This Chapter presents a constructive critique of environmental human rights. The analysis is ‘constructive’ in the sense that it seeks to reveal the underlying assumptions and preconditions upon which a discussion of environmental human rights rests. Three key critiques are advanced. The first concerns the way environmental human rights embody an anthropocentric logic that abstracts human beings from the environment and from each other. I suggest that this abstraction gets produced and re-inscribed in the political and legal discourse of human rights and in its application to particular circumstances. Second, I describe how contemporary human rights discourse represents a ‘last utopia’ in the political juncture which right wing Hegelian Francis Fukuyama termed ‘the end of history’. Drawing on Samuel Moyn’s recent revisionist history of human rights, I consider how human rights have been used as a tool for repressing ‘radical politics’ and how the language of human rights acts as a ‘colonizing space’ that subsumes other discourses or modes of action. Finally, I draw attention to critical discourses that get displaced by environmental human rights – namely anti-capitalism and other alternatives to the modern market economy that are often presented under the heading of the ‘new economy’. I argue that the egoism of environmental human rights limits their ability to combat market capitalism and that environmental human rights risk being subsumed within a capitalist economic framework.
Peter D. Burdon
Section 1 of this chapter argues that the Anthropocene should be understood through the lens of Earth system science. It describes the Anthropocene as a ‘recent rupture in Earth History arising from the impact of human activity on the Earth System as a whole’. This statement carries important implications for the human condition; section 2 suggests that environmental thinking might recognize a limited form of anthropocentrism which acknowledges that human beings have become forces of nature. Section 3 considers the implications of the preceding analysis for the future of global ethics. It first argues that the increase in human power recognized by the Anthropocene cannot be appeased by a withdrawal into wilderness ethics or shallow commitments to legal rights. It goes on to suggest that our movements ought to push for deeper notions of egalitarian politics as expressed in notions of liberation, emancipation and power sharing.
Peter Burdon and James Martel
The dominant method in environmental law is reductionist, doctrinal, solution focused and betrays an unacknowledged belief in the ‘end of history’. Moreover, it is open to a very narrow and highly privileged range of perspectives. By contrast, this chapter draws predominately on traditional and contemporary anarchist literature to advance an alternative legal method. We begin by recovering key insights from the social ecologist Murray Bookchin. Of particular relevance to this paper is Bookchin’s materialist understanding of the environmental crisis and the conditions for social change. Following this, we draw on writers from Peter Kropotkin to Max Haiven to describe the role of ‘activist research’ in environmental law. This involves collaboration between researchers and people involved in environmental movements under study, and by hybrid activist/academic identities on the part of researchers.
Peter Burdon and Claire Williams
This chapter provides a critical analysis of recent developments granting nature legal rights. After surveying examples it engages with the philosophical and political objections to implementing rights of nature legislation. The critical question guiding this analysis is whether attempts to safeguard the environment through the existence of legal rights advance ecological goals in a sustained and transformative way.