: Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment

Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment

Kate Galloway

Burdon-Earth-Jurisprudence-Private-Property-smPeter D Burdon; Routledge, 2015; 177 pages; $125 (hardback)

The Bolivian constitutional recognition of earth rights, the Whanganui River declaration in New Zealand and the recent court finding of some rights vesting in a captive Argentinian orang-utan, indicate that the law is slowly waking up to its exclusion of the natural world from the realm of rights. These examples are simply facets of a much broader ‘convergence of crises, all of which present a significant moral and survival challenge for the human species,’ requiring a re-imagining of the potential of the law. Peter Burdon’s book Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment does just that, providing both a theoretical justification and a model for a holistic engagement between private property and the natural world.

Drawing on the work of Thomas Berry, Burdon challenges our anthropocentric vision of property as dominion. He takes the reader through Western philosophical, historical and religious foundations of private property, and presents the idea of ‘earth community’ as a necessary paradigm shift. This forms the foundation for his alternative theorisation of private property which he envisions as ‘a relationship between members of the Earth community, through tangible or intangible items…an unfolding practice that adapts to place and treats nature as a subject rather than an object.’

Property is widely regarded as a concept contingent upon its social, cultural and historical context. Burdon uses this to his advantage, arguing that it is therefore possible to reconfigure private property to reconcile it with the idea of an Earth community — a shift necessary to deal with global environmental crisis. In addition to critiquing the theory of private property itself, he addresses criticisms of the compatibility of private property and earth jurisprudence. His thorough reading of the leading Western scholars in both property theory and earth jurisprudence result in a comprehensive and coherent theoretical justification for a re-visioned private property.

As a property lawyer, I found this book an invaluable critical account of property theory, and envisage that it will also appeal to critical and environmental lawyers. Burdon’s style is accessible and devoid of jargon, making it an excellent read for the student of property law, environmentalists and anyone interested in understanding how we might work towards a better and more just world.

KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University.

(2015) 40(1) AltLJ 68
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