Table of Contents

Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment

Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment

Research Handbooks in Human Rights series

Edited by Anna Grear and Louis J. Kotzé

Bringing together leading international scholars in the field, this Research Handbook interrogates, from various angles and positions, the fractious relationship between human rights and the environment and between human rights and environmental law. The Handbook provides researchers and students with a fertile source of reflection and engagement with this most important of contemporary legal relationships. Law’s complex role in the mediation of the relationship between humanity and the living order is richly reflected in this timely and authoritative collection.

Chapter 2: Epistemologies of mastery

Sam Adelman

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights


This Chapter discusses dominant views of nature in Western culture, the ways in which these have been exported throughout the world, and their effect on the environment. The central argument is that solutions to the planetary wide ecological crisis and climate crises are impeded by ideologies that fetishize growth and technology, such as developmentalism, extractivism and neoliberalism. These ideologies are buttressed by epistemologies of mastery that reinforce the false assumption that humanity can exercise dominion over nature without repercussions. The first section draws upon the lucid critique offered by ecofeminists such as Lorraine Code and Val Plumwood in order to examine impulses to mastery in patriarchal power and assumptions about human dominion over nature. Section 2 argues that epistemologies of mastery are forms of coloniality, a process of physical and mental colonization. Walter Mignolo’s view that un-thinking such epistemologies of mastery requires decolonial or border thinking is discussed, along with Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s concept of an ecology of knowledges that dethrones science as the acme of Western rationality on the basis that there are many ways of being, knowing and seeing, and that knowledge does not invariably lead to wisdom. The final section begins with a discussion of technological fetishism as the basis for an analysis of geoengineering as a contemporary form of hubris that draws attention away from the humbler but more rational alternative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Chapter argues that geoengineering risks exacerbating human rights already under threat from climate change, including the rights to food, health, property, family life, the benefits of culture, and to peace and security. Seeking ways to engineer the climate suggests that human beings have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

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