Renewed interest in outer space has brought new sources of investment and technology. Last year witnessed 110 orbital launches, tied for the highest annual number since the early 2000s. Increased activity in outer space will accelerate potential environmental effects; for instance, space mining could lead to natural resources being extracted from the moon, Mars and other planets, and asteroids. The primary environmental issues include debris, pollution of earth’s atmosphere, and biological or nuclear contamination.
In this month’s issue of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter, Scot W. Anderson, Julia La Manna, and Korey J. Christensen discuss the legal framework surrounding development of natural resources in outer space. The authors provide an overview of space mining regulations generally, and examine regulatory efforts to mitigate environmental issues.
A recent study by Eric Martinez and Christoph Winter surveyed over 500 legal academics regarding how and to what degree the law can protect future generations. Here, I discuss some of the authors’ findings and the implications for using law to take action against climate change.
The survey asked legal academics for their views on legal protection of future generations and other groups, which groups could be granted legal standing, the ability of law to influence the long-term future, and specific areas of law and sources of risk. Climate change and environmental law were featured in several questions, as both are commonly associated with future generations and the long-term future. This can be seen, for example, in the rise of environmental constitutionalism, scholarship on representing future people in climate governance and intergenerational justice, as well as a rapid increase in climate litigation, with global cases nearly doubling from 2017 to 2020.
“The United States has a very effective liability management policy and legal framework, but that same framework has some unintended consequences for the circular economy,” including risk aversion that can create barriers to circular economy businesses, said John Lovenburg, Vice President of Environment at BNSF Railway, in his opening remarks as moderator of ELI’s fourth GreenTech webinar March 24, 2021, on “The Emerging Circular Economy.”
Despite popular belief, natural hazards are not “great equalizers.” Environmental burdens fall disproportionately on marginalized groups. These inequities stem from legacies of racial injustice and systemic income disparities that have caused certain neighborhoods to have both poor infrastructure and limited access to financial resources, creating greater threats from hazard-related damage and difficulty with recovery efforts.
One voter in seven believes that Hillary Clinton is running a cabal of satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles. A member of Congress charges that last year’s wildfires in the western states were caused by Jewish space lasers. A U.S. senator insists that China aims to breed a race of super soldiers by harvesting visiting athletes’ DNA when it hosts the winter Olympics in 2022. The Ohio legislature recently heard testimony alleging that the Covid vaccines are magnetizing people. According to a 2012 survey, one in four members of the U.S. public does not know the Earth orbits the Sun. A poll by the Associated Press in 2014 found that four in ten Americans dispute evolution and half do not believe the Big Bang theory.
This summer, the Miami-Dade County’s Office of Resilience conducted a series of workshops inviting the community’s input into the drafting of the county’s climate action strategy plan. These workshops were held to offer community members the opportunity to comment on local policy measures as well as shape the direction of current and future policymaking by offering suggestions and ideas. Rather than simply checking off boxes for expectations of citizen engagement by local government, the stated goal of these workshops is to produce an accessible avenue for community members from all identities, especially those that have historically faced discrimination, to take the lead on local climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. In accomplishing this goal, language accessibility is a key consideration to ensure effective citizen engagement and maximized impact.
During the spring of 2020, while we were in the early grip of the pandemic, I pointed in an earlier blog to a possible silver lining. Perhaps what appeared then to be broad societal acceptance of the science around the coronavirus might leave us better able to also rally around the science on our other mega challenge — climate change.
Well, the broad consensus on pandemic science hasn’t exactly held. The prior administration downplayed the pandemic — and the science behind it — in an effort to rally the economy and stir up support for a reelection bid. Then, with the turnover at the White House and in the Senate, the politicization of pandemic science intensified, with some questioning whether a scourge that has disrupted lives everywhere and killed over four million people is actually an elaborate hoax.
Environmental lawyers “don’t know a lot about intellectual property,” but IP is “about promoting and protecting ideas that we’re depending on to protect our planet,” said Brad Marten, Managing Partner of Marten Law LLP and moderator of the Environmental Law Institute’s fifth GreenTech webinar held May 13. Consequently, in 2021, IP and environmental law “couldn’t be more related” as the world looks to electric vehicles, clean energy, and other technological innovations to advance sustainability, Marten added.
In Louisiana and elsewhere around the United States, climate change is a common topic of conversation these days. With record heat, drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding, this summer has brought home the reality of climate impacts, and revealed the country’s general lack of preparedness for this new normal. As evidenced by Hurricane Ida, Louisianans are increasingly facing serious consequences resulting from more extreme weather events and sea-level rise. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra summed things up in his recent remarks establishing a new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, “Louisiana is being pummeled.”
Railways, public transit, motor vehicles, airplanes, marine vessels, cycling, walking, and their supporting infrastructures are all part of a comprehensive connected transportation network that is a key driver of economic growth and opportunity. But the transportation sector also now accounts for approximately 28% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, surpassing the energy sector. For that and other reasons, developing and deploying new and emerging technologies in transportation “is a key component of global efforts to improve safety, meet the needs of people wherever they live, and combat climate change,” said Katie Thomson, Amazon’s Vice President & Associate General Counsel for Worldwide Transportation and Logistics.