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Law, Nature, and Planetary Justice


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Professor Stewart Motha
  • Assessment: a 1000-word opinion piece (20%) and 3000-word summative essay (80%)

Module description

In this module we examine the interface of law and nature in the time of climate destruction and mass extinction. The distinction between law and nature has ancient origins in the western tradition, but is challenged by indigenous knowledge systems. The law/nature opposition is breaking down in a time of the Anthropocene. We will look at the conceptual frameworks and legal underpinnings of these developments, and consider these changes through practical examples.

Instituting hierarchies between life/non-life, human/non-human, and the distinction between natural/cultural have been central to sustaining the untrammelled exploitation of what is deemed to be inert and part of nature. By challenging these distinctions, and by examining case studies on mining, rights of nature, intensive farming and environmental destruction, we will develop critical perspectives for understanding the legal, social and political foundations for planetary justice.

Indicative syllabus

  • The origins of the distinction between law and nature
  • Legal standing and rights of natural and inanimate objects
  • Indigenous perspectives on ‘nature’
  • Case study: iron-ore mining - Australia
  • Case study: animal slaughter
  • Case study: vivisection
  • The nature of planetary justice in the Anthropocene
  • Case study: climate litigation
  • Approaches to nonhuman agency and law
  • Climate protest and activism

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • critically evaluate the law/nature distinction
  • understand and explain how international regimes of governance have developed in relation to nature
  • understand and critically evaluate the legal regimes that govern particular instances of ecological destruction
  • draw on theoretical and interdisciplinary materials to analyse law in a time of climate destruction
  • understand the range of social and political problems that arise out of extractive economies driven by the exploitation of what is called 'natural resources'.