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Behavioural Economics; environmental law; Evolutionary Perspective; Flaws; Human Psychology; social psychology


Humans have become the Earth’s dominant animals, yet we remain perched on the precipice of an anthropogenic collapse in planetary ecological systems. For lawyers, this raises a question: why hasn’t environmental law succeeded? The law’s limitations in this area cannot satisfactorily be explained merely due to poorly designed institutions, lack of political will, or economic disincentives, among prevalent explanations in the literature. Rather, its flaws should also be understood in terms of human psychology, as derived from the interaction of complex biological and cultural evolutionary processes. While some legal scholars have drawn insights from behavioural economics or social psychology, few have examined the deeper evolutionary perspective. Our environmental behavior is influenced by what our ancestors have done over thousands of years. But behaviors that were adaptive in ancestral environments can today be irrational or maladaptive, including risk-taking, myopia, and lack of extended altruism. Using insights from evolutionary psychology may also help us to design more behaviourally-effective environmental laws to stave off the impending environmental crisis.