Environmental advocate Mick Daley.
Environmental advocate Mick Daley.

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What's the difference between a rock singer and an environmental activist? Well, none, if you're Mick Daley.

Better known as the lead singer with The Re-mains, by day Mick is an academic who now boasts a unique title - Australia's first master of environmental advocacy. Mick is the first graduate of the new degree, instigated by Dr Marty Branagan and Bert Jenkins, both lecturers in Peace Studies at the University of New England.

Dr Branagan, who lived and worked in Lismore for a number of years, said as militarism is the single biggest contributor to climate change, it fell under their discipline. Plus there was a real need to have a degree that went beyond science as the facts alone were not changing humanity's current trajectory.

"All the science (about climate change) is out there and available but we're not having much success in turning around the ship of society that's creating these climate problems," Dr Branagan said. "Most of the issues now seem to be political and social and to do with media and vested interests, so we really focus on those issues."

Mick said having completed his studies he is more certain than ever of his worst fear - that if humans continue down a path of unlimited economic growth and environmental vandalism through resource extraction and refinement, we can all kiss our arses goodbye.

"We're in the most crucial stage of human history and if we don't get serious about doing something we're in real danger," Mick said. "In doing the studies, this became more obvious and profound to me than ever. I couldn't just sit back and carry on as if everything's going to be fine because it's not.

"A bunch of international scientists said last year if we don't stop building massive fossil fuel infrastructure immediately then within five years we could be potentially looking at a complete atmospheric breakdown that could be the beginning of the end of life on Earth. There's any number of scenarios that could happen but what we do know is if we continue on this path we're guaranteeing our destruction."

Mick believes that in order for us to survive, the idea of Earth Jurisprudence (or Earth Law) needs to be implemented around the globe. He said the international movement is striving to have anthropocentric laws abandoned in favour of laws that recognise nature's right to exist. It's a form of governance where humans are bound to an ethical code of practice that's geared toward maintaining the health of the Earth and its species.

"Laws have been created around the desires of corporations and governments for unlimited economic growth. That's the basis of our society, which is in turn based on the idea we have unlimited resources," Mick said. "The laws we currently live under are totally predicated on the idea we need unlimited economic growth and so ultimately environmentalism isn't ever going to work."

He said attitudes are slowly shifting around the world with Bolivia the most recent country to adopt a Rights of Mother Earth Act that makes humans accountable for their impact on nature.

"Ecuador has changed their entire constitution to give nature rights and it's happened in Kenya, Belize, parts of South Africa and parts of the United States," Mick said. "Under Earth Jurisprudence, every time a company wants to build a pipeline or drill for coal seam gas for instance, they can be taken to court on the pretext that this aquifer or body of water or habitat has rights like every human has. The company would have to prove the evolutionary right of humans outweighs the evolutionary need for that aquifer or body of water or habitat to exist."

Mick believes humanity is signing its own death warrant with its short-sighted reliance on fossil fuels and a tipping point is fast approaching. He said if big developments - such as the Canadian Government's plans to more than double crude oil production from tar sands by 2018 - continue unabated, humanity will soon have reached a point of no return.

"The head of NASA said if they go ahead with that in Alberta it's game over… and yet it's full steam ahead," he said. Despite this he said the Earth Jurisprudence movement is positive that change can and will occur once a critical mass of people pushes for it.

"It's not a pipe dream - these are international lawyers, hard hitters, but they are also hippies I suppose. They're optimistic," he said. "Part of the philosophy is change can happen. Change has always happened against incredible odds, like the Franklin Dam for instance. If enough smart, dedicated people get involved for long enough it can happen."

Mick said while current laws are geared toward ecological destruction and it's imperative for that to change, he believes people engaging in environmental campaigns will help expedite the process. He said public pressure would send a message to politicians that laws need to be adapted, and he said there are clear examples around the world where people power has been instrumental in stopping large-scale development.

He said the internet is becoming a powerful tool for activism and cited a case in America last week where the US State Department denied TransCanada a permit for the 1700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the Canadian tar sands to refineries in Texas.

"Bill McKibben (the founder of 350.org) conducted an online campaign to mobilise people around the world and got millions of signatures and then protestors marched on Washington and formed a ring around the White House," Mick explained. "Politicians are definitely recognising that online opinion represents votes and it was instrumental in Obama's decision. It's a real blow to the oil industry and an incredible victory that no-one expected."

Mick is now applying for a scholarship to undertake a PhD that will look at the philosophy behind Earth Jurisprudence. He would investigate what environmental principles would need to be enshrined in Australian law to give nature legal precedence and how this could be achieved. He said he would like to particularly focus on water, and will be talking to Indigenous Australians and legal experts about CSG issues .

"There are a lot of very engaged and intelligent people involved in Earth Jurisprudence already, but I would hope to write something that could help to initiate some change or amendments to Acts pertaining to bodies of water," Mick said. "Environmental advocacy is all about having a sound knowledge of what is going on and finding a way to impart that. People who rant and rave can alienate people so I see my role as being a half-way point where I can talk to both sides and try and find the necessary middle ground to make something happen. The great thing about CSG is it has seen unprecedented alliances, with Greenies and farmers and even Alan Jones coming on board. For the environmental movement to gain more traction we need people to understand this is not just a bunch of environmentalists with a barrow to push - we all need change or we're in serious trouble."

Mick encourages people to get involved in environmental campaigns either physically or online, or better still, both. He suggested if people want to learn more about Earth Jurisprudence, visit www.earthjurisprudence.org/ or www.gaiafoundation.org.

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