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Nature's Trust
Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age

$49.99 (P)

  • Date Published: September 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521144117
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About the Authors
  • Environmental law has failed us all. As ecosystems collapse across the globe and the climate crisis intensifies, environmental agencies worldwide use their authority to permit the very harm that they are supposed to prevent. Growing numbers of citizens now realize they must act before it is too late. This book exposes what is wrong with environmental law and offers transformational change based on the public trust doctrine. An ancient and enduring principle, the trust doctrine asserts public property rights to crucial resources. Its core logic compels government, as trustee, to protect natural inheritance such as air and water for all humanity. Propelled by populist impulses and democratic imperatives, the public trust surfaces at epic times in history as a manifest human right. But until now it has lacked the precision necessary for citizens, government employees, legislators, and judges to fully safeguard the natural resources we rely on for survival and prosperity. The Nature's Trust approach empowers citizens worldwide to protect their inalienable ecological rights for generations to come.

    • This book discusses law in the broader context of ecology, culture, and economics, but is accessible to a general educated and professional audience
    • Presents a new sovereign trust paradigm for environmental law, this book integrates tribal sovereigns into a governance framework
    • Addresses a multitude of problems within agencies, this book should be of interest to officials in local, state and federal agencies who want to reform their agencies' practices
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "What Silent Spring did for our perception of the environment, Nature's Trust should do for our perception of environmental protection. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, this book calls for a revolution in environmental policy and law - now, before it is too late. It is simply brilliant.”
    James Gustave Speth, author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy and former dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

    “The gutting of our environmental laws now generates ominous and grotesque distortions in our natural world. This, as Mary Wood so vividly points out, reflects the deeper pollution of our regulatory agencies caused by the influence of big industries. Assembling an impressive range of legal precedents, Wood challenges our government to fulfill its age-old responsibility as "trustee" of public property. Nature's Trust is an eloquent plea to revive a fundamental pillar of civilized law to ensure the survival of a coherent civilization.”
    Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On and Boiling Point

    “At pivotal points in western history, when the failures of government became unconscionable and unbearable, thinkers have come forward with new, catalyzing principles that changed the world. I believe that Nature’s Trust is the book we have been waiting for, a new paradigm that can correct the course of history.”
    Kathleen Dean Moore, co-editor of Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril

    “We face, in climate change, the worst crisis in human history. So it's a good thing we have such a powerful mind rethinking our understanding of legal obligation - and human responsibility.”
    Bill McKibben, author of Earth and The End of Nature

    “Our children are trusting us to protect their Earth. Our governments are on trial for failing that trust. This is the trial that should rivet the public's attention, for all life depends on its outcome. This book puts the people - all of us - in the jury box.”
    James Hansen, author of Storms of My Grandchildren and former director, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies

    "It is a rare opportunity to read a book that causes us to reimagine the landscape of law, democracy and the environment. Nature’s Trust does that. Here, Professor Wood challenges us with a thorough investigation of what it will take to really protect the environment coupled with a profound assessment of the legitimate foundations of government. She demonstrates that the principles of trusteeship animate our relationship to nature as well as to the institutions of the state. These trust duties are the very slate upon which our constitution is written. This is a beautiful, profound, and important book and anyone who cares about our environmental and democratic future needs to read it."
    Gerald Torres, Marc and Beth Goldberg Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, Cornell Law School; Bryant Smith Chair in Law, the University of Texas at Austin School of Law; and co-author of The Miner's Canary

    "Nonetheless, as jacket blurbs by Bill McKibben, James Hansen, and Ross Gelbspan express quite well, Nature’s Trust is both ambitious and original. For anyone interested in using the legal system to prod action, Wood has made a major contribution."
    Rena Steinzor, Science Magazine

    '… Mary Christina Wood in Nature’s Trust calls for a revolution in environmental law grounded in the public trust doctrine. … the largest value of Nature’s Trust is likely its arguments in support of the need to establish expanded public trust responsibilities of government officials … the book should help civil society understand why the revolution is worth fighting for and what reforms in environmental law are necessary.' Donald A. Brown, Center for Environmental Philosophy

