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2. Epistemologies of mastery
Albert Einstein is reputed to have said that no problem can be solved from the same
level of consciousness that created it. This chapter discusses the dominant views of
nature in Western culture and the ways in which these have been exported throughout
the world. My central argument is that finding solutions to the planetary wide
ecological crisis, including climate change and the loss of biodiversity and species loss
is impeded by ideologies that fetishise growth and technology, such as developmental-
ism, extractivism and neoliberalism.
In the Anthropocene these ideologies are but-
tressed by epistemologies of mastery that reinforce the false assumption that humanity
can exercise dominion over nature without repercussions because science will provide
the geoengineering technologies required to deal with the consequences of the massive
experiment of engineering the climate through the emission of greenhouse gases.
In the first section, the work of ecofeminists such as Lorraine Code and Val
Plumwood is drawn upon for the lucid critique it provides of the impulses to mastery in
patriarchal power on the one hand, and of assumptions about human dominion over
nature on the other. In section 2, I argue that epistemologies of mastery are forms of
coloniality, a process of physical and mental colonisation. I discuss Walter Mignolo’s
view that un-thinking epistemologies of mastery requires decolonial or border thinking,
and Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s concept of an ecology of knowledges that dethrones
science as the acme of Western rationality on the basis that there are many ways of
being, knowing and seeing, and that knowledge does not invariably lead to wisdom.
The final section begins with a discussion of technological fetishism as the basis for an
analysis of geoengineering as a contemporary form of hubris that draws attention away
from the humbler but more rational alternative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I
argue that geoengineering risks exacerbating human rights already under threat from
climate change, including the rights to food, health, property, family life, the benefits of
culture, and to peace and security.
Seeking ways to engineer the climate suggests that
human beings have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
See Andrew Dobson, Green Ecological Thought (Routledge 2000), on the difficulties of
defining ideology. Technological fixes have not prevented us from transgressing three planetary
environmental boundaries – biodiversity loss, climate change, and the nitrogen cycle – and
threatening six others: Rockström, Johan et al, ‘Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe
operating space for humanity’, 2009 Ecology and Society 14(2): 32. See also Foster, John B.,
Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York:
Monthly Review Press 2010).
IPCC 2014. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for
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1. ENLIGHTENMENT, DUALISM, DISCONNECTION AND
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the varieties, grounds, and
validity of knowledge. Epistemologies are successful to the extent that they enable us
to understand and interact with our environment. Epistemologies of mastery are
successful to the extent that they become naturalized and viewed as common sense,
which is achieved when they become dominant or hegemonic by marginalizing,
silencing or repressing alternative ways of knowing. Since there are many different
ways of knowing, it follows that all knowledges are situated, partial, and constructed,
yet epistemologies of mastery characteristically represent themselves as neutral,
impartial and objective bodies of truth, exemplified by science and law in the West – as
is argued below. Epistemologies of mastery are attempts to universalize partial and
particular perspectives by privileging certain forms of rationality (law, theology) or
methodology (science). They are discourses of knowledge and power designed to
rationalize the domination and subordination that pave the way for the exploitation of
people and nature.
Antonio Gramsci argued that class power is most effective as a combination of
physical and psychological coercion in which the threat or use of physical violence is
deployed along with the construction of a version of ‘reality’ in which dominant
contemporary political, economic and social ideas are internalized and legitimized,
while alternative ways of seeing and knowing are subordinated.
Gramsci argued that
cultural hegemony is achieved when the manipulation of beliefs, values and mores that
justify the status quo are accepted as cultural norms. During the past thirty-five years,
neoliberalism has been immensely effective in naturalizing possessive individualism
and conspicuous consumption, stigmatizing tax, and normalizing the commodification
and monetization of nature. This is evidenced by the promotion of green economy
concepts like payment for ecosystem services (PES) by the United Nations Environ-
ment Programme and the OECD.
Douglas Hay memorably described how the
development of the rule of law in eighteenth century England entrenched class power in
a process that nevertheless provided sufficient evidence of formal equality under the
law to prevent it from collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.
Epistemologies of mastery comprise knowledge as power and, as Michel Foucault
argued, there is ‘no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of
knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same
NE4J9j3UuwH8bKOKuh-4k7lQ7Teng&bvm=bv.85970519,d.ZGU> accessed 16 February 2015.
See Peter Burdon, Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment (Rout-
ledge 2015) Chapter 2.
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (International Publishers 1971).
Gramsci did not suggest that hegemony ineluctably resulted in false consciousness.
Rebecca Lave, ‘Neoliberalism and the Production of Environmental Knowledge’, 2012
Environment and Society: Advances in Research 3(1): 19–38.
Douglas Hay, ‘Property Authority and the Criminal Law’ in Hay, D. et al (eds) Albion’s
Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England (Allen Lane 1975).
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time power relations’.
Foucault demonstrated how knowledge and disciplinary and
biopower are constituted in tandem. ‘The episteme,’ he argued, ‘is the “apparatus”
which makes possible the separation, not of the true from the false, but of what may
from what may not be characterised as scientific.’
Elsewhere he observed that ‘in any
given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines
the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently
invested in a practice.’
The strain of Western thought separating humanity from nature has been traced back
as far as the emergence of Christianity, but it is widely accepted that Enlightenment
rationality and the Industrial Revolution greatly accelerated the tendency.
Bacon notoriously promoted the idea that nature’s secrets can be extracted from ‘her’
bosom through technologies that would enable men to dominate the natural order. No
longer viewed as a nurturing mother, nature was conceived as an inanimate machine
existing to serve human needs and transformed ‘from a teacher to a slave’.
Baconian perspective nature is viewed as an obstacle to be overcome through an
anthropocentric and instrumentalist ‘Promethean project to which the Enlightenment
gave birth in its modern form [and] is substantially intact’.
Carolyn Merchant argues
that Francis Bacon melded together ‘a new philosophy based on natural magic as a
technique for manipulating nature, the technologies of mining and metallurgy, the
emerging concept of progress, and a partriarchal structure of family and state [to
fashion] a new ethic sanctioning the exploitation of nature.’
structural models for Western ontology and epistemology.
