The Anthropocene epoch requires reviewing basic categories and the very nature of law, which is part of the “governance revolution”

Reflections from the February 1, 2017 seminar at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France, on “Environmental Humanities in the Anthropocene Epoch: Economy, Society, Materiality/ies”

Pierre CALAME, February 2017

National legal systems applying to a solidarity-based national society are based on mutual responsibility.

This means I am accountable for the impact of my acts on the other members of the community. Unfortunately, legal systems are rigid and have not adapted to the radical change in interdependences over the past decades. The biosphere has remained “external to the community” when in fact we have entered the Anthropocene era; the responsibility of economic players has remained restricted to the legal contours of a “legal entity” when in fact large companies determine the behaviour of its subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers; and the impact of human activities involves all of humankind, when in fact the legal systems of a community, defined as to whom we are accountable for our acts, does not factor in these planet-wide interdependences.

This is why evolution of the law is critical to becoming effectively responsible societies. States not wishing to relinquish the sovereignty they still enjoy have so far not wanted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities as the foundation of international law. It is therefore necessary to move through other channels. This is the whole point of the partnership set up between Alliance Respons and the Collège de France. The Collège is currently advancing along three pathways: reviewing the categories of Western law in the light of “the Anthropocene era”; promoting the idea of “solidarity-based responsibility”, in particular among economic players; and exploring, by comparing the four major legal traditions – Latin, Anglo Saxon, Chinese and Islamic – which could be the shared principles of a “universalisable law”. The article you will read was written at the outcome of a seminar devoted to the first of these three subjects.

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