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Agroecology Ethics and Law

Agroecology Ethics and Law

The laws of Physics represent the universal hinges on which the rules of functioning of nature and social systems revolve. We can define Physics as the preordained ethical code, with respect to which every action or behavior can be considered compliant or not.
Ecology is perhaps one of the fields of greatest in-depth study of these laws, so much so that today the principles of this matter are developing on an increasingly complex but increasingly clear and evident cognitive level.
The term “ecology” was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) in the book Generelle Morphologie der Organismen; during a speech at the University of Jena; he defined ecology as: «the body of knowledge concerning the economy of nature – the investigation of the complex relationships of an animal with its inorganic and organic context, including above all its positive and negative relationships with animals and the plants with which it comes directly or indirectly in contact — in a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrelationships to which Darwin referred as the conditions of the struggle for existence.”
However, since the term ecology was coined, as they say, a lot of water has flowed through science.
It was above all scientists of the caliber of Erwin Schrödinger and Ilya Prigogine who drew a bridge between the sciences of the physics of complex systems and ecology, giving the latter a fuller and more complete meaning.
The thought of complexity sees Prigogine above all as one of its initiators and is, even in recent years, an important reference framework for studies on sustainability in the ecological field of Jennifer Wells (Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies).
In this sense, we cannot ignore the position of Luigi Zanzi (Italian jurist and historian) who on numerous occasions recognized the value of Prigogine’s thought in the perspective of a new humanism: “the need for a new ‘humanism’, of a vision of man capable of regenerating in his ideas and actions a new measure and a new criterion of understanding in interacting with nature. […] It is therefore a question of radically and profoundly changing the understanding of the cosmos, undertaking a new ‘scientific revolution’ which, abandoning the claims of making nature a ‘being’ consisting of a deterministic machine subject to a mechanistic dominion of exploitation , is generously open to understanding nature as a ‘becoming’ consisting of an incessant living history, an inexhaustible matrix of ever new and different forms of life.”
Even if Prigogine’s thought, especially in the philosophical field, attracted (as always happens in great innovations) much criticism, however in rather recent years some studies have supported the hypothesis of a significant contribution of Prigogine’s thought to the cultural and ecological turning point that characterized the last decades of the twentieth century.
Among these, Jane Bennett in her 2001 The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics [Princeton University Press] considers that Prigogine’s thought is part of the wonders of modernity. In particular, Prigogine’s science does not disenchant the world but rather affirms the fabulous variety of ways of becoming of natural objects and affirms that physical systems continue to possess a sort of intelligibility even in their most complex and indeterminate states.
Nonetheless, as Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers have well demonstrated in the Nouvelle Alliance, what is at stake, far beyond the small controversies between scholars, in the debate on the theory of catastrophes, on dissipative structures, etc., is the emergence of a new natural philosophy through which the cursed part of classical physics returns, while remaining, from a genealogical point of view, in the history of this physics.”
In a nutshell, Prigogine, with the entire line of in-depth studies of other scholars on the subject, gives a clear interpretation of the complexity that lies at the basis of the self-organization of Nature.
It tends to take on, where possible, greater complexity in order to best dissipate the available energy (largely solar) to share it (in accordance with quantum mechanics) under the three different forms of information, energy and matter; a true participatory democracy of nature.
This assumption starts from the assumption that in the universe Life is the only exception that opposes entropy by opposing the arrow of time generated by it.
The more complex the systems, the better their energy performance and stability.
In this sense, understanding these laws can guide our ethical decisions regarding resource management, nature conservation and climate change mitigation. In this way, their knowledge can provide us with an empirical and rational basis for many ethical discussions, influencing our conceptions of responsibility, human relations, social justice, environmental sustainability, and more.
For this reason, every action, behavior or rule that is synchronous or in conflict with these laws, and specifically, with the principles of ecology, and with its complex identity, determines a new scenario of law.
Thus the use and management of resources, their manipulation, economic systems, agricultural production models and related structures must respect the preordained identity of natural laws.
Obviously, the debate between food and the ethical principles for its production and management (with the entire agri-food chain) cannot be overshadowed.
The production of food, with the management of land, of the resources to produce it, of production systems, of workers’ and consumers’ rights, can draw from these laws of physics of complex systems a field of absolute ethical and legal development.
In this sense, the connection between ecology and thermodynamics of dissipative systems makes us understand how human activities, their economy, social systems and, certainly not least, the way of producing food, will have to gradually realign or, if we want, synchronize with the laws of nature. The assumption of a liberal and capitalist economy, of unlimited growth, detached from these criteria, is a utopia, conducted for too long and no longer viable.
Agroecology represents this new field of application and respect for the principles and codes of Nature, responding perfectly to both human needs and respect for Universal Rights.
The recent law of the Sicilian Region (L.R. 21 of 29 July 2021) was structured following these principles and therefore tracing a new model of legislative orientation.
In this law we also find a legally simple definition of what is meant by agroecology, namely: “Agroecology is an agricultural production system that applies the fundamental principles of ecology to the agricultural, livestock and forestry sectors”.
Furthermore, the various articles of the law link the various aspects together, framing a new model of production cell (the agricultural company) configuring a new concept of public and private responsibility.
For this reason, an approach to food production outside the fundamental principles of ecology is no longer conceivable which, in turn, are structurally and firmly linked to the laws of thermodynamics of complex systems.
A link as evident as it is consistent, which links: laws of physics, ecological science, human systems and consequent ethical and legal principles.
Just think of the recent reformulation of the art. 9 of the Italian Constitution which states: “The Republic promotes the development of culture and scientific and technical research. It protects the landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the nation. It protects the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems, also in the interests of future generations.” The revision of the art. is also linked to this article. 41 “Private economic initiative is free. It cannot take place in conflict with social utility or in a way that causes damage to health, the environment, safety, freedom or human dignity.”
An obvious cornerstone around which human ecology (with its ethical, moral and legal codes) and ecology can revolve.
That integral ecology so much recalled by Pope Francis in the Encyclical “Laudato Sì” which represents a cornerstone and a foundation for a future of well-being shared by everything and everyone.

Guido Bissanti

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