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 23: Ecosystem services, fear and the subjects of environmental human rights

Afshin Akhtar Khavari

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


The concept of ecosystem services recognizes and values an ecosystem for its contributions to human welfare while ensuring that decision makers properly account for its ecological value. Why is this concept gaining such popularity to the extent that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 pinned its hopes on it and contributed significantly to building the architecture for its use and development? This Chapter describes and analyses the concept to illustrate how concepts like ecosystem services, while valuing the natural world, do so ultimately to conserve and preserve it for human consumption and enjoyment. Concepts like ecosystem services that are founded on ecological economics are often the subject of wide-ranging critical perspectives. This Chapter, after discussing some of them, argues that the concept can lead to unacceptable closures in terms of how we think about, but importantly also feel and experience in our relationship to the natural world. Our experiences of ‘fear’ have been central to our survival as a species, yet ecological economics and by extension concepts like ecosystem services have focused our collective attention on controlling certain realities of our relationship to the natural world. This has meant that our capacity to productively experience fear has been dulled or sullied rather than enhanced and its nuanced expressions recognized and revitalized in the light of on-going ecological problems. It is argued that our capacity to fear is critical for ‘rewilding’ the human species and for ensuring that humans also have intimate experiences of nature through our senses rather than just mediating ‘nature’ through conceptual frameworks that abstract our personal experiences apart from the natural world. Such a rewilding, by direct corollary, could have energizing critical implications for the identity of the ‘human rights subject’ at the heart of rights-based approaches and of legal systems more generally.

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