The Paris Gap, Mike Vandenberg

Early in the fall of 2016, there was growing cause to celebrate the international momentum building around climate mitigation. In October, United Nations actors reached agreements to limit airline emissions and later HFCs. On November 4, the Paris Agreement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change went into effect. Then, four days later, Donald J. Trump was elected president, casting doubt on the U.S. climate commitments made by President Obama’s Administration. Though his Tweets and stump speeches may not equate directly to his eventual climate policy, the surprise election results have certainly caused consternation among advocates of climate mitigation and adaptation.

Angus Macbeth

Angus Macbeth died in his sleep on January 22. With his passing, the environmental bar lost a founding father, an extraordinary advocate who helped establish the Natural Resources Defense Council, built and led the environmental practice in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and grounded the environmental practice group at Sidley Austin LLP.

Along with many others, I lost a friend and mentor—a man who shaped our collective approach to the law not through lectures or pronouncements, but by brilliant example, always finding the best analytical path, the right words to sum up the central theme, the most convincing advocacy.

President Reagan and VP Bush

The public debate around President Trump’s environmental nominees follows an old script, playing jobs against the environment. But the script’s not just old, it’s obsolete. Being anti-environment hasn’t been a winning political strategy since at least President Reagan’s first term, in which he famously appointed three people who were hostile to the environmental programs they were named to lead: James Watt as Secretary of Interior, the late Ann Gorsuch as EPA Administrator, and Rita Lavelle as head of the Superfund program. In the name of deregulation, the “gang of three” cut staff, budgets, and agency enforcement actions. Whatever success they enjoyed was short-lived, however, as a strong backlash drove all three from office in 1983.

Court of Appeals, Tracy Collins

In the February issue of ELR’s News & Analysis, ELI President Scott Fulton and Visiting Attorney Dr. Maria L. Banda highlight the role that national judiciaries worldwide have played in developing the field of “climate law.” In Litigating Climate Change in National Courts: Recent Trends and Developments in Global Climate Law, Fulton and Banda examine the procedural tools and interpretive principles that judges have used to decide novel legal issues in climate litigation, focusing on some of the key lawsuits from civil and common-law jurisdictions that may influence climate law beyond their borders.

Cybernetics

Can our machines become self-motivated environmental learners?

The environmental movement has always been challenged by machines—the internal combustion engine, steam-powered turbines, production devices of every type and size—mechanisms consuming resources and generating waste during the long chain of events required to produce products (which often ended up themselves as waste). Old machines had rudimentary feedback systems like governors, gyroscopes, and other servomechanisms. These systems rarely provided any control of environmental parameters, but they did have an important characteristic: they operated independent of human operators—a precursor of things to come.

Global Warming

The Paris Agreement on climate change is a world-shattering event, a rare coming together of the international community to face a shared threat. Former President Obama deserves a lot of credit for the success of the two-week conclave, because of his earlier diplomacy with China and executive actions to reduce emissions, and Secretary of State John Kerry also deserves kudos for staying on site in Paris to see the agreement to its conclusion. Praise also belongs to the conference organizers, staff, and leaders, not to mention the hundreds of delegates.

North Yorkshire County, Nilfanion

The controversial technology of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, just had another victory in the North of England. As of last month, fracking may now move forward at the United Kingdom’s second fracking site, Kirby Misperton, following a UK High Court ruling that dismissed environmentalists’ legal challenges.”

Fracking has rapidly expanded in the United States. In 2000, there were 26,000 hydraulically fracked wells, which comprised roughly 7% of the U.S. total gas production, while in 2015, the number of wells had increased to 300,000, or 67% of the country’s gas output. This growth has prompted the U.K., along with other countries, to look into exploiting their own shale gas deposits.

Plants on agar, Sabisteb

For the past seven months, an effort has been underway to change the way we regulate biotechnology—an effort that involves the White House (driven by the Office of Science & Technology Policy and including CEQ, OMB, and the U.S. Trade Representative); three of the most important regulatory bodies in our government: EPA, FDA, and USDA; and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). No regulatory modernization initiative in recent history has come close to this effort in terms of the level of government engagement and potential scope of impact.

Discovering the Trees, Alessandro Pucci

On November 10, 2016—just two days after Election Day—there was another surprising turn of events: a federal district court judge in Oregon handed a long-shot victory to a group of young activists suing the federal government over its history of action and inaction regarding fossil fuels and climate change. Denying the defendants’ motions to dismiss in a thorough and groundbreaking opinion, Judge Ann Aiken found there was a sufficient legal basis for the plaintiffs to pursue their constitutional and common-law claims for the case to proceed to the next litigation stage. Now, in the waning days of the Obama Administration, the case is entering uncharted territory. On top of the unprecedented nature of the case itself, the uncertainty regarding the presidential transition extends to the course this case may take and to its importance going forward.

Global Warming Predictions

After the revelation that July and August tied as the warmest months ever recorded in human times, the discovery of a potentially habitable planet circling a red dwarf star that is part of the nearby Alpha Centauri system was welcome news. Proxima Centauri b is the closest Earth-like planet beyond the solar system, 4.3 light years away. By the year 2500, when a new study predicts almost 50 feet of sea-level rise — which would wipe out the homes of billions, erasing whole nations from the globe — we should have the star drive needed to migrate to a new planet.