Naomi Klein describes
Bacon as the patron saint of extractivism for convincing Britain’s elites to abandon
‘pagan notions of the earth as a life-giving mother figure to whom we owe respect and
reverence (and more than a little fear) and accept the role as her dungeon master’.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Vintage Books 1995)
27. Foucault wrote that ‘it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus
of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles
that transverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms of possible domains of
Michel Foucault and Colin Gordon (eds) Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews and
Other Writings, 1972–1977 (Pantheon Books 1980) 197.
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (Vintage Books 1973) 168.
See Gloria L. Schaab, ‘Beyond Dominion and Stewardship’ in Peter Burdon (ed.)
Exploring Wild Law: The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence (Wakefield Press 2011).
Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution
(Harper & Row 1980) 169. For other images of nature see Shane Phelan, ‘Intimate Distance:
The Dislocation of Nature in Modernity’, 1992 The Western Political Quarterly 45(2): 385–402.
Bacon’s views are outlined in Francis Bacon and Benjamin Farrington, The Philosophy of
Francis Bacon: An Essay on Its Development from 1603 to 1609 (Liverpool University Press
Dobson, above n 1, 10–11.
Merchant, above n 11, 164.
Merchant, above n 11, 227ff.
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. the Climate (Allen Lane 2014)
Epistemologies of mastery 11
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Clive Hamilton writes that ‘a step change occurred in the late eighteenth century, the
beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the event that ‘unbound Prometheus’ and
sparked the modern urge to mastery over nature.’
In Hamilton’s view, ‘[t]he modern
concept of “progress” embodies the idea of separating ourselves from Nature both
physically and psychologically’ in a process that paradoxically prompted the emergence
of the idealised views of the Romantic poets that have been ‘vindicated now that
Nature has struck back, reminding us that the separation and elevation of humans was
all along a conceit and that the “master” was no more than a servant who stole onto the
throne while the monarch slept’.
Reconnecting human beings and nature is possible,
Hamilton argues, only if we understand how we became so radically disconnected in
the first place,
and this ‘means recognizing that the power relation between human
and the earth is the reverse of the one we have assumed for three centuries’.
According to Armstrong, by the sixteenth century Europeans had initiated a
‘scientific revolution that gave them greater control over the environment than anybody
had achieved before’ – and a corresponding hubris of mastery.
Mignolo believes that
prior to the Industrial Revolution, Western Christians had already ‘asserted their control
over knowledge about nature by disqualifying all coexisting and equally valid concepts
of knowledge and by ignoring concepts that contradicted their own understanding of
Environmental catastrophe began when nature was equated in the Christian
tradition with natural resources and
became a repository of objectified, neutralized, and largely inert materiality that existed for
the fulfilment of the economic goals of the ‘masters’ of the materials. The legacy of this
transformation lives today, in our assumption that ‘nature’ is the provider of ‘natural
resources’ for daily survival: water as a bottled commodity.
Merchant regards the ascription of supposedly feminine characteristics to nature, often
in contradictory terms, as integral to scientific method. Thus, nature was treated as
bountiful and nurturing but acceptably submissive to manipulation on the one hand
while, on the other, as a disorderly and wild virago, the source of ‘violence, storms,
droughts and general chaos’ that must be tamed. The result was that: ‘Two new ideas,
Clive Hamilton, Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering (Yale
University Press 2013) 202.
Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change
(Earthscan 2010) 135, 139–40. See his discussion (136ff.) of the ‘death of nature’. Engels wrote
that whereas animals use nature, ‘man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it’. Every
human conquest of nature ‘takes its revenge on us’ in the form of unforeseen effects that cancel
those which were anticipated. (Friedrich Engels (trans. C.P. Dutt, and J.B.S. Haldane, Dialectics
of Nature (International Publishers 1940) 41 (emphasis in original).
Hamilton, above n 17, 136.
Clive Hamilton, ‘The Ethical Foundations of Climate Engineering’ in Wil C., G. Burns
and Andrew L. Strauss (eds) Climate Change Geoengineering: Philosophical Perspectives, Legal
Issues, and Governance Frameworks (Cambridge University Press 2013) 58.
Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Cultures, Decolonial
Options (Duke University Press 2011) 6.
Mignolo, above n 20, 11.
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those of mechanism and of the domination and mastery of nature, became core
concepts of the modern world.’
In a similar vein, Plumwood argues that implicit
assumption that ‘the human’ is male provides a ‘natural’ frame of reference that is
deeply rooted in Anglo-American philosophy with the inevitability that ‘the feminine is
seen as a derivation from it’.
As she notes, masculinity has historically been
associated with distance, objectivity, impartiality and abstraction – characteristics of the
scientific method and the possessive and abstract individual at the centre of Western
In 1947, Max Horkheimer declared that ‘[t]he disease of reason is that reason was
born from man’s urge to dominate nature’.
Later, he and Theodor Adorno argued that
the ‘dialectic of enlightenment’ turns reason into an iron cage in which it becomes
trapped with the result that attempts by human beings to distance themselves from
nature and ‘arrange it in such a way that it can be mastered’ is that the power of nature
over people ‘increases with every step they take away from the power of nature’.
Horkheimer wrote that mastery of nature is ultimately a pyrrhic victory that produces
Feminist thinking provides a lucid means of comprehending patriarchy as mind-set
of domination. As Curry writes, one ‘way of understanding the key role of gender in
generating eco-crisis is through the concept of a master mentality’ that involves
dualisms resulting in value-laden hierarchies in which what is ‘lower’ serves the needs
of the ‘higher’.
René Descartes created the foundational dualism in Western phil-
osophy by separating mind and body. Viewing the Earth as a machine enabled him to
reject it as a life force and paved the way for its metaphorical ‘death’ as a precondition
for the systematic destructiveness of fossil fuelled industrialisation. Reuther asserts that
the effect of such dualism is to ‘naturalise domination’
and for Plumwood the way in
which Western culture has treated the relation between people and nature ‘explains
many of the problematic features of the west’s treatment of nature which underlie the
environmental crisis, especially the western construction of human identity as “outside”
Plumwood describes how dualisms are used to create hierarchies in which
more highly valued constructs (males, humans) are contrasted with lower, inferiorized
ones (women, nature). Power forms identity in a process ‘which distorts both sides of
Merchant, above n 11, 2.
Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (Routledge 1993) 23.
Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (Columbia University Press 1947) 176.
Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford Univer-
sity Press 2002) 30–31.
