Ecological Vulnerability and the Devolution of Individual Autonomy

Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy (forthcoming)

Griffith University Law School Research Paper No. 18-24

23 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2018 Last revised: 28 Nov 2018

See all articles by Katie Woolaston

Katie Woolaston

Queensland University of Technology


Traditional notions of autonomy and environmental sustainability are not good bedfellows. Environmental regulation is often at the bottom of a hierarchy of needs, surpassed by the promotion of individual autonomy that allows use of the environment as a resource for sustenance, shelter, entertainment, and profit. This hierarchy ignores our greatest source of vulnerability – the earth on which we exist. This article will focus on one of those sources- biodiversity losses caused by human conflicts with wildlife. Vulnerability Theory considers that individualised conceptions of autonomy are a myth that needs to be removed from our institutions. In wildlife management, individualised conceptions of autonomy are often directly incompatible with species protection. Autonomy is so internalised that stakeholders often rebel against state attempts to regulate. Perceived regulatory inadequacies can make landholders discontented, and they often retaliate by killing protected wildlife or worse. Further, competing personal interests and their link to individual autonomy can result in conservation conflicts that become ‘wicked problems’ – unsolvable by traditional means. We are already voluntarily giving up some of the more institutionalised notions of autonomy in the management of wildlife. A return to community, place based governance has meant that some individuals are more willing to relinquish traditional conceptions of autonomy and replace them with a version of autonomy that gives them a voice in decision-making. When the involvement of state fosters a sense of place and a sense of community, while allowing for different voices, we can simultaneously increase autonomy and reduce our ecological and personal vulnerability.
This article will focus on a few practical examples of the simultaneous pursuit of autonomy and vulnerability in environmental regulation. It will be shown that those current applications, and a focus on ecological versions of vulnerability and autonomy in particular, can work together to reduce biodiversity loss and ensure sustained human security.

Keywords: environmental sustainability, environmental regulation

Suggested Citation

Woolaston, Katie, Ecological Vulnerability and the Devolution of Individual Autonomy. Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy (forthcoming), Griffith University Law School Research Paper No. 18-24, Available at SSRN:

Katie Woolaston (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
+61409770026 (Phone)

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