Environmental Ethics

Volume 38, Issue 2, Summer 2016

Thomas Heyd, Bertrand Guillaume
Pages 209-227

The Natural Contract in the Anthropocene

In view of humanity’s vast and accelerating environmental impacts on the planet in its more recent past it has been proposed to think of this period as a new geologic epoch called “the Anthropocene.” While some suppose that our present situation justifies large-scale, corrective interventions, Michel Serres has proposed “a contract with nature,” which, to the contrary, calls for a reduction in our interventions on the planet. Although there are difficulties in engaging in a contract with something lacking autonomous agency, rationality, and sentience, the idea of a natural contract does make sense. It offers a richly suggestive reconception of socio-political relationships between human society and the natural world, and has enough precedents to serve as a source of inspiration and guidance for the urgently needed transformation of our approach to the natural environment.