Max Horkheimer, Dawn and Decline: Notes 1926–1931 and 1950–1969 (Seabury 1978)
237. Leiss criticizes the fatalism and pessimism of these views in William Leiss, ‘Modern
Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature’ in Andrew Biro (ed.) Critical Ecologies:
The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises (University of Toronto Press
2011). It is ironic that science, the quintessential epistemology of mastery, is the primary means
by which we understand the extent to which science has contributed to the climate crisis.
Patrick Curry, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction (Polity Press 2011) 129 (emphasis in
Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Woman New Earth (Seabury Press 1975) 189.
Plumwood, above n 24, 2.
Epistemologies of mastery 13
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what it splits apart, the master and the slave, the coloniser and the colonised …the
masculine and the feminine, human and nature’.
Each binary necessitates domination:
Dualism is a relation of separation and domination inscribed and naturalised in culture and
characterised by radical exclusion, distancing and opposition between orders constructed as
systematically higher and lower, as inferior and superior, as ruler and ruled, which treats the
division as part of the natures of beings construed not merely as different but as belonging to
radically different orders or kinds, and hence as not open to change.
Plumwood discerns a line of fracture between reason (associated with men) and nature
(associated with women) that is deeply imbricated in western culture and ‘virtually
everything on the “superior” side can be represented as forms of reason, and virtually
everything on the underside can be represented as forms of nature’.
the disconnection of reason and nature as a form of power that represents ‘a way of
looking at the world characteristic of the dominant, white, male Eurocentric ruling
class, a way of dividing up the world that puts an omnipotent subject at the centre and
constructs marginal Others as sets of negative qualities.’
European identity was constructed in a negative fashion against what it was not, as
represented by the Other upon whom an inferior identity was imposed. Differences
such as race and religion were used to justify domination and disempowerment.
Colonialism manifested itself primarily in physical violence and dispossession, but was
also characterized by projects designed to colonise the minds of the ‘natives’ through
the salvation of Christianity and the rule of law. As with all epistemologies of mastery
– slavery, apartheid – colonialism entrapped and demeaned its perpetrators as well as
its victims. The impulse towards mastery is at the core of colonizing mentalities that
seek to dominate people or nature. Coloniality – a cocktail of colonialism and
colonisation is – in Plumwood’s words – a praxis that constructs ‘others by exclusion
(or some degree of departure from the norm or centre) as some form of nature in
contrast to the subject, the master, who claims for himself both full humanity and
and it is for this reason that the ‘relation between the orders of reason and
nature is constantly depicted as one of control and mastery’.
There is scarcely
anything in Western intellectual and conceptual history:
which is not entwined in the knots of dualism these conceptual structures have created. The
master’s logic of colonisation is the dominant logic of our time …The master’s colonisation
Plumwood, above n 24, 32. Western identity was constructed in a negative manner in
terms of what it is not, against ‘otherness’ and Orientalism. Among the dualisms on which it was
constructed are those which continue to characterize ideas of development overdetermined by
racial divides include modern-traditional, developed-underdeveloped.
Plumwood, above n 24, 47–8.
Plumwood, above n 24, 44.
Nancy Hartsock, ‘Foucault on power: a theory for women’ in Linda J. Nicholson (ed.)
Feminism/Postmodernism (Routledge 1990) 157–75.
Plumwood, above n 24, 44.
Plumwood, above n 24, 87.
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denies the other he calls nature in two main ways, both by denying self’s dependency on and
relationship to it, and by denying and cancelling its independence of self.
Dualism, difference and domination are themes that also recur in Lorraine Code’s
ecological thinking. Code argues that the attainment of ‘true’ knowledge has been
based upon the subordination of one side of a series of dichotomies through
epistemologies of mastery. Class, race and gender are categories that enable ‘the
privileging of reason over emotion, fact over value, objectivity over subjectivity, mind
over body, and theory over practice in dominant conceptions of knowing and
the excesses of scientism, reductionism, and the instrumental-utilitarian moral and political
theories that sustain an ethos of dominance and mastery, where a dislocated knower-as-
spectator seeks to predict, manipulate, and control the behavior of the material world and of
other ‘less enlightened’ people. The imperialism of overdeveloped countries imposing their
knowledge, social orderings, customs, economics, and other values, with scant concern for
local sensitivities of land or of people, is one of the most visible wide-ranging –
anti-ecological – products of such thinking.
Ecological thinking ‘interrogates and endeavours to unsettle the self-certainties of
western capitalism and the epistemologies of mastery it underwrites’.
It ‘is not simply
thinking about ecology or about “the environment”, …[but] a revisioned mode of
engagement with knowledge, subjectivity, politics, ethics, science, citizenship, and
agency that pervades and reconfigures theory and practice.’
It is ‘sensitive to human
and historical-geographical diversity and well equipped to interrogate and unsettle the
instrumental rationality, abstract individualism, reductionism, and exploitation of
people and places that the epistemologies of mastery have helped to legitimate.’
seeks to replace the dominant Anglo-American science-based epistemological mono-
culture with ‘specifically located, multifaceted analyses of knowledge production and
circulation in diverse biographical, historical, demographic, and geographic locations
[that] generate more responsible knowings than the reductionism endemic in the
positivist post-Enlightenment legacy can single-handedly allow.’
This finds an echo in
Donna Haraway’s insistence on the need for a doctrine of embodied knowledge in
which ‘feminist objectivity quite literally means situated knowledges’. For Haraway,
objectivity is a code for ‘science tied to militarism, capitalism, colonialism, and male
supremacy – to distance the knowing subject from everybody and everything in the
Plumwood, above n 24, 190–91.
Phyllis Rooney, ‘Epistemic Responsibility and Ecological Thinking’, January–March
2008 Hypatia 21(1): 170–76 at 171.
Lorraine Code, Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location (Oxford Univer-
sity Press 2006) 8.
Code, above n 39, 4.
Code, above n 39, 5 (emphases in original).
Code, above n 39), 21.
Code, above n 39, 9.
Epistemologies of mastery 15
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interests of unfettered power’.
In Santos’s words, there is ‘a capitalist, colonialist
diversity and an anticapitalist, decolonial diversity, one hegemonic globalization and a
counterhegemonic one. The mark of the conflicts among them traverses the
epistemological debates of our time.’
