Imagine a world where plants and trees are intelligent and capable of responding socially to each other and other living things. Our world is made up of more plants and trees than anything else, and because they don’t move around human beings have traditionally ignored their capacities for receiving, processing, storing and communicating information. There has been a recent proliferation of scientific studies examining how plants and trees respond purposefully to living and other inert things in their natural environments. In this presentation I draw on this fast-growing body of scholarship, and use Michel Serres and his idea of a natural contract to reimagine the foundations of environmental law moving forward in the Anthropocene Epoch. Serres in his wide-ranging scholarship has encouraged us to think about energy and information as significant for how life is organised. In this paper I argue that seeing plants and trees as capable of contributing significantly to the amount of information that is purposefully moved around in the natural world is critical to the idea of the natural contract. There is increasing recognition also that ecological recovery ideas and principles enable human beings to listen and connect more with nature and the information systems that exist amongst plants and trees in an ecosystem. This paper will discuss various ways in which ecologists have thought about recovery and discuss the extent to which ecological restoration can encourage and support the possible emergence of the natural contract in the Anthropocene epoch.
Afshin Akhtar-Khavari is a Professor of International Law and Governance, at the Law Faculty of Queensland University of Technology. He earned his BSc (genetics) and LLB from the University of New South Wales, LLM from the University of Sydney and PhD from Griffith University.
As an international law legal academic he is interested in the intersections between nature, complexity and subjectivity. He is currently working on projects relating to the ecological restoration of wetlands, and also the idea that plants and trees have a social life. He has published widely in journals and books, including a monograph on the importance of environmental principles for international environmental law and politics (Edward Elgar, 2010); and another assessing the importance of ecological restoration in international environmental law (Routledge, 2017 (hardback) & 2019 (paperback)). He has co-authored a Cambridge University Press textbook, International Law: Cases and Materials with Australian Perspective, which is in its 3rd edition (current, 2018). Akhtar-Khavari recently completed work as a guest special issue editor for the Griffith Law Review, along with Benjamin Richardson, on a collection of papers dealing with eco-restoration and the law (2017). Richardson and Akhtar-Khavari also recently published a collection of papers on eco-restoration law for an edited book in the Law, Justice and Ecology series of Routledge (2019).