CBD, India had enacted the Biological Diversity Act, 2002for preservation of biological diversity, and establishes a mechanism for equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of traditional biological resources and knowledge. The Act establishes Authorities at both Central [National Biodiversity Authority (NBA)] and State level [State Biodiversity Board (SBB)].India has framed Guidelines on Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefits Sharing Regulations, 2014 in pursuance of the Nagoya Protocol. As a result, any person who intends to obtain any IPR by whatever name called, in or outside India, for any invention based on any research or information on any biological resources obtained from India, shall make an application to the NBA in Form III of the Biological Diversity Rules, 2004.Now, where the applicant himself commercializes the process or product or innovation, the monetary sharing shall be in the range of 0.2 to 1.0% based on sectoral approach, which shall be worked out on the annual gross ex-factory sale minus government taxes. Likewise, where the applicant assigns or licenses the process or product or innovation to a third party for commercialization, the applicant shall pay to NBA monetary sharing of 3.0 to 5.0% of the fee received (in any form including the license or assignee fee) and 2.0 to 5.0% of the royalty amount received annually from the assignee or licensee, based on sectoral approach. However, any person applying for any right under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 is exempted from this procedure.

India is a leading country in having established a comprehensive legal and institutional system to realize the objectives of CBD. Besides, the efforts on behalf of NBA is recognized globally for its pioneering work to implement the CBD and fully operationalize the access and benefit-sharing provisions, among others through a national network of Biodiversity Management Committees, alongside the establishment of People Biodiversity Registers. There have been certain collaborative efforts, for instance the Government of India in collaboration with the Norwegian Government has established “Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law” (CEBPOL) for strengthening the biodiversity policy and law in India.

Concluding remarks

Policy-makers have an important role to play in ensuring that policies and practices relating to IPRs, and the need for the conservation of biodiversity, remain mutually supportive. In this regard, Governments are required to adopt an integrated approach ‘across’and ‘between’ different national and international fora, to strictly implement the objectives and provisions of the CBD. Presently, CBD is in the epicenter of Global North-South debate, wherein developed States wants to promotes “scientific development, IPR for plant verities, genetically modified foods”,and developing States wants to extent protection on “agriculture, farmer’s rights, animal welfare, environment and ecology”.

We need to understand that the presentCOVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important is biodiversity in nature, and how scientific development and medicinal advancement are incomplete to handle situations like these. It is a clarion call from our creator is to remind ourselves of “live and let others live”. Extinction of species do affect our ecosystem, particularly when every specie has an important role to play on the planet. Biodiversity combines interactions of all living organisms and their existence on the planet. Only this time no Noah’s ark will come unless strict adherence to CBD is made. Indeed, itis possible to save all species in the mother earth because “Solutions are in Nature”.

*Assistant Professor, VSLLS, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.

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Green Planet

Do Migratory Birds Connect our World: Analyzing from the Perspective of Collective Legal Response



Authors: Prakash Sharma and Partha Pratim Mitra

On May 09, the world celebrated the World Migratory Bird Day in order to raise awareness of migratory birds and the importance of international cooperation to conserve them. For the year 2020 the theme is “Birds Connect our World”. It is organized by a collaborative partnership among two United Nations treaties i.e. the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and the Colorado based non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA).


Migratory Birds play an important role by conserving and restoring the ecological connectivity and integrity of ecosystems that support the natural cycles that are essential for the survival and well-being of migratory birds. Over the years, migratory birds are facing severe existential threat. Factors like loss of habitat, climate change, poisoning, power lines, and illegal killing have contributed immensely to the threat. It is realized that individual State effort wouldn’t bring desired results, however, sincere collective actions from all nation-states, across the world, has the potential to better protect migratory birds and the habitats they need to survive and thrive.

