Earth Day, April 22 2022 marked the emergence of the Zoöp, a model for organizing institutions and businesses in a zoölogical coöperative. This way, humans and other-than-human life collaborate to counter the climate catastrophe.
The Zoönomic Institute just signed the paperwork that turned Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, the Netherlands’ national museum for architecture, design, and digital culture, into the very first Zoöp in the world. Zoöps are organizations that collaborate with other-than-human life to foster ecological regeneration. The legal structure for the Zoöp model was developed in close collaboration with the renowned Dutch law firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek.
6th extinction wave
We are in the midst of a rapidly escalating climate catastrophe and the 6th extinction wave. These are the result of a society and economic system that systematically put human interests above other-than-human interests. With Zoöp, The Zoönomic Institute wants to contribute to the development of alternative logic. The term Zoöp is short for Zoöperation and is a combination of the Greek word for life – zoë – and the word cooperation.
Zoöp is inspired by and complementary to recent developments in the field of rights of nature and works with the insights of the Doughnut Economy. “If governments and corporate leaders get on board, the Zoöp model could be the game-changer we are all seeking,” says Margaret Satya Rose, Vice-Chair of the Zoönomic Foundation.
The Zoöp governance model
The Zoöp model is an innovative governance model that cultivates a practice of ecological regeneration in organizations by fostering collaboration between humans and other-than-human life. It is a radical model that enables any organization to contribute to ecological regeneration. The Zoöp model anchors the realization of ecological regeneration within an organization in a robust way, without changing its existing goals. An organization becomes a Zoöp by including a Speaker for the Living as Board Observer and committing to the Zoönomic Annual Cycle.
The Speaker for the Living has the sole task of representing the interests of other-than-human life in the operational sphere of Zoöps. The Zoönomic Annual Cycle ensures that ecological regeneration is realized, measured, and monitored. Ernestien Idenburg, Chair of the Zoönomic Foundation: “What’s exciting about the Zoöp model is that it can be implemented right now! No change of law is required to have an immediate positive impact. In addition, it could provide legislators with a framework for implementing regenerative policy, leading to systemic change.”
Het Nieuwe Instituut wanted to become a Zoöp to take concrete steps toward a climate-positive future, involving all layers of the institute. Now that Het Nieuwe Instituut is officially inaugurated as a Zoöp, over 20 other organizations in the Netherlands and abroad are ready to become Zoöps as well. They will be supported by The Zoönomic Institute, the driving force behind the Zoöp movement.
Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, initiator of the Zoöp project: “We aim to create a growing network of Zoöps with the Zoönomic Institute as the knowledge steward and accelerator of the wider Zoöp movement. Our goal is to transform as much of the economy as possible into a regenerative, human-inclusive, Zoönomy: a network of exchange of matter, energy, and meaning that supports all bodies in their existence.”
More initiatives to give nature a legal status
The Spanish parliament, the Congress of Deputies, has approved initiating the processing of a law that allows the Mar Menor and its entire basin to have legal personality. As such, it will be the first ecosystem in Europe with its own rights, as if it were a person or a company. A large majority has said yes to converting the popular legislative initiative (ILP) endorsed by more than 600,000 signatures into a law proposal and thus begin its parliamentary process.
The initiative defends a “radical change” in the paradigm applied until now, so that nature, in this case, the Mar Menor, goes from being treated as “an object at the service of humanity” to being “a subject of rights”, “from being a slave to being a citizen”, explains the professor of Philosophy of Law at the University of Murcia Teresa Vicente, one of the promoters of this measure and in charge of presenting it to the deputies on March 15, to El Pais.
Around the world, activists are pushing to protect their rivers by giving them legal personhood. Is this just symbolism, or can it drive lasting environmental change? That was the central question in a major article in The Guardian, July 2021.
The Magpie River in Canada was granted legal personhood by local authorities, and given nine rights, including the right to flow, the right to be safe from pollution – and the right to sue.
Uapukun Mestokosho, a member of the Innu community who campaigned for the recognition of the Magpie’s rights said spending time on the river was “a form of healing” for indigenous people who could revive their traditional land-based practices that had been abandoned during the violence of the colonial era.
The Magpie River in Canada has got the right to flow, but how you enforce that right is very unclear
The Magpie is one of a growing number of rivers to be recognized as a living entity across the world. The burgeoning rights-of-nature movement is pushing local, national and international authorities to recognize natural features – from lakes to mountains – in law, giving them either legal personhood or an independent right to flourish.
In New Zealand, the Whanganui treaty did not address this key issue, with a water company continuing to divert 80% of the river’s flow for hydropower until its license expires in 2039. Even if this fact makes rights for rivers appear to be symbolism without legal teeth, experts argue that the concept still possesses real transformative power.
In Canada, David Boyd, a professor of law and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, has said that legal personhood could succeed where decades of environmental laws have failed, kickstarting a cultural shift away from conceiving of nature as a “warehouse of commodities for human use”.
In India, a state high court tried to give the Ganges and Yamuna River legal personhood in 2017, but the decision was appealed to the supreme court. Campaigners are still waiting for the verdict while the rivers continue to be polluted and exploited.
The origins of the idea
An in-depth article in The New Yorker mentioned that the notion that “natural objects” like woods and streams should have rights was first put forward half a century ago, by Christopher Stone. Stone, a law professor at the University of Southern California, who died last year, was a son of the crusading journalist I. F. Stone, and as a kid, in the nineteen-fifties, he sometimes helped put out his father’s newspaper, I. F. Stone’s Weekly. In the fall of 1971, the younger Stone was assigned to teach U.S.C.’s introductory course on property law, and in one class he delivered a lecture on how ownership rights had evolved over time.
Near the end of the hour, sensing that his students’ minds were wandering, he decided to shake things up. What would happen, he asked, if the law were to further evolve to grant rights to, say, trees or even rocks? “This little thought experiment,” he later recalled, created an “uproar.”
Meanwhile, Europe is lagging behind. The Enlightenment thinking placed man above nature. Nature is an object, it can be owned and exploited, is the idea. Many other cultures are thinking biocentric. Mountains, lakes, rocks, and air are ‘alive’ as well. Discussions to change this way of thinking have reached the level of the European Union. Worldwide, case law is developing. When pushed too far, Gaia goes to court.