Call for Papers: Amsterdam Conference “Private Rights of Nature”

The Amsterdam Centre for Transformative Private Law (ACT) of the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, hosts a conference on 4-5 June 2020 entitled “Private Rights of Nature”. ACT is delighted to invite scholars and practitioners with all levels of experience to submit an abstract engaging with the theme private rights of nature, as elaborated on below. Travel and accommodation costs of speakers selected will be (partly) reimbursed. If need be due to Covid-19, the conference will take place digitally rather than physically.

Conference description

The traditional civil codes distinguish between the law of persons and the law of things. This demarcation is however under pressure owing to the emerging transnational movement called rights of nature or earth jurisprudence. Around the world, natural entities that long would have been regarded as things – animals, but also rivers, for example, and mountains, forests, even Mother Earth herself – are recognised as persons before the law. This means they are endowed with rights and that they get standing to defend their intrinsic interest before courts.

Legal and theoretical scholarship on this issue is growing, however not yet in the field of (European) private law. At the same time, it is often civil codes that determine which entities have legal personality. Furthermore, rights of nature are likely to affect private property rights and businesses. When nature attains rights, she is likely to invoke them against both public and private legal persons, using strategies similar to those adopted by these more traditional legal persons. Thus, earth jurisprudence not only impacts private legal relationships, it also benefits from insights gained in the field of private law.

Key information

Please e-mail your abstract of up to 500 words including footnotes and a small bio to l.e.burgers@uva.nl before the 31st of March 2020. For all information, including key dates, confirmed speakers and a provisionary program, see the ACT website.

Should Judges Make Climate Law?

I am delighted to feature the first guest contribution to this blog from Laura Burgers of the Amsterdam Centre for Transformative Private Law (ACT) at the University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Law. She has published a thoughtful and timely article on the role of the judiciary in shaping climate change law and policy.

Should Judges Make Climate Change Law?

By Laura Burgers

Worldwide, over a thousand lawsuits have been launched regarding responsibility for the dangers of climate change. A recent contribution to Transnational Environmental Law looks at this transnational climate change litigation trend and asks the important question: Should judges make climate change law? Since the beginning of the trend, this question led to controversy. Scholars have warned that the separation of powers is threatened where judges interfere with the politically hot issue of climate change.

The article uses political theory on deliberative democracy by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas to reconstruct the tension between law and politics generated by these lawsuits. Habermas’ theory on what renders law legitimate in constitutional democracies leads to a thorough understanding of the role of the judiciary. The power of climate change litigation is further explicated with the aid of an intermezzo on climate change related civil disobedience. The article puts forward that the climate lawsuits form especially strong contributions to the so-called ‘public sphere’ and that they are advancing the view that climate change belongs to the legal rather than the political domain.

Even more strongly, when looking to climate change litigation through the lens of Habermas’ theory, we can better understand the so-called ‘rights turn’ in climate change litigation, i.e. the development that cases in which environmentalist won lean strongly on the application of fundamental rights as codified in national constitutions or international human rights treaties. This goes hand in hand with a movement which has been identified as ‘environmental constitutionalism’, through which the environment is read more and more into fundamental rights. The article explains Habermas’ co-originality thesis, according to which fundamental rights form the very foundation of constitutional democracies, and therefore merit judicial protection against majority decisions. It is submitted that with the movement of environmental constitutionalism, more legitimate operational space is created for the judiciary to interfere in climate change related matters.

In short, this Habermasian reconstruction affords a better understanding of the implications of climate change litigation: while the role of the judiciary as such remains unchanged, the trend is likely to influence the democratic legitimacy of judicial law-making on climate change, as it indicates an increasing realization that a sound environment is a constitutional matter and is therefore a prerequisite for democracy to be protected by judges.

The full article, published in January 2020 as an open access article in Transnational Environmental Law, is available here:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/transnational-environmental-law/article/should-judges-make-climate-change-law/D9B088113959571B24E97F5E976CA107

U.K. Climate Change and the Voiceless Book Tour: January 8-18, 2020

Another book tour is in the books and this one was different and more productive in many ways compared to my previous U.K. tours.  First, the climate crisis is now front and center in the media in the U.K. and around the world. Second, related to the first point, there were larger audiences for my presentations than in previous book tours, and those audiences were more engaged, enthusiastic, and receptive to the climate justice themes than ever before. Third, there was much more informal post-lecture follow-up dialogue and laying of groundwork for future engagement and collaboration between individuals and across institutions. All in all, it was a “brilliant” and “smashing” experience.

