A Damp Squib: Environmental Law from a Human Evolutionary Perspective

42 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2011

Date Written: February 11, 2011


Humans have become the Earth’s dominant animals, yet we remain perched on the precipice of an anthropogenic collapse in planetary ecological systems. For lawyers, this raises a question: why hasn’t environmental law succeeded? The law’s limitations in this area cannot satisfactorily be explained merely due to poorly designed institutions, lack of political will, or economic disincentives, among prevalent explanations in the literature. Rather, its flaws should also be understood in terms of human psychology, as derived from the interaction of complex biological and cultural evolutionary processes. While some legal scholars have drawn insights from behavioural economics or social psychology, few have examined the deeper evolutionary perspective. Our environmental behavior is influenced by what our ancestors have done over thousands of years. But behaviors that were adaptive in ancestral environments can today be irrational or maladaptive, including risk-taking, myopia, and lack of extended altruism. Using insights from evolutionary psychology may also help us to design more behaviourally-effective environmental laws to stave off the impending environmental crisis.

Keywords: Environmental Law, Flaws, Human Psychology, Behavioural Economics, Social Psychology, Evolutionary Perspective

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Richardson, Benjamin J., A Damp Squib: Environmental Law from a Human Evolutionary Perspective (February 11, 2011). Osgoode CLPE Research Paper No. 08/2011, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1760043 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1760043

Benjamin J. Richardson (Contact Author)

University of Tasmania - Faculty of Law ( email )

Private Bag 89
Hobart, Tasmania 7001

HOME PAGE: http://www.utas.edu.au/law

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