Ben Mylius: Ecological Indifference in the Face of Ecological Crisis

Minding Nature:

A growing literature from many disciplines now views our ecological crisis not just as an “environmental issue,” but as a symptom of deep failures in our ways of thinking and being.[2] The philosopher Timothy Morton calls it “a crisis for our philosophical habits of thought, [which confronts] us with a problem that seems to defy not only our control but also our understanding.”[3]

This failure of thought, and the crisis it has caused, poses grave risks to our capacity to continue in negotiated co-existence with each other and with other species. How grave? Kevin Anderson, of the United Kingdom’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, asserts that the levels of global warming predicted are “incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable and civilized global community.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—an organization not known for its sensationalist language—is now warning us about climate change’s “severe and irreversible effects.” Graham Alexander and Cathy Turner, tracking the Club of Rome’s predictions in 1972’s Limits to Growth, advise us to “expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.”[4]

These claims are undeniably significant. Many people and communities are already responding to their implications. Given the stakes of the game, we should expect nothing less. Continued indifference, from any quarter, is deeply problematic.

In this article, I propose that the majority of jurisprudence—the academic discipline that gives us our theory of what law is, of where it’s from, and how it works—is currently crippled by exactly such “ecological indifference.” Our dominant doctrine, legal positivism, claims that ecological crisis makes no difference to how we understand the content and validity of laws. It assumes that there is a sharp division between matters that are internal to our law (as a system of rules) and matters that are external to it. As a consequence, when the time comes to ask what makes our laws valid and what determines their content, ecological crisis can simply be dismissed.

I've not thought about environmental problems in this light. But the author makes a convincing case that the social construct of our laws is fundamentally flawed. Since there is not a Lorax in our court system, our system of laws generally fails to protect that what we all depend on - Nature.