Risk, Resilience, Inequality and Environmental Law
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Risk, Resilience, Inequality and Environmental Law

Edited by Bridget M. Hutter

This insightful book considers how the law has adapted to the environmental challenges of the 21st Century and the ways in which it might be used to cope with environmental risks and uncertainties whilst promoting resilience and greater equality. These issues are considered in social context by contributors from different disciplines who examine some of the experiments tried in different parts of the world to govern the environment, improve the available legal tools and give voice to more diverse groups.
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Chapter 4: Climate change, resilience and the generation of risk-classes

Dean Curran


Holling’s (1973) classic treatment of resilience analysed resilience as a property of systems that, despite significant fluctuations in populations of species, were able to persist in ecosystems. In developing an account of resilience to climate change adequate to the moral value not only of human populations, but also of human individuals, inequalities in resilience between individuals emerge as an important problem. This paper argues that not only are there considerable inequalities in resilience to climate change between individuals, but that, in many cases, these inequalities are relational, such that the advanced resilience of some often reduce the resilience of others. These inequalities, insofar as they systemically impact the life chances of individuals, may be said to generate differential ‘risk-class’ positions, which are of increasing importance in the context of massive socially manufactured risks such as climate change. In a legal context of organised irresponsibility – where social risk producers often escape culpability because the specific damages of these risks are not traceable back to their originators – there is significant potential for a fundamental exacerbation of existing inequalities. In conclusion, analysing climate change through the prism of ‘resilience’ can aid in understanding the impact of climate change insofar as the concept importantly illuminates certain key inequalities unrecognised by many other social science discussions of inequalities. Nevertheless, there are also important limits to the concept insofar as protecting the resilience of each to climate change may require moving from the persistence to a transformation of existing social and economic institutions and practices.

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