In this regard, CMS brings together the nation-states through which migratory animals pass, the Range States, and lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range. Migratory species threatened with extinction are listed on Appendix-Iand those migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation are listed in Appendix-II of the Convention. Listing generally leads to concerted actions in different national jurisdictions in which a species range. Actions may include cooperation among range countries, harmonization in policies etc. through regional agreements. CMS has working groups specializing in various fauna families, and a scientific council that advises research-based solutions for conservation.

Endangered and Threatened Bird Species

At least 1,317 bird species have been recorded in India against around 10,000 species found worldwide. Of the 1,317 species recorded in India, 72 are endemic to the country. According to an assessment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2018, a total of 100 species of Indian birds are classified as ‘threatened’. Of these, 17 are categorized as ‘critically endangered’, 20 as ‘endangered’, and 63 as ‘vulnerable’.Besides these threatened species, there are several other species that are marked by sparse population size and restricted range and are generally considered rare by conservationists.

COP-13, India: Relevance

The conservation of wildlife and habitats has long been part of the cultural ethos of India.In February 2020the 13thsession of the Conference of the Partiesto the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals(COP-13) was held in Gandhinagar, India. The COP-13 had the theme titled “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home”. The COP-13resulted in the adoption of seven new species including migratory birds like Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, Little Bustard, Antipodean Albatross to Appendix-I of the CMS. In this regard, the Government of India also issued a special stamp edition featuring the Great Indian Bustard as the mascot of COP-13.

COP-13 was the largest ever in the history of the Convention, with 2,550 people attending including 263 delegates representing 82 Parties, 11 delegates from 5 non-Party countries, 50 representatives from United Nations agencies, 70 representatives of international NGOs, 127 representatives of national NGOs and over 100 members of both national and international media.COP13 adopted the Gandhinagar Declaration, which calls for integration of migratory species and the concept of ‘ecological connectivity’ in the new framework (to be adopted at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in October).Interestingly, COP-13 is perhaps the first COP ever inaugurated by the Head of Government of the host-country.

Convention on Migratory Species and its Agreements and MoUs

The CMS was initially signed by 21 nation-states in Bonn, Germany on 1979 and came into force in November, 1983. Presently, CMS has 130 nation-states as its Party while several other nation-states, although not Party to the CMS are Party to one or more of the agreements and/or have signed one or more of the Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs). The CMS was mainly drafted by Francoise Burhenne-Guilmin who later became head of IUCN’s Environmental Law Commission. CMS is species specific and covers terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species. According to Philippe Sands and Jacqueline Peel migratory species can be classified into four general categories; (1) Marine species which breed on the shores of coastal states but migrate to sea during adult life, e.g. seals, sea turtles, anadromous fish; (2) Highly migratory marine species which travel between exclusive economic zones and high seas e.g. tuna or whales; (3) Territorial species with a well-established migration pattern e.g. birds; and (4) Territorial or marine species which live in border areas and regularly cross jurisdiction boundaries e.g. gorillas or elephants.

Interestingly, however, the CMS itself does not apply any direct measures, but directs the “range states” to make ancillary agreements. So far six regional agreements and seven non-binding MoUs have been convened on various migratory species, like AEWA, 1995whichis an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory water birds including 255 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle and their habitats across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Likewise, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), 2001 was made to recognize the need for international cooperation for marine migratory species like Albatrosses and Petrels.

Similarly, the MoU concerning conservation measures for the Siberian Crane, 1993 was entered to protect Siberian Cranes. The MoU concerning conservation measures for the Slender-Billed Curlew, 1994 was formed with an aim to safeguard the Slender-Billed Curlew. The MoU on the conservation and management of the Great Bustard, 2001 was also made to correct the continuous decline of the Great Bustard and degradation or fragmentation of suitable habitats and hunting pressure in Middle-European States etc

