What if the concept of Anthropocene starts to be included in legal disciplines?

Even if the origins of the ‘Anthropocene’ are quite recent, it has become a famous and recognizable term of nowadays, both in the natural and social sciences. There are still some doubts regarding the exact starting point of this era but it is not difficult to realize that we live in a world where human activity is the most important factor influencing Earth systems. As a consequence, there is the need for human individuals and societies to shift our understandings of how we relate to and are responsible for, our collective ecological future. According to the Anthropocene, we usually consider the world in terms of ‘global systems’, which human beings are both part of and the biggest influence on. This alternative understanding of the relationship between the ‘human’ and ‘natural’ worlds has brought with it a renewed interest in investigating the ecological impacts of human economic, social and technological systems, as well as in the project of attempting to imagine different systems, outcomes and ecologies, and to encourage human societies to take responsibility for their impact on Earth systems. New paradigms to understand the relationship and balance between human economic, cultural, social institutions and the changing of the environment have been developed. What is lacking is the inclusion of the concept of Anthropocene by legal scholars, lawyers, and politicians. What may be the consequences of this new inclusion? According to the author of this article, there will be a neoliberal response. Neoliberalism has been often defined. The most known definition has been probably given by Marxist geographer David Harvey, who describes it as characterized by the fact that human being can be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong property rights, free market, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. It is important to understand that neoliberalism is not – or at least not only – ‘class rule’ by another name. In other words, as law and government take up the idea that the human/non-human divide has broken down, and that it is, therefore, necessary to take Earth systems into account in governing, the likely response will be aimed at expanding the efficient and effective management of natural capital, rather than, say, the reconceptualization/limitation of economic growth, or the acceptance of a more holistic, Earth-centric worldview. Such a neoliberal governmental model may open up to the rejection of firm boundaries between public and private, between nature and culture, between politics and science that have characterized previous eras. The new model of de-formalized, de-centralized and de-politicized ‘governance’ accepts that the goal of regulation is efficient, effective, scientifically sound management – irrespective of borders, ‘naturalness’ or political will. It is the extension of the logic of the economy to the management of all areas of life. From a legal perspective, the conversion to neoliberal reason has manifested most visibly in terms of a shift in the techniques of government, the mechanisms through which governments accomplish their goals. There has been a movement away from so-called ‘command and control’ legislation (that is, regulations that set firm rules regarding what, when and how individuals and businesses can act), formal adjudication, ‘spheres’ of individual and collective rights and ‘government’ and towards ‘responsive’ and ‘flexible’ techniques like ‘nudging’, benchmarking, marketplaces, impact assessments and public-private partnerships. The idea of nudges is particularly interesting and should be examined in detail, especially if we consider that Richard Thaler, one of the most important economists of our era, recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics thanks to his behavioral economics with far-reaching implications for public policy.