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 8: Schopenhauer’s Mitleid, environmental outrage and human rights

Tom Kerns

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


Suffering that results from environmental exposures often evokes a sense of moral outrage. In this paper, two complementary sources of grounding for that outrage are explored: Arthur Schopenhauer’s close analysis of compassion, grounded in the metaphysical identity of all being, provides explanatory grounding for moral outrage as well as for the long-recognized importance of personal narratives in human rights work. Secondly, the broadly endorsed human rights tradition provides an additional confirmatory, more public, level of validation for moral outrage. Human rights norms confirm what the experience of compassion first intuited. Three practical implications for environmental activism follow: (1) the importance of personal narratives detailing the direct impacts that environmental assaults have caused; (2) the practical value of formal, detailed Human Rights Impact Assessments specified to a given situation; and (3) the value of community-led public inquiries and tribunals, such as the 2006 People’s Inquiry in New Zealand and the 2011 Permanent People’s Tribunal in India. Key words Schopenhauer; environment; human rights; assessments; outrage; ethics; compassion; personal narratives; inquiries; tribunals

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