Anthropocenic Disruption, Community Resilience and Law

43 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2018 Last revised: 2 Oct 2019

See all articles by René Reich-Graefe

René Reich-Graefe

Western New England University School of Law

Date Written: September 13, 2018


Since the First Agricultural (or Neolithic) Revolution, humans have been the primary agents of both biospheric and sociospheric change. Modern human societies evolved in an ecosystem of abundance in which human agency and consumption could conveniently ignore the problem of natural capital. At today’s peak of humanity, first-world humans personally produce virtually nothing to sustain their respective individual lives. Instead, distant agro-industrial systems and global economies of scale mass-produce the resources that modern humans simply acquire through, often anonymous, exchange transactions in order to satisfy their survival and welfare needs. By the second half of the twenty-first century, the Anthropocene is expected to fundamentally disrupt complex human networks of resource extraction, labor division, and market exchange. Energy will become scarce, climate change will make weather and water hostile, and large-scale digital and industrial technologies will outgrow their supportability. All human systems for “wealth” generation and attendant “progress” created since the Second Industrial Revolution will become disrupted, unstable, and often non-resilient, and will encounter drastic corrections in overall sustainability and scale. Humans will relinquish their roles as primary sociospheric change agents, and the accelerating scarcity and redistribution of biospheric resources, caused by a multiplicity of disequilibria in the Earth system, will become the principal driver of social transformation and regression.

By either choice or force, humanity will have to adapt and change—both rapidly and radically. Yet, it appears highly unlikely that change—and sufficient collective change agency in the first place—can be adequately built and established from the bottom up. Market and consumerist forces are too small, slow, narcissistically self-absorbed, denialist, and private-actor-centric to efficiently address the magnitude and acceleration of Anthropocenic problems faced. Similarly, systemic course reversion will likely resist institution from the top down. Regulatory and governmental forces—and the processes of their corralling—are too large, rigid, uncompromisingly partisan, populist, and public-system-centric to bring about the tailored efficiency of resilience solutions needed. Arguably then, a third-order, hybrid path for transformation must rather be built from within—namely, the middle out. “Middle-out social engineering,” as conceptualized herein, both fosters and requires resilience and adaptability at the meso-level—the community level—of sociopolitical and socioeconomic organization and governance. Cooperative-community resilience, in turn, both fosters and requires “smart communities,” namely, those with semi-closed, self-supporting economies; sustainable, self-defensible forms of governance and government; inclusive, self-referential social norms and social routines; and well-grounded, well-scaled legal supports and regulatory practices.

The present, at best, is at the early-ideation stage for socioeconomic and sociolegal transformation in the accelerating Anthropocene. Accordingly, this Essay aims first to conceptualize the larger and, to date, mostly muted conversation of how more self-reliant, shock-resistant, and sustainable community may be built efficiently at the advent of “Anthropocenic disruption.” Second, this Essay posits that the conversation on middle-out social engineering should be situated more broadly in the context of law and its social function and, thus, more than just reflexively, also in the context of the (legal) education of future-generation social engineers and “resilience producers.” The Essay, therefore, also attempts a brief cross-cutting inquiry into the precepts of genuine cooperative-community innovation and intrapreneurship in the context of “resilience production” and “law learning.”

Suggested Citation

Reich-Graefe, René, Anthropocenic Disruption, Community Resilience and Law (September 13, 2018). 41 Western New England Law Review 411-53 (2019), Available at SSRN:

René Reich-Graefe (Contact Author)

Western New England University School of Law ( email )

1215 Wilbraham Road
Springfield, MA 01119
United States
413.782.1451 (Phone)


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