2. DECOLONIALITY, BORDER THINKING AND THE ECOLOGY
Ecofeminist critiques highlight the intrinsic coloniality that thinkers like Plumwood and
Code seek to overturn through alternative epistemologies that do not originate in
visions of disembodied neutrality that Frantz Fanon termed the ‘body-politics of
As we shall see, negotiating differences is central to Code’s ecological
thinking and to Santos’s advocacy of an ecology of knowledges. Domination is an
impulse common to racial, sexual and scientific power, and therefore links patriarchy to
the colonial mentality and environmental degradation.
The intrinsic coloniality of Eurocentric rationality is demonstrated by the fact that it
is the only mode of thinking that seems incapable of accepting that it is not universal.
Vandana Shiva has argued that colonization initially took the form of white men
assuming the burden of civilizing non-white peoples and then the need to develop the
Third World. Now, in the third phase of colonization and on behalf of transnational
the white man’s burden is to protect the environment, especially the Third World’s
environment – and this, too, involves taking control of rights and resources …The salvation
of the environment cannot be achieved through the old colonial order based on the white
man’s burden. The two are ethically, economically and epistemologically incongruent.’
Santos describes how modern science grants itself epistemological privilege by
destroying alternative knowledges that might question it through a process of ‘epistem-
Western rationality has produced an epistemological monoculture that must be
replaced by an ecology of knowledges that promotes sustainable diversity through
Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge
1991) 188; emphasis in original. Shiva regards an epistemological shift ‘from a reductionist to a
relational approach’ as essential ‘for the protection of both biological diversity and cultural
diversity’. Vandana Shiva. Tomorrow’s Biodiversity (Thames & Hudson 2000) 129. On situated
knowledges see also Boaventura de Sousa Santos Epistemologies of the South: Justice against
Epistemicide (Paradigm Publishers 2014) 53–4, 67.
Santos, above n 44, 199.
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove Press 1967). Enrique Dussel terms it the
‘geopolitics of knowledge’. Enrique D. Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation (Orbis Books 1985).
Vandana Shiva, ‘Decolonizing the North’ in Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism
(Zed Books 2014) 264–5.
Santos (n 44) 153.
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radical intercultural democratic processes in the form of epistemologies of the
South – ‘ways of knowing born in the struggle against capitalism, colonialism, and
In the field of knowledge, abyssal thinking consists in granting to modern science the
monopoly of the universal distinction between true and false, to the detriment of two
alternative bodies of knowledge: philosophy and theology. The exclusionary character of this
monopoly is at the core of the modern epistemological disputes between scientific and
nonscientific forms of truth.
Abyssal thinking creates a hierarchy in which visible distinctions are used to create
invisible ones that facilitate the subordination of knowledges regarded as inferior.
Thinking on the other side of the abyssal divide is ‘radically excluded because it lies
beyond the realm of what the accepted conception of inclusion considers to be its
other’ and thus vanishes as reality. On the other side of the line lies nonexistence,
invisibility and non-dialectical absence.
Modern science asserts a monopoly of valid
knowledge and an exceptional capacity to drive human progress, but it is indifferent to
culture and susceptible to criticism for being dystopian, destructive and antidemocratic.
It is inequitably distributed because ‘it was originally designed to convert this side of
the line into the subject of knowledge and the other side into an object of knowledge.’
However, the ecology of knowledges does not entail a choice between science and
other forms of knowledge. Science must be interrogated, not discarded. The ecology of
knowledges is a learned struggle against ignorant ignorance in which epistemologies of
blindness must be confronted with an epistemology of seeing that ‘aspires to an
expanded form of realism that includes suppressed, silenced or marginalized realities,
as well as emergent and imagined realities.’
Santos argues that the persistence of the colonial mentality makes it ‘as difficult to
imagine the end of colonialism as it is to imagine that colonialism has no end’.
Formal colonialism has been succeeded by an internal colonialism that comprises ‘a
very wide social grammar that permeates social relations, public and private spaces,
Ibid 193, 194.
Santos, above n 44, 157, 209. Epistemologies of mastery are by nature epistemologies of
ignorance. Charles Mills illustrates this in his argument that racism is at the core of the social
contract. The ‘Racial Contract’ arises from the perverse idea that blacks consented, explicitly or
tacitly, ‘to the racial order, to white supremacy, to what could be called Whiteness’. Epistemo-
logically, it is based upon ‘white misunderstanding, misrepresentation, evasion and self-
deception on matters related to race’ and produces an inverted epistemology of ignorance and
‘the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they
themselves have made’. Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Cornell University Press 1997)
14, 19, 18 (italics in the original).
Santos, above n 44, 26 doubtless had in mind Frederic Jameson’s observation that ‘it is
easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism’ (‘Future City’
May–June 2003 New Left Review 21: 65–79, 76) Santos argues it is equally difficult to imagine
the end of capitalism as it is to imagine that capitalism has no end (above n 44) 24–6).
Epistemologies of mastery 17
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culture, mentalities and subjectivities.’
In response to this reality, the concept of
‘coloniality’ was formulated by subaltern thinkers in Latin America. Coloniality
encompasses the material aspects of colonisation as well as its immaterial, psycho-
logical, ideational and ideological aspects – the worms that epistemologies of mastery
seek to burrow into our consciousness. Coloniality is thus exposed as a posture, an
outlook that deploys these epistemologies that define reality and legitimises their power
to do so: coloniality seeks to obliterate resistance to dominant discourses such as
patriarchy, colonialism and neoliberalism. Anibal Quijano introduced the concept as a
means of disengaging and delinking from Western epistemology: ‘[T]he first decolonial
step is delinking from coloniality and not looking for alternative modernities but for
alternatives to modernity.’
‘Coloniality names the underlying logic of the foundation
and unfolding of Western civilization from the Renaissance to today of which historical
colonialisms have been a constitutive, although downplayed dimension.’
colonial option is the relentless project of getting us all out of the mirage of modernity
and the trap of coloniality.’
Coloniality generates an epistemic hierarchy that celebrates the virtues of science
and capitalism, and universalizes Western values. It achieves this by marginalizing
non-Western ways of being, seeing and knowing – such as Pachamama, Tawhid, or Tao
– that emphasize the importance of reproduction. Coloniality destroys life through
well-worn tropes of private property; of possessive individualism and endless consump-
tion; of sustainable development and green economy; of progress measured by
economic growth and consumption; and of instrumentalist and ecologically destructive
conceptions of nature as a source of profit and an object of domination.
