Review: Sustainability & Law

Recently, more and more states take new legal paths to give nature or non-human life a higher value in society or even put them into the position of a legal entity. We want to examine limitations and potential of these legal innovations and discuss them as one, in Germany, still very unpopular strategy for effectively protecting resources, climate, and biodiversity.

Even though we often find that legal systems are able to classify every situation and regulate it according to categories of being permitted and forbidden, the question of what we human beings are allowed and not allowed to do to human beings is still largely unresolved.

In the last event of our lecture series Philipp P. Thapa, Andreas Gutmann and Anna-Julia Saigner discussed the themes of sustainability and law from a legal and philosophical point of view.

Rights are always an expression of norms and values. This raises the question of whether anthropocentric morality can be translated for nature at all. Which state of nature must not be destroyed, must be preserved? Does every living being possess a moral self-value? These were some questions raised in the event.
A public, free discourse on how we treat nature may be more important than ever. Is it then necessary to codify it in our laws? But does the law form our idea of ​​social justice? For example, women’s rights or children’s rights are evidence of a continuous evolution of the rules of how we want to shape our coexistence.

Some countries, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and New Zealand, have already attributed rights to nature – such as the right to comprehensive restoration. Nevertheless, there is still insufficient actual protection of the environment due to the lack of sufficient court judgments. At the same time, another legal status for nature is not only an important part of a debate about social change but could increase the pressure to justify human interests over non-human life. It is hard to determine whether the legal classification of non-human life as an equivalent legal subject, would only shift the ongoing dualism between man and the environment into law texts and would thus not represent a pragmatic solution to major environmental problems, but rather threatens to intensify the problem of opposition.

The event has always shown that it is worthwhile to come together to discuss and understand concepts, individual and social ideas.

Review: Sustainability & Resilience

Everybody is still talking about sustainability while another terminology is entering the discourse on how future societies can become social and ecological: resilience. But which concept is behind the term resilience? Or is resilience simply “sustainability 2.0”? In this lecture, we will address diverse perspectives on ecological and social resilience and discuss them controversially.

Resilience was the theme of the fifth event of our lecture series. But what does the term resilience mean? Moderated by Susanne Ober and Veronica Gnisia from the Sustainability Office Uni Freiburg, Prof. Dr. med. Hartmut Fünfgeld first approached the historical context of the term resilience. He proposed three understandings of resilience: a technical, ecological and social one. He defines the term resilience as a collective characteristic, advocating the goal of preserving man-made systems in defiance of change. This also makes it clear that resilience is a very conservative concept since the goal is to design a system that “jumps back” into the status quo. One difficulty here is to determine which state of a system is worth preserving. Thus, the concept of resilience also lacks a vision for the transformation of the status quo. Prof. Dr. Hartmut Fünfgeld sees a further danger in that “under the guise of resilience” neoliberal ways of thinking are obscured and thus political responsibility shifted to other sections of the population (socio-economic discrepancy).

Dr. Roderich von Detten discussed resilience and sustainability from a forestry perspective, focusing his speech on the critique of sustainability discourse and linking it with a critique of resilience. He wondered how far both concepts took into account uncertainties and ignorance. The concept of sustainability creates a “vague consensus”, everything wants to be “sustainable”, harmonizing underlying uncertainties and conflicting goals rather than addressing them. The experience in the forest sector shows that the practice is always a mix of planned and unplanned, it usually comes differently than we think. According to him, the problem here is that measurements of the resilience of forests are uncertain in view of the considerable plasticity of the climate. The danger of the resilience concept consists in narrowing the discourse towards expert opinions, which define supposedly fixed threshold values ​​and thereby ignore the experiences of the practice “in most cases, what came was unexpected”. The actual resilience of forests can only be truly recognized in the future, in 30 to 100 years.