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    Customer reviews

    10th Oct 2013 by RanceShaw

    I first became aware of Mary Woods work during my junior year of high school. She was giving a speech about the public trust doctrine to an audience of over 10,000 people. The event drew citizens from all sectors of society: scientists, teachers, parents, activists, and students from all levels of education. It was obvious the public wanted to become educated about the inadequacy of the current state of environmental protection. But for the average citizen it is nearly impossible to comprehend environmental law. This book was written for those who wish to know why they should be dissatisfied with a government that believes protecting the environment is a matter of discretion, not obligation. Albert Einstein once said, If you cant explain it simply, you dont understand it well enough. By that rationale, it is easy to see why Mary Wood is an authority on the public trust doctrine in environmental law. The book is written in plain English--her writing reflects the manner in which laws and policies should be written. She is skillfully able to digest the complexities of modern environmental law for the layman without being patronizing. Readers will find that Natures Trust reads like a narrative while educating like a textbook. It finds the perfect balance between two drastically different styles of writing. The accessibility of this book may be deceptive. However, accessibility does not come at the expense of substance. Praise by the likes of James Hansen, Ross Gelbspan, Gerald Torres, and Bill McKibben can attest to that fact. Natures Trust is so powerful because Professor Wood is able to connect with the reader on an emotional level. She inspires us to reflect on the moral obligation that we have to future generations. She guides the readers through the necessary process of becoming upset, frustrated, and discouraged by the current state of the environmental legal system. But she isnt content to abandon the reader in a state of despair. Many people are already upset with the way our government handles environmental protection. But she helps us to develop a logical basis for our dissatisfaction built upon longstanding notions of governmental obligation. By defining the breach of duty of our government as a trustee--whose fiduciary responsibility is to protect the ecological res--she is able to offer us a way to restore governmental accountability. She helps us realize that there exists a means by which we can bring real change. This book is the catalyst that is needed for a paradigm shift with respect to the way which we understand the duty that is owed to us by our government. It is impossible not to be moved while reading this book.