Mignolo argues that coloniality is the darker side of modernity – of which it is
constitutive rather than derivative
– and an epistemology of mastery imposed on Latin
America through exclusion, genocide and epistemicide. He argues that consistent with
Foucault’s observation that the imposition of power invariably provokes resistance,
coloniality produces decolonial or border thinking that seeks:
to move through the borders drawn by the always-mutating imperial and colonial differences
…Border thinking and border epistemology are the antidotes to the virus of zero point
epistemology. These are the anchors that support the shift in the geography of reasoning.
Thus, the way to the future is the way toward pluriversality as a universal project.’
Santos, above n 44, 26.
Mignolo, above n 20, xxviii. Anibal Quijano, ‘Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and
Latin America’, 2000 Nepantla: Views from South 1(3): 533–80 and ‘Coloniality and Modernity/
Rationality’, 2007 Cultural Studies 21(2–3): 168–78.
Mignolo, above n 20, 2.
Mignolo, above n 20, 17.
Walter Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges,
and Border Thinking (Princeton University Press 2012) ix.
Mignolo argues that the zero point of observation is occupied by the invisible knower,
God, or the transcendental secular subject who ‘not only observes but also divides the land and
organizes the known’(Walter Mignolo, ‘I Am Where I Think: Remapping the Order of Knowing’
in Françoise Lionnet and Shumei Shi (eds) 2011. The Creolization of Theory (Duke University
Press 2011) 167. See Santos also above n 44, 156.
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Border thinking requires resistant and conscientious, epistemic, ethical and aesthetical
political projects that make it possible to delink hegemonic epistemologies making
claims to absolute knowledge’: ‘Engaging in border thinking is tantamount to engaging
in decoloniality; that is, in thinking and doing decolonially.’ Mignolo writes that
‘Border thinking is an epistemology, an ethic and politics that emerge from the
experiences of people taking their destiny in their own hands and not waiting for
saviors’ and is a form of epistemic disobedience that
points toward a new way of thinking in which dichotomies can be replaced by the
complementarity of apparently contradictory terms. Border thinking could open up the doors
to an other tongue, an other thinking, an other logic superseding the longer history of the
modern/colonial world, the coloniality of power, the subalternization of knowledges and the
Decolonial thinking provides an epistemological framework for comprehending the
ecological and climate crises as forms of environmental colonialism.
Chakrabarty has described the obstacles facing those who wish to escape the clutches
of occidental thinking. It is, he writes, difficult to provincialize Europe because this
requires Europe to ‘realize within itself its own impossibility’.
rationality does not entail rejecting modernity or lapsing into cultural relativism
because, as Mignolo points out, modernity is not exclusively occidental and, since
knowledge is produced everywhere, Europe is not its home. Decoloniality is not
Rather, it challenges us to unthink and rethink who we are in
response to the ‘urgent need for a foundational re-imagination of who “we” are in the
It demands that voices of resistance asserting the possibility of another way
are heard. As Nelson Mandela remarked about the struggle to end apartheid, the
impossible ‘always seems impossible until it’s done’.
Andean cosmovisions are prominent examples of decolonial wisdom accumulated
over centuries through the recognition that human welfare is inextricably connected to
the wellbeing of nature. The idea of buen vivir (translated as good living in Spanish,
the language of the colonisers) prioritizes harmony, co-operation and humility over
possessive individualism, Eurocentric rationality, turbo-charged capitalist consumption,
and technological fetishism that lead to hubristic illusions of domination over nature.
The rights and interests of Pachamama (Mother Earth) are at the centre of Andean
Mignolo, above n 59, xvi-xvii, xxii, 338 (emphasis in original).
Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for
“Indian” Pasts?’ 1992 Representations 37(1): 1–26 at 22. See also Dipesh Chakrabarty,
Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton University
Chakrabarty, above n 62, 26; Mignolo, above n 59, 207.
Anna Grear, ‘Towards a New Horizon: in Search of a Renewing Socio-Juridical
Imaginary’ 2013 Oñati Socio-Legal Series 3(5): 966–90 at 970. See also Lorraine Code,
‘Ecological responsibilities: which trees? Where? Why?’, in Anna Grear (ed.) Should Trees Have
Standing? 40 Years On (Edward Elgar 2012) 92–9.
For example, buen vivir is a translation of Sumak Kawsay (a life of fullness) in Quichua,
Suma Qamaña in Aymara.
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cosmovisions that do not regard anthropocentrism and biocentrism as antagonistic
because the health of people and the planet are co-dependent.
Indigenous world-views invoke a more cosmo-centric and/or eco-centric view that includes
all forms of life, as opposed to the Western anthropocentric view. It is the vision of an
organic, living, spiritual universe, worthy of respect, as opposed to viewing the world as a
machine, or nature as a series of resources to be exploited.
Difference and otherness are viewed as positive sources of creativity, collaboration and
connectivity. The influence of buen vivir is reflected in the 2009 call for the Global
Mobilization of Mother Earth:
Greed for profit and accumulation, the individualism of capitalism [that] have brought about
a deep financial, economic, productive, social, cultural, racial and religious crisis …many
and such deep simultaneous crises form an authentic crisis of civilization itself: a crisis of the
myth and the snare of ‘capitalist development and modernity’; of Eurocentrism, with its
one-nation state, cultural homogeneity, Western positive law, developmentalism and
Aguiton and Cabioc’h see buen vivir as a ‘new approach to Nature, different from
modern rationality such as the West has brought’.
It expresses the idea of a good life
lived well in itself rather than a life lived better than others, of ‘another way of being
and living in the world where the links among human beings and between human
beings and nature are not based on ideas of ontological separation, utility and
exploitation but on ontological complementarity, reciprocity and respect.’
Buen vivir emphasizes harmony, balanced relationships between all, interdependent
living beings, reciprocity and complementarity. It is based on the understanding that
human beings are part of nature and that a full life is dependent upon collective living.
As such, it eschews the binaries of Enlightenment rationality (for example, by opposing
anthropocentrism and ecocentrism) with its teleological conceptions of progress, the
I focus on native Andean epistemologies in this section but examples of indigenous
epistemologies of resistance elsewhere are readily available, from the Inuit peoples of the Arctic
and Australian aborigines to the Khoisan of southern Africa. Almost without exception these
epistemologies are rooted in non- or anti-Western conceptions of the significance of land and
harmonious relationships between human beings and nature on the one hand and communities
on the other.
