Thought, Law, Rights and Action in the Age of Environmental Crisis

Thought, Law, Rights and Action in the Age of Environmental Crisis

Edited by Anna Grear and Evadne Grant

In the climate-pressed Anthropocene epoch, nothing could be more urgent than fresh engagements with the fractious relationships between ‘humanity’, law and the living order. This collection draws together theoretical reflections, doctrinal analyses and insights drawn from rights-based praxis to offer thoughtful – and at times provocative – engagements with the limitations of law at it faces the complexities of contemporary socio-ecological life-worlds in an age of climate crisis.

Chapter 2: Actors or spectators? Vulnerability and critical environmental law

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


The old dialectics between ‘us’ and the environment that has nurtured the West and affected the rest of the world is not only outdated but positively dangerous. The polarisation has legitimised actions that have led to environmental degradation without, moreover, managing to explain how it is that the degradation affects human society. Since ecological disasters do not respect the conceptual limits of the polarisation, the latter had to be put on a more benign epistemological basis and reinvented along the lines of a new theoretical dialectics. Thus, instead of the rather grand ontological polarisation between ‘us’ and ‘the environment’, the debate has moved to an epistemological debate between anthropocentricity and ecocentricity. There are two problems with this move: first, this new theoretical language has provided the safety of a distance from the ontology of the human/non-human interaction, replacing ontology with an epistemology of supposed action; and, second, the new polarisation legitimised rather roundly, another perennial problem: that of ‘the centre’. Indeed, while the ontological debate between ‘us’ and ‘the environment’ only insinuated the need for a centre (habitually assumed by humans), the epistemology of anthropo/ecocentricity plainly states that there is no alternative: however much we battle between extremes, we have no choice but to remain faithful to the soothing idea that there must be a centre. Why is this? It is largely because of fear.

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