2023 Summer/Winter School – Cartesian Detachment, crafting of ‘development’ and coloniality as faultlines in environmental law

Date and Time: WEDNESDAY 13 September 2023, 8am-9.30am CEST



The contrast between the bulk of Environmental protection documents and legal framework and the rhetoric of environmental protection is daunting. The Western industrialist covered up their capitalist and utilitarian alteration of native ecologies by the coinage of scientific appearing terminologies and concepts for environmentalism. The challenges of dealing with environmental protection lie in its cursed inheritance. The rationale, context and desirability of International Environment Law have been commandeered by scientific compelling concepts. In the proposed lecture, I would present four significant events that changed the direction of environmental protection discourse. First, I will discuss how colonial regimes created and popularised the subservience of the environment on the rationale of utility. The exploitation of natural resources that colonialism channelised for pecuniary rationale, was retained in the post-colonial states. Second, I will discuss the overreaching thoughts of Rene Descartes which were monumental in the detached view of the environment from Humans. Cartesian detachment is a confrontational moment for the perception of the environment as being devoid of moral standing and thus justified to be used the human interests. Third, I will discuss the European age of industrialisation that created the concept of development and its (dire) need for the rest of the world. The aesthetic ugliness of industrialisation created most of the environmental problems, and the scientific and economic-sounding solutions like ‘Sustainable development’ are deduced from the compulsions of industrialisation-induced development. The world that was measured on a scale of civilisation and divided into civilised and uncivilised, was suddenly measured on a scale of development (again given by the North), and divided into developed and underdeveloped. Fourth, I will discuss the rise of positivism that moulded the idea of development, exploiting the normative-substantial choices and centring the economic interests. These four events shape our perception and making of the environmental protection legal frameworks. These events hijacked the environmental debates and infused economic dividends, utilitarian, and development imperatives.


Swati Singh Parmar, Assistant Professor, Dharmashastra National Law University Jabalpur (https://www.mpdnlu.ac.in/faculty-members/swati-singh-parmar.php).


Ramachandra Guha, ‘Ideological Trends in Indian Environmentalism’ (1988) 23 EPW;

Ramachandra Guha and Juan Martinez-Alier, Varieties of environmentalism, Essays North and South (Routledge 2006), Introduction;

Vandana Shiva, ‘Globalism, Biodiversity and the Third World’ in Vandana Shiva, Edward Goldsmith, Helena Norberg-Hodge and Martin Khor (eds), The Future of Progress, Reflections on Environment and Development (South Asia Books 1992);

Jutta Brunnée, ‘Common Areas, Common Heritage, and Common Concern’ in Daniel Bodansky, Jutta Brunne and Ellen Hey (eds), Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (OUP 2007).