Unai Villalba, ‘Buen Vivir vs Development: a paradigm shift in the Andes?’ 2013 Third
World Quarterly 34(8): 1427–42 at 1431.
Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indıgenas (CAOI. 2009). Global mobilization
for mother earth. <http://climatecaravan.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/global-minga> accessed 2
Christophe Aguiton and Hélène Cabioc’h, ‘Quand la justice climatique remet en cause la
modernité occidentale’ 2010 Mouvements: sociétés, politique, culture 63(3): 64–70 at 69.
Julia Suárez-Krabbe, Introduction to Kult 6 – Special Issue Epistemologies of Transform-
ation: The Latin American Decolonial Option and its Ramifications. (Department of Culture and
Identity, Roskilde University Fall 2009) 3.
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centrality of the individual, the superiority of human beings over nature, and Western
ideas of development as endless economic growth through the ceaseless exploitation of
Buen Vivir is described as the collective achievement of a full life or a life in fulfillment,
based on harmonic and balanced relations among human beings and all living beings, in
reciprocity and complementarity. It involves the acknowledgement that human beings are part
of nature, that we depend on it and that we are inter-dependent among ourselves. This
perspective signals a break with the centrality of the individual, as well as the superiority of
human beings and the notions of progress, development and “wellbeing” in the capitalist
Buen vivir does not seek to counterpose indigenous knowledges to Western rationality
but to develop a different modernity that does not set humanity at odds with nature,
science or other epistemologies. In doing so it questions whether Western science, law,
politics and culture are capable of producing responses commensurate with the scale
and urgency of climate change. Buen vivir is a way of being and knowing that views
development as more than growth and a means for securing well-being through the
harmonious co-existence between communities and between people and the planet.
Industrialization is more than extractivism. Ontologically, buen vivir dethrones the
possessive individual at the heart of Western philosophy to promote collective
well-being based on co-operation, intercultural dialogue and pluriversality. As in the
African concept of Ubuntu (or Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantuu which means ‘a person is
a person through other persons’), identity flows from connection and interaction rather
than separation and domination, and from a personhood rooted in human-ness.
Epistemologically, buen vivir attacks fundamental pillars of Enlightenment thought
such as civilization, science based development, progress and wellbeing associated with
liberalism and capitalism.
Instead, it emphasizes ‘collectivity, harmony, reciprocity,
complementarity, and interdependence among humans and with nonhuman nature all
indicate that buen vivir subscribes to a holistic ontology of nature, at both the human
and nonhuman levels’.
Indigenous knowledges emphasize the importance of living
harmoniously in nature; there are many ways of knowing but not all lead to wisdom.
Regina Cochrane, ‘Climate Change, Buen Vivir, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment:
Toward a Feminist Critical Philosophy of Climate Justice’ 2014 Hypatia 2 at 4 notes that some
Latin American feminists criticize buen vivir for conflating modernity with capitalism and
idealizing and essentializing traditional communities. Arguing from a Habermasian perspective,
Cochrane believes that the assumption of a divide between nature and reason is problematic and
that more rather than less Enlightenment thinking is desirable. Buen vivir is a plural concept that
is under development and sometimes contradictory. It is confronted by strong resistance from
vested interests. See Eduardo Gudynas, ‘Buen Vivir: today’s tomorrow’, 2011 Development
Magdalena León, ‘Economic redefinitions toward buen vivir in Ecuador: A feminist
approach’ in Feminist perspectives towards transforming economic power: Topic 3, buen vivir
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) (ed.) 2012 24 <http://www.awid.org/
accessed 2 November 2014.
Cochrane, above n 71, 5.
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Buen vivir simultaneously requires and generates epistemological pluralism, which is
a precondition for an intercultural ecology of knowledges (interknowledge) that coexist
without dominating each other, of a ‘third way between the conventional epistemology
of modern science and other, alternative ways of knowing’.
In Santos’s view, the
difficulties confronted by those seeking solutions to the ecological and climate crises
are characteristic of humanity’s tendency to find weak answers to the strong questions
of our time. Santos argues that the deeply entrenched conception in Western thought
that separates nature from society is untenable because capitalism will soon:
reach its ultimate, ecological limits, that the insatiable exploitation of nature must have an
end, lest human life on the planet become unsustainable. This is perhaps the strong question
that raises the most perplexity, since all Western thinking, whether critical or not, is grounded
on the Cartesian idea that nature is a res extensa and, as such, an unlimited resource
unconditionally available to human beings.
The tendency in Western modernity to prioritize knowledge as a means of regulation
rather than emancipation is one reason why the West has failed to produce a conception
of development that has seriously postulated an alternative to endless fossil-fuelled
economic growth. As Klein argues, ‘Post-Enlightenment Western culture does not offer
a road map for how to live that is not based on an extractivist, nonreciprocal
relationship with nature.’ Instead, what has emerged are cocktails of developmentalism
and neoliberalism such as sustainable development.
Its latest incarnation, the leitmotif
of the Rio+20 final text, green economy in the context of sustainable development and
poverty eradication, lays out the primrose path towards endless growth that leads to
social justice while protecting the environment.
Sustainable development is an
epistemology of mastery that sits comfortably alongside another, green govermentality,
epitomizes a global form of power tied to the modern administrative state, mega-science and
the business community. It entails the administration of life itself, including individuals,
population and the natural environment. In parallel with green governmentality, a discourse of
ecological modernization has gained ground in Western industrial societies since the 1980s.
The distinct feature of this discourse is the compatibility between economic growth and
Santos, above n 44, 198.
Developmentalism is a form of coloniality that festishises economic growth. Amongst
other things, it has produced underdevelopment structural adjustment, indebtedness, good
governance, and green economy, all biopolitical control, discipline, surveillance and punishment.
See Arturo Escobar, ‘Imagining a post-development era: Critical thought, development and
social movements’, 1992 Social Text 31/32: 20–56. Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development:
The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton University Press 1995).