Migratory Bird Treaties:From 1916 onwards

Prior to the multilateral international conventions, migratory bird treaties (MBTs) were main instruments for bird protection. The United States of America(USA) is pioneer in entering into the treaty regime of ‘nation-state conservation policy’. Perhaps, the thought was to successfully strengthen the domestic laws and thereafter facilitate the international cooperation for avian conservation. The 1916,The United States signs a treaty with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada, then part of the British Empire)to stop all hunting of insectivorous birds and to establish specific hunting seasons for game birds. In order to implement the treaty, the USA Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 and replaced the Weeks-McLean Act, 1913.The said treaty is known to be one of the oldest sources of international environmental law.Later, USA signed a treaty similar to the one entered between Great Britain with Mexico in 1936 for the protection (through laws and regulations) of migratory birds in their movements across the two signatory nation-states.USA signed treaty with Japan in 1972 for protection of migratory birds except if an open season has been established. Likewise, USA entered treaty with Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1976 to improve cooperation between the contracting parties as the conservation of migratory birds passing between their territories.

The success of MBTs to facilitate, encourage, and justify expensive and often low-priority bird conservation and research facilities rubbed onto other nation-states. For instance, Japan in 1973 signed a treaty with USSR to promote cooperation in the conservation of birds migrating between the contracting parties’ territories and of endangered species of birds. In 1974, Australia signed an identical treaty (the one entered between Japan and USSR) with Japan. In 1981, Japan entered an agreement with Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for the prohibition of the taking of birds listed in an appendix to the treaty, establishment of bird sanctuaries, and for the exchange of research results. This bilateral migratory bird agreement has been instrumental in building research capacity in PRC for the study of migratory birds.

There are certain little known yet significant MBTs, for example, the 1984 agreement between India and USSR, which is applicable to species of birds for which there is a positive evidence of migration between the two countries and also to species or sub-species common to both countries and listed in the appendix attached with the agreement. Both nations agreed to promote joint research programs and establish bird sanctuaries and endeavour to preserve and improve the natural environment of migratory birds. Another, treaty entered between Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation in 1994 (is the only bilateral treaty entered in 1990s)was on mutual cooperation for taking measures for the management and protection of migratory birds and their habitat and the prevention of the extinction of certain birds. It recognized that many species of birds migrate between and seasonally live in both countries and that certain species of birds are in danger of extinction.

Though, the merits of MBTs are mostly limited to migratory bird species and is limited between the nation-states party to such treaties. Nevertheless, from the perusal of above-discussed MBTs, it is argued that MBTs are still a beneficial tool since multinational treaties tend to be inflexible, cumbersome, and politically driven. They act as a useful tool for international wildlife conservation (even after the emergence of multinational treaties like CMS). At the same time, it would be much too simplistic to conclude that any one category or model of MBT is better than any other, In fact MBTs have starting to form a network of international conservation efforts.

Concluding remarks

The last flocks of passenger pigeons were reported in 1888, the last confirmed sighting occurred in 1900, and the last passenger pigeon died in captivity in 1914 in Cincinnati zoo.In 1850 Alexander Wilson, an ornithol­ogist,watched migrating flock of passenger pigeons and wrote that their passing had darkened the sky for more than 30 minutes(containing 2 billion birds spread over 384 km long and 1.6 km wide, in the sky). Both passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) were most dramatic bird extinction ever recorded. Both were the victim of human consumption. Even thereafter, the human desire did not stop, birds which were frequently around 10 years ago, have become rare and in certain cases extinct. In the times, when most of the world’s population is under some form of restricted movement due to the COVID-19, this theme “Birds Connect Our World” carries a particular relevance and poignance. The need of hour is multiple efforts, for instance, during recently concluded COP-13, the Indian Prime Minister pledged to focus on the conservation of migratory birds along the Central Asian Flyway, announced the establishment of an institutional research facility for the conservation of migratory birds and marine turtles, and confirmed efforts to reduce pollution from micro-plastic and single-use plastic etc. It is desired that human-beings collectively act to prevent the destruction of birds. This would demand adherence of stringent domestic laws, and measures that conserve and protect their habitats and their flyways.

* Partha Pratim Mitra has written a book titled, Birds, Wetlands and the Law: Indian and International Perspectives (Thomson Reuters, 2019).

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