    15th Aug 2015 by StormPetrol

    Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for A new Ecological Age* By Mary Christina Wood Review of Part I “Hospice for a Dying Planet” In Part I of this seminal work, Professor Wood describes universal cultural values that acknowledge the essential nature of healthy ecological systems for sustaining life. That recognition is expressed in the admonition to consider the effects of governance decisions on the next seven generations, for example. This, and other fundamental tenets of Native American culture, inspired the Founders as they forged The Constitution of the United States. Ancient Roman law is also part of the foundation of our modern government. The Romans, too, recognized that responsible stewardship of the natural endowments shared by all citizens is a fundamental, organizing principle of representative government. The author chronicles the flowering of the environmental movement in the 1970s, a robust response to threats imposed by industrial civilization. Symbolized by Earth Day, there was a demand for protection of public assets such as clean air to breath, access to safe food and unpolluted water, as well as the aesthetic enjoyment of a thriving, natural environment . In response, Congress passed the Endangered Species, Clean Air and Water Acts, among others. In an astounding exercise of executive power, the Nixon Administration also created the Environmental Protection Agency to administer some of these carefully crafted statutes. It was a time when, in response to the will of its citizens, our elected officials reaffirmed their ancient obligation to govern so as to protect crucial natural assets, thus insuring they would be held in trust for the benefit of present and future generations. However, attentive citizens now recognize a rapid deterioration in the quality of the global ecosystem. Evidence of the failure of the 1970s model of environmental law includes a rapidly energizing atmospheric system, the startling disappearance of ice everywhere, and rapidly rising, acidic seas. The natural birthright of our children and grandchildren is succumbing to the global frenzy of extraction and consumption wielded by the heavily industrialized system of corporate capitalism. In fact, the laws passed to protect the treasured legacy of our own, and our children’s natural resources have become tools used for carving them up, and then delegating management of each portion to a specific agency. These agencies, from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Bureau of Land Management, are engaged in the continuous development of extraordinarily confusing regulations. These complex webs of rules are used to determine how much, when, and who will be permitted to exploit the assets under their jurisdiction. Thus, a system initiated with the best intentions, illuminated by the bright promise of the early environmental movement, has become opaque to both the public and, by choice, the judiciary branch of government, as well. However, this misleading labyrinth is easily negotiated by the corporate interests that shape its ongoing design. Elected and appointed officials are subjected to a variety of influences, including offers of opportunities to leave public service for lucrative jobs in private industry. Experience in these company jobs, combined with the knowledge gained while serving in government, produce skilled, highly motivated lobbyists who further refine the art of swaying their former congressional and agency colleagues. Many actually return to government service by executive appointment, often to lead the agencies that are responsible for regulating the very same industry they now represent. All elected and appointed officials in public service have solemnly sworn to uphold The US Constitution as they discharge the duties of their office. The truth is that, tragically, many of these people no longer personify the interests of current and future generations of Americans. Part II, “The People’s Natural Trust” Nature’s Trust provides the foundation for a paradigm shift in the way ‘representative government’ conducts our business. In Part I, Professor Wood described the subversion of environmental laws intended to protect and conserve natural resources. Instead, these laws have become the basis for permitting destruction of these essential reserves. This style of governance now puts the entire global life-support system in peril. In “The People’s Natural Trust”, she provides the sound, legal basis for the foundational changes she proposes. Her reasoning is ‘radical’ in the very best sense of the word, which is derived from radix, meaning the root, or the inherent nature of a thing. The supreme authority of nations with representative forms of government is rooted in popular sovereignty. Therefore, one of the most essential purposes of such governments is “protecting crucial natural assets for the survival and welfare of citizens.” Those natural assets—resources that both born and unborn members of the state will require for their continued good health and happiness—constitute the principal held in the public trust that is the subject of the book. Elected officials are empowered to represent the interests of their constituents and are, therefor, responsible for insuring the safety of the trust assets. These officials of government are the trustees whose sworn duty it is to govern so that these resources will be available for the present and future generations who are its beneficiaries. This fundamental responsibility of leadership is the explicit, central principle of governance in constitutions of nations around the world. However, the “true origins of the trust reach far deeper than any one nation’s legal system.” This obligation is rooted in natural law. It is what John Locke, whose philosophy provided a cornerstone used by the Framers of our Constitution, called the “Fundamental, Sacred and unalterable Law of Self-Preservation.” The necessity of insuring the wherewithal for its members continued existence is “the basis of society.” This creates “a fiduciary obligation on the part of government to protect this human right.” One central conclusion of this line of reasoning regarding the principles of representative governance is that “…the people’s interest in the ecology essential for their survival and well-being limits their governments ability to destroy it.” The government’s obligation to act as trustee for the benefit of citizenry, rather than on behalf of powerful special interests, might come as a surprise to some. One might ask, “Where is this actually written into our laws?” The answer is that, “Properly understood, the public trust stands as a fundamental attribute of sovereignty—a constitutive principle that government cannot shed.” “The trust forms the sovereign architecture around which the Constitution and all other laws meld.” It is not set out in law because, as the author points out, Nature’s Trust is actually “the slate ‘upon which all laws are written.’” The structure of government designed by the Framers includes, as its intended sovereign legacy, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Thus, there is “an inalienable duty engrained in government itself …to govern…for the benefit of future generations as well as present ones.” Professor Wood cites many United States Supreme Court decisions to support her contention that this principle is, indeed, the foundation of our government. She leaves no doubt that our representatives are entrusted with careful administration of the principal in this natural trust. The resources therein are those required for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness those “unalienable Rights” that form the foundation of our great Nation. However, the officials responsible for conserving and protecting these assets for the benefit of all present and future generations are parsing them out to special interests for personal gain, instead! Affecting the radical change required to correct this life-threatening behavior will be the subject of Part III, “The Public Trust and the Great Transition”. Tim Palmer Master of Environmental Law and Policy Vermont Law School *This constitutes two parts of a three-part series. Part III is due out in mid September.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2013
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521144117
    • length: 457 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.62kg
    • contains: 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Environmental Law: Hospice for a Dying Planet?:
    1. 'You are doing a great job'
    2. The great legal experiment
    3. The politics of discretion
    4. Behind the grand façade
    5. The administrative tyranny over nature
    Part II. The People's Natural Trust:
    6. The inalienable attribute of sovereignty
    7. The ecological res
    8. Fiduciary standards of protection and restoration
    9. From bureaucrats to trustees
    10. Beyond borders: shared ecology and the duties of sovereign co-tenant trustees
    11. Nature's justice: the role of the courts
    Part III. The Public Trust and the Great Turning:
    12. Nature's trust and the heart of humanity
    13. Using Earth's interest, not its principal
    14. The public trust and private property rights
    15. The new world: a planetary trust.

  • Author

    Mary Christina Wood, University of Oregon, School of Law
    Mary Christina Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Oregon School of Law. She has taught law for more than twenty years, specializing in property law, environmental law and federal Indian law. She founded the school's top-ranked Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program and initiated several of the program's interdisciplinary research projects, including the Native Environmental Sovereignty Project and the Food Resiliency Project. She is the coauthor of a textbook on natural resources law and another on public trust law. She has also authored many articles and book chapters on the federal Indian trust obligation, wildlife law and climate crisis.

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