Law in the Anthropocene Epoch

63 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2016

See all articles by Eric Biber

Eric Biber

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: September 2, 2016


Humans and the effects of their activities now substantially influence the entire planet, including its oceans, its climate, its atmosphere, and its lands. Human influence has become so large that earth scientists have debated whether to identify a new geologic time period, the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene will surely have substantial effects on human societies and economies, and law will be no exception. The Anthropocene is the product of the aggregation of millions and billions of individual human actions, and human effects on global systems are exponentially increasing because of growing technology and population. Humans will inevitably respond to the Anthropocene, if only to adapt to the major changes in oceans, climate, biodiversity, and other critical functions that human society depends upon. Human responses to the Anthropocene will ineluctably lead to greater government involvement in a wide range of human activities, and constant updating of government laws and regulations to respond to new challenges. The result will be pressures on a wide range of legal doctrines in public and private law, including torts, property, constitutional law, administrative law, and criminal law. These changes will parallel similar revolutionary legal changes associated with industrialization and the development of a national economy in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Just as with those legal changes, the legal changes of the Anthropocene will put pressure on normative commitments at the heart of American law, including that classical liberal paradigm that government intrusion into individual action should be the exception, rather than the norm. Managing the impacts of these legal changes will be a key challenge for the legal system in the next century.

Keywords: Anthropocene, climate change, property, administrative law, constitutional law, torts, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Biber, Eric, Law in the Anthropocene Epoch (September 2, 2016). UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2834037. Available at SSRN: or

Eric Biber (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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