Rights & Responsibilities

Professor Catherine Iorns’s environmental law research and its impact are the focus of the final ‘Water—Rapuhia, kimihia: Quest for knowledge’ episode.

“Our Earth is going down the gurgler and our natural world is disappearing before our very eyes because of the way humans are using it,” says Professor Catherine Iorns in the third and final film and podcast in the ‘Water—Rapuhia, kimihia: Quest for knowledge’ documentary series.

Professor Iorns, from Te Heranga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Law, is researching and using legal means to tackle that environmental degradation.

“We honestly don't know where the limit of that extra subdivision is. Or the extra trawl of fish. Or the extra bushfire, whether it's on purpose or an accident. We don't know where the limits are, and we keep finding we're going over them,” she says.

This documentary captures Professor Iorns, who grew up in a household committed to social justice, working on many fronts, from talking to councillors about the legal liability local government is likely to face around sea level rise to supporting iwi in their fight to overturn consent for seabed mining.

She talks about the threat posed by bottled water companies and of the mātauranga Māori principles underpinning such world-leading New Zealand environmental innovations as making the Whanganui River a legal person with rights, powers, duties, and liabilities.

"We need a different way of relating to the environment," says Professor Iorns.

“We really do. Or it will disappear. There are lots of changes we could do within our existing mindset, but I think it’s much more fundamental and more effective if we also change our mindset.”

Protecting water, she says, is “not just an issue of water take, or discharge, [but of] seeing it as something that needs to be respected as a whole and looked after as an ecosystem, as life giving for all of the various creatures that depend upon it. Including ourselves”.

Episode 3: Rights & Responsibilities