Across the country, legal students rally to beat global warming
The Gore Tour Stops in D.C.
This coming Sunday, former Vice President, Oscar winner, and rock ‘n’ roll organizer Al Gore will address a group of more than 400 leading CEOs, COOs, nonprofit leaders, politicians, court justices, attorneys general, law school professors and Deans, entrepreneurs, and environmental professionals.
Only most of them are still in law school.
This Sunday, Gore will give the closing address at the 17th Annual Conference of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies, The Future of Environmental Protection, hosted this year by the George Washington University Law School. His inspirational words will no doubt have a profound effect on a group whose actions over the next 50 years will play a central role in the future of the planet.
And a Child Will Lead Them
In October, 2006, Business Week ran an article titled “Global Warming: Here Come the Lawyers.” The story looked at a sampling of the 16+ legal cases currently pending in federal and state courts directly involving global warming. The article described the “ambitious legal war on oil, electric power, auto, and other companies whose emissions are linked to global warming” and compared the cases to successful tobacco litigation.
This hot litigation topic actually has its roots in law schools, where in 2001, Yale law student Dave Grossman wrote an ahead-of-its time article, " Warming Up to the Idea of Global Warming Litigation." Since then, Dave has continued his battle against climate change, most recently as founder and director of Green Light Group Environmental Consulting. According to Dave, "Tort, and public nuisance in particular, just seemed to fit the facts of climate change, so I set out to see how feasible a climate tort suit would be. Turns out, it was a good fit. Since then, a number of suits have been filed around the world, and people are taking the litigation risk more seriously. You never know how the work you do as a student can have an impact."
And there is no doubt that the next generation will be well-schooled and centrally involved in all sides of this litigation. Two weeks ago, 67 teams of law students from around the country converged in White Plains, NY, for the annual Pace Law School Environmental Moot Court Competition to debate a hypothetical lawsuit filed by the Province of Inuksuk and Village of Akuli against a coalition of energy companies for damages related to global warming.
But what the Business Week article and the increasing coverage of litigious efforts to stop global warming in the United States often leave out are the hordes of revolutionary young lawyers who are coming together across the country to start a modern industrial revolution.
This modern industrial revolution, coming in the midst of the most prolific industrial age in humanity’s short history, must solve the dilemma of how to provide goods and services to an estimated 420+ million people in the United States and a mind-boggling 10 billion people worldwide by 2050 — and here’s the kicker — using 1/5 of the carbon.
Today’s average law student is 22 years old and will hit retirement age in 2050. That leaves 43 years to retrofit 107 million U.S. households and build 50 million more; transform the commercial and industrial sectors; and find massive, low-cost, low-carbon transportation solutions. While litigation may help push energy companies, auto companies, and others to move faster, it is only a small part of an all-encompassing solution. These future leaders must literally build a new world.
Although they have not yet made national headlines, centers to address tomorrow’s problems today and train a new generation of attorneys to deal with these issues are springing up at law schools across the country. At UC-Boulder’s Energy and Environmental Security Initiative (EESI), NAELS Governing Board member Kevin Doran and visionary Professor Lakshman Guruswamy are leading law students on an interdisciplinary mission to use innovative legal and policy solutions to address global warming and energy security.
“What we do,” explains Kevin, “is help students see the impact of law on all the areas where progress is needed. Whether you’re talking about basic science, applied R&D, market development and so forth, law either expands or contracts the universe of possibilities. Our students learn that good legal solutions can’t be devised in the abstract. They need to be informed by the very environments and processes they’re meant to deal with.”
Lakshman puts it this way: “We show students how to use law as instrument for profound social change. We show them what the law can really do.”
A Revolution in the Nation’s Capital
Beginning tonight, more than 300 law students, law professors, and legal practitioners, representing over 50 schools in more than 30 states will converge on the nation’s capital for the NAELS Conference. They will meet, fittingly enough, at George Washington University Law School, named for the first president put into power by a system created largely by an early group of revolutionary attorneys — John Adamas, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.
And over the next four days, these leaders will hear from another group of revolutionary attorneys who cut their teeth in the 1960s and 1970s as the environmental legal movement began. According to GWU law student and conference co-organizer Alex Menotti, "We are excited to host several hundred of the nation’s future environmental lawyers and engage in a discourse that will create a bridge between practitioners who virtually invented modern environmental law in the 70’s and those who will practice well into this century."
This group of leading practitioners includes attorney Neil Proto,who served as the chairman of Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP). Mr. Proto led a group of law student who filed a case, United States of America. v. SCRAP, that made it all the way to the Supreme Court and opened the door to law suits in U.S. courts by everyday citizens. Mr. Proto’s book, To A High Court: The Tumult and Choices that Led to United States of America v. SCRAP, speaks to the power of law students to affect change, even before they leave law school. This Saturday, Mr. Proto will again lead a group of law students, moderating a session on modern student activism.
You Say You Want Revolution? We’re All Working on the Plan
So over the next four days, amidst panels, movies, happy hours, heated discussions, and debate, the next generation of legal, U.S., and world leaders will come together to plan a year, career, and life of activity to both stop global warming and start a Modern Industrial Revolution.
Through NAELS’ projects Campus Climate Neutral and Project MIR (Modern Industrial Revolution), and the hundreds of individual efforts around the country, these students will widen their perspective well past finals, bar exams, and legal employment, to see themselves as the vanguards of this world, standing both on the precipice of global environmental catastrophe and on the verge of a new, beautiful world. And they will widen their perspective of environmental law — realizing that the modern battle to protect the environment will take all of us.
From future corporate lawyers working on patent law, tax law, real estate law, and environmental compliance for their clients to public interest attorneys suing to keep their clients in line with the law; from law school Deans to regulatory commissioners; from Congress to City Hall; from the State House to the White House; across the public, private, and governmental sectors, it will take an enormous legal U.S. village to solve this problem.
And lawyers, as they have always been, will be centrally involved in this revolution.
So here come the law students, and not a moment too soon.
Please check back in over the next three days for dispatches from this revolutionary event.