The Organisation of the Anthropocene

In Our Hands?

In: Brill Research Perspectives in International Legal Theory and Practice
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  • 1 Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy University of Cambridge

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Abstract

This essay introduces the legal dimensions of the Anthropocene, i.e. the currently advocated new geological epoch in which humans are the defining force. It explores in this context two basic propositions. First, law as a technology of social organisation has been neglected in the otherwise highly technology-focused accounts by natural and social scientists of the drivers of the Anthropocene. Secondly, in those rare instances where law has been discussed, there is a tendency to assume that the role of law is to tackle the negative externalities of transactions (e.g. their environmental or social implications) rather than the core of the underlying transactions, i.e. the organization of production and consumption processes. Such focus on externalities fails to unveil the role of law in prompting, sustaining and potentially managing the processes that have led to the Anthropocene. After a brief introduction to the Anthropocene narrative and the possible role of law in it, it focuses on three main questions: the disconnection between natural and human history, the profound inequalities within the human variable driving the Anthropocene, and the technological transition required to reach a sustainable societal organisation.

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