The Future We Want United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de
Janeiro, 20–22 June 2012 (A/CONF.216/L.1). Wolfgang Sachs justifiably condemned sustainable
development as an oxymoron in Planet Dialectics: Explorations in environment and develop-
ment (Zed Books 1999) 81–2. I discuss sustainable development and green economy at length in
Sam Adelman, ‘Rio+20: sustainable injustice in a time of crises’, 2013 Journal of Human Rights
and the Environment 4(1): 6–31. See also Michael Redclift, Sustainable development: Exploring
the contradictions (Methuen 1987).
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environmental protection, or more specifically between a liberal market order and sustainable
Green governmentality discourse refers to what Bäckstrand and Lövbrand describe as
‘eco-knowledges’ that impact ‘the administration of life itself – individuals, populations
and the natural environment’.
Santos is doubtful that the West can generate an onto-epistemology that would make
it possible to ‘end to capitalism without end’ and ‘colonialism without end’. Distancing
ourselves from Eurocentric thinking ‘is a precondition for the fulfilment of the most
crucial theoretical task of our time: that the unthinking be thought, the unexpected be
assumed as an integral part of the theoretical work.’
The predominance of globalized
Western ideologies like neoliberalism and green economy takes us in the wrong
direction, towards more greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of more growth in a
culture saturated with individualism, consumption and commodification – and a future
in which climate engineering comes to be seen as the lesser of two evils.
3. MASTERY, HUBRIS AND CLIMATE ENGINEERING
In Vandana Shiva’s view, geoengineering is hubris without democratic control on a
In Hamilton’s words, ‘[c]ountering the damage caused by one
technological dinosaur with another gargantuan engineering venture reflects the char-
acteristic technological hubris of modern industrial capitalism’.
Geoengineering is the ‘deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environ-
ment in order to counteract anthropogenic climate change’.
It includes carbon dioxide
removal and solar radiation management technologies. The former, which includes
carbon capture and storage, are safer but not fully developed and years away from
deployment on a scale sufficient to reduce CO
levels in the atmosphere. The latter are
relatively fast, cheap, uncertain, and prone to unintended side effects that cannot be
The former address the causes of climate change but the latter merely
Mary E. Pettinger. The Social Construction of Climate Change: Power, Knowledge,
Norms, Discourses (Ashgate 2007) 129.
Karin Bäckstrand and Eva Lövbrand. ‘Planting trees to mitigate climate change:
Contested discourses of ecological modernization, green governmentality and civic environmen-
talism’, 2006 Global Environmental Politics 6: 50–75 at 54.
Santos, above n 44, 44.
Terra Futura 2013: Interview with Vandana Shiva about Geoengineering: <http://
engineering/> accessed 16 July 2014. For a feminist perspective on geoengineering see Holly
Jean Buck, Andrea R. Gammon, and Christopher J. Preston, ‘Gender and Geoengineering’, 2014
Hypatia 29(3) (Summer): 651–69.
Hamilton, above n 16, 163.
J.P. Shepherd et al, Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty
(The Royal Society 2009) at 1.
Shepherd et al, above n 84. On the unintended consequences of human intervention in
environmental systems, see Hamilton, above n 16, 115–16.
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offset them without reducing emissions.
The most contentious technology involves
pumping sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere, which is technologically
relatively straightforward, but may slow or reverse the recovery of the ozone layer,
reduce global rainfall (which may be more acidic) or increase flooding, and generally
intensify extreme weather.
Climate scientist Mike Hulme regards sulphate aerosol
injection as being a dangerously hubristic technology and insists that we should not
look to science to address miseries caused by social, political and economic inequalities
arising ‘from the exercise of power by the few over the many or the many over the few.
Attending to the pathologies that pervade these dimensions of human conduct requires
political, ethical and social interventions and regulation before science could “fix”
Hulme is concerned about the power of a geoclique of predominantly male,
North American and British scientists to influence decisions about whether to research
and deploy geoengineering technologies.
As David Harvey observes, ‘[m]any tech-
nologies depend crucially upon hierarchically organized expertise and strong central-
ization of decision making, so that they are antagonistic to democratization as well as
to individual autonomy. They depend fundamentally upon the cult of the expert. They
foreclose on certain possibilities while they open up others.’
Jasanoff distinguishes ‘technologies of humility’ that obviate the need for climate
engineering from ‘technologies of hubris’ that emerge from the belief that human
problems can be solved through science and technology.
Technologies of humility:
compel us to reflect on the sources of ambiguity, indeterminacy and complexity. Humility
instructs us to think harder about how to reframe problems so that their ethical dimensions
are brought to light, which new facts to seek and when to resist asking science for
clarification. Humility directs us to alleviate known causes of people’s vulnerability to harm,
to pay attention to the distribution of risks and benefits, and to reflect on the social factors
that promote or discourage learning.
Harvey defines fetishism as ‘the habit humans have of endowing real or imagined
objects or entities with self-contained, mysterious, and even magical powers to move
Shepherd et al, above n 84.
‘The Hidden Dangers of Geoengineering’Scientific American, 3 October 2008: <http://
www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-hidden-dangers-of-geoengineering/> accessed 15 Sep-
tember 2015. Aerosols are the least understood aspect of the climate system.
Mike Hulme, Can Science Fix Climate Change?: A Case against Climate Engineering
(Polity Press 2014) 132 (emphasis in original).
See also Hamilton, above n 16, 44, Chapter 4 and Klein, above n 15, Chapter 8.
David Harvey, The Fetish of Technology: Causes and Consequences. McAlaster Inter-
national Vol. 13 (2003). DigitalCommons@Macalester College at 3, 4 <http://www.google.co.
4op-GAs6ySbVlwNA&bvm=bv.74894050,d.ZGU> accessed 11 September 2014.
Sheila Jasanoff, ‘Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science’,
2003 Minerva 41: 223–44.
Shelia Jasanoff, ‘Technologies of humility’ 2007 Nature 450(33). See Code, above n 39
and Grear, above n 64, 975–77.
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and shape the world in distinctive ways’.
Noting the doubly odd tendency to speak
about technology as a fetish and a site of mystification, Harvey ascribes fantasies of the
total domination of nature through technoscience to ‘distinctively capitalistic fantasies
about the conquest and domination of nature through engineering and production
processes that treat nature as “one gigantic gasoline station” or as a vast and
inexhaustible waste disposal system into which the unwanted byproducts of ever-
increasing production and consumption can ceaselessly be poured.’
