Priorities for a Challenging Era

Monday, January 30, 2023

Candidly, I gave up making New Year’s resolutions long ago. We all know about the January spike in gym memberships that falls off a cliff come March. On the other hand, I always look forward to spending time in December looking back and pondering priorities for the year to come. Here are a few of the things starting to circle in my mind.


First, federal climate policy. The past six months has seen action from all three branches—the ruling in West Virginia v. EPA, the inclusion of roughly $370 billion of climate funding in the Inflation Reduction Act, and mere days ago at the annual meeting of the Climate Convention, COP 27, the establishment (with U.S. support) of a climate loss and damage fund. There remain many unresolved questions about the future of agency discretion and rulemaking authority; in the meantime, climate action is coming in spending form. How those programs are set up and how the funds roll out over the next several years will be critically important to our 2030 and mid-century emissions targets.

Second, the ups and downs of the economy. Anyone running a nonprofit organization is carefully monitoring economic forecasts, but the impacts run much broader than that. Not only do economic growth or contraction affect industry decisions and environmental action, they deeply impact the communities we work with and work for. This is part of why ELI will be expanding our Pro Bono Clearinghouse,, a service we launched last Valentine’s Day to bring individuals and communities who need legal assistance together with experts who can provide it. Whether helping a local community explore options to protect a river, arguing in front of a local zoning board, or filing impact litigation, the clearinghouse offers numerous ways to engage in relevant pro bono work to support people in need. Our pilot phase confirmed the existing demand for someone to serve this function and, in light of anticipated growing need, we’re working to ramp up and expand.

And last, what it means to adapt. That means to a changing climate, to a seemingly permanent hybrid in-person and virtual world, to repeated abrupt shifts in what’s “normal.” There are the policy and governance challenges, from managing uncertainty to adjusting to new baselines, that as a profession we will continue to wrestle with. But the other side is personal, the individual challenge of adapting to significant change. Happily, we are witnessing acceleration in the development and deployment of climate solutions—but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that adaptation isn’t just a technical evolution. It requires deep-rooted change at a human and societal level. And that takes time, space, and energy. We need to find ways to account for that, and to support one another through these transitions.

My personal habits may not change between December 31 and January 1, but as the New Year rolls out there’s a good chance I’ll be thinking about the interplay of these issues.

This blog originally appeared in the Notice & Comment column in the January/February 2023 issue of The Environmental Forum and is republished with permission.