The reverence with which capitalism, technology and progress have been treated in
Western culture has encouraged delusional and hubristic epistemologies of mastery.
Rachel Carson wrote that ‘[t]he “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance,
born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that
nature exists for the convenience of man …It is our misfortune that so primitive a
science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning
them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.’
For Hamilton, the
‘urge to mastery over nature is inscribed in the climate engineering project.’
Reflecting the human propensity to admit an ailment only if the medicine is palatable, some
supporters of geoengineering regard it as an affirmation of a natural order in which
technologically advanced humans exercise mastery over nature, a direct repudiation of the
environmentalist narrative that overambitious attempts to dominate nature are bound to come
4. CONCLUSION: IN PURSUIT OF ECOLOGICAL JUSTICE
Santos links social injustice to epistemic and cognitive injustice, the products of abyssal
thinking exemplified by law and science.
Espistemic justice is therefore a precondi-
tion for global justice,
without which ecological and climate justice are impossible
because poverty, inequality and environmental degradation are mutually reinforcing.
Poverty is an environmental issue, not least because climate change, biodiversity loss
and the extinction of animals create material and psychological impoverishment.
Ecological justice requires the West to discharge its ecological and epistemological
debts to the global South. The border thinking required for climate justice, which
Timothy Morton refers to as ecological thought, is difficult but necessary because
Harvey, above n 90, 23–4.
Harvey, above n 90, 14.
Merchant, above n 11, xx.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin 1962) 297.
Hamilton, above n 16, 72–3, 134.
Boaventura de Sousa Santos (ed.) Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent
Knowledges for a Decent Life (Lexington Books 2007) 2.
Santos, above n 44, 207.
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‘[r]eframing our world, our problems, and ourselves is part of the ecological pro-
Decolonial thinking provides a basis for new socio-legal imaginaries commen-
surate with the scale and urgency of the climate and ecological crises. Anna Grear, a
legal thinker in the vanguard of seeking another, better way, identifies the:
absolute and pressing need to move far beyond the corporation-friendly laws, institutions,
structures and locations currently dominating human rights and environmental governance
questions. This means, emphatically, that human rights and environmental law must now
eschew ‘business as usual’ and move into far more energetic, critical and imaginative modes
This requires ‘a deep sensitivity both to the complexities of our situation (with all its
commonalities and radical diversities) – and for profound and consciously chosen
Border thinking embraces the ecopedagogy movement which calls for a New
Civilization based on an Earth paradigm that aims to unify human rights and the rights
of Pachamama. It encompasses Critical Environmental Law in the work of writers such
as Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos’s on the ways in which the interplay between humans
and non-human animals produces and reproduces socio-juridical relations antithetical
to the pursuit of justice.
It includes the emergent legal theory on Earth jurisprudence
and climate governance based on an understanding that ‘embraces the reality that
humans are an integral part of the whole living community that we call “Earth”’ and
not its masters.
It critically interrogates the central tenets on which modern Western
law is constructed – abstract legal personality, private property and possessive
individualism – with the aim of moving law in a genuinely sustainable direction.
Decolonial thinking has led Ecuador and Bolivia to incorporate buen vivir into their
constitutions and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth
by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth
in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2012.
The Declaration states:
Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press 2010) 9.
Grear, above n 64, 984–5.
Moacir Gadotti, ‘Earth’s Pedagogy’ in S. Grigorov (ed.) International handbook of
ecopedagogy for students, educators and parents: a project for a new eco-sustainable civiliz-
ation (Bulgarian Centre for Sustainable Local Development and Ecopedagogy 2012). Andreas
Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, ‘The Triveneto Transhumance: Law, Land, Movement’, 2012
Politica and Societa 3: 447–68.
Cormac Cullinan, ‘Governing People as Members of the Earth Community’ in Prugh,
Thomas, Michael Renner and Lisa Mastny (eds) State of the World 2014: Governing for
Sustainability (Island Press 2014) 73. As Cullinan notes, the difficulties of escaping the shackles
of coloniality means that this has not prevented their governments from pursuing policies
antithetical to these commitments. See Burdon, above n 10; Cormac Cullinan. Wild Law: A
Manifesto for Earth Justice (Green Books 2002–2011); Burdon, above n 3.
Ecuador became the first country in the world to codify the Rights of Nature in its 2008
Constitution (Republic of Ecuador, Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, 20 October 2008).
Articles 10 and 71–74 recognize the inalienable rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish,
enable individuals and communities to petition on behalf of ecosystems, and impose duties on
the government to remedy violations of the rights of Pachamama. See also Plurinational State of
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In an interdependent system in which human beings are only one component, it is not
possible to recognize rights only of the human part without provoking an imbalance in the
system as a whole. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is
necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth.
The Declaration points towards a future in which human subjectivity (and its dessicated
counterpart, legal subjectivity) and the needs of the planet might be reconciled. It
shows that human beings can redesign ‘our mental operating systems’
forge the conditions for the formation of a new juridical imaginary fully informed –
philosophically, jurisprudentially, doctrinally, and in terms of policy and praxis, by the living
interactions of a vulnerable ontic order …a vital component in the urgent task of
re-imagining who ‘we’ are in the ‘world’ and for transforming the relationship between law,
‘humanity’ and the ‘environment’.
Bolivia, Ley No 071: Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, 21 December 2010 and Plurinational
State of Bolivia, Ley No 300: Ley Marco de la Madre Tierra y Desarrollo Integral Para Vivir
Bien, 15 October 2012. In 2012, after protracted litigation, the New Zealand government signed
an agreement with the Whanganui iwi, a Maori tribe with strong cultural ties to the Whanganui
River, conferring legal personality on the river. The rights of the river will be protected under the
joint custodianship of the iwi and the government.
On human rights and the rights of Mother Earth see Sam Adelman, ‘Environmental
Rights: Climate Justice and Human Rights’ forthcoming in Gordon DiGiacomo (ed.) Human
Rights (University of Toronto Press 2015). See also Sam Adelman, ‘Rethinking human rights:
the impact of climate change on the dominant discourse’ in Stephen Humphreys (ed.) Human
Rights and Climate Change (Cambridge University Press 2010).
Burns Weston and David Bollier, Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human
Rights, and the Law of the Commons (Cambridge University Press 2013) 80.
Grear, above n 64, 986.
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