Listed below is a snapshot of the U.K. book tour schedule. I had actively sought additional lecture opportunities beyond these commitments, at Cambridge and elsewhere, but I was grateful in the end that the schedule remained with these dates because I simply lacked the energy and focus to do more than what this schedule demanded of me. It was logistically exhausting to pack/unpack, settle in, and navigate around so many cities in such a short period.

Although this tour was one-third of the length of my European tour last summer and only involved two countries rather than four, I was absolutely drained mentally and physically by the time I finished my two lectures at the University of Kent.  I’m getting too old for this jet-set professional life.

Jan. 9: London School of Economics and Political Science, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

Jan. 10: European Commission (Brussels, Belgium)

Jan. 13: University College London, Global Governance Institute

Jan. 15: University of Aberdeen

Jan. 16: University of Kent

I arrived in London on Thursday and my first speaking engagement was at the London School of Economics, which featured an all-star panel of some of the leading climate justice scholars and practitioners in the world. Things kicked off with a late-breaking and welcome perk to an already exciting event: Lord Carnwath of the British Supreme Court would be joining the panelists for tea in an intimate conference room about 30 minutes prior to the event.  I would have posed with him for a photo but I didn’t want to behave like a star-struck rock band groupie, especially at my advanced age – it’s not cool. After our discussion, he asked for my book flyer and business card, in response to which I blushed and giggled like an elementary school girl. So much for maintaining my stiff upper lip among the dignified Brits.

It was so inspiring and engaging to speak with Lord Carnwath about climate justice litigation around the world and the role that courts can play in addressing systemic injustices in society such as governmental failures to regulate climate change adequately in the climate crisis era in which we live.  Apart from being exceptionally knowledgeable and genuinely concerned about the issues, he was so down to earth. My frustration with engaging with many American jurists is that there are either so stuffy and/or so full of themselves, I feel like I have to be on my knees to have a conversation with them. Lord Carnwath is a scholar and a gentleman, and a model to which all jurists should aspire. More information about Lord Carnwath’s distinguished career is available here.

Propelled by that inspiring kickoff to the event, things only improved during the panel. As we entered the lecture hall, all of the panelists were pleased to see a massive audience of approximately 250 attendees, many of whom were students (and this event was held one week before the start of classes!) The panel event was an inaugural and highly effective joint initiative on climate change governance between LSE and King’s College. As such, it featured a moderator and panelists from each institution, each of whom is internationally recognized for her work. I was one of three climate justice scholars on the panel who did not represent one of the host institutions (one was also from the U.S. and other was from Australia, and each of these scholars is among the leading climate justice scholars in the world). The panel also featured one of the litigators in the globally acclaimed Urgenda case.

The panel discussion was scrupulously moderated to elicit a highly engaging and informative dialogue on cutting-edge developments in the field.  The Q&A that followed was lively and very productive. We could have gone for another hour given the level of interest from the audience and the number of questions that went unanswered due to time constraints. The post-event dinner with the panelists and moderators was a very enjoyable way to savor the company of these experts and edify our plans for future collaborations.

The LSE panel was an ideal kickoff to my U.K. tour. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Joana Setzer at LSE’s Grantham Climate Institute for facilitating my participation on this outstanding panel. We met in Tarragona, Spain last June where we delivered keynote presentations at a conference there and we remained in touch for further collaboration after the event. Different versions of the LSE climate change litigation panel web page are available here and here. The Twitter feed from the event is available here.

The transition from the LSE panel to my second speaking engagement, a climate change careers panel at the European Commission in Brussels, was a bit harried. Thanks to the lingering vestiges of adrenaline from the LSE event and the insidious effects of jet lag, I was only able to steal a few winks of sleep before I had to pull myself out of bed bright and early the next morning to catch the Eurostar. The Eurostar is a high speed and civilized train that travels under the English Channel to connect passengers between London and Brussels in just two hours. It also connects London and Paris. During my lecture tour, I encountered colleagues who live in Paris or Brussels and commute in and out of London. I would have never imagined that would be possible, but it is, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s always nice to see carbon-friendly technology that is helping make the world more efficient and connected.

Two of the all-star volunteer research assistants on my Climate Change and the Voiceless book, Soraya Ridanovic, LL.M and Zarije Kocic, LL.M., coordinated my enjoyable and rewarding day visit to Brussels. I enjoyed a brief walking tour with Zarije of the “government center” sector of downtown Brussels, which featured many corporate-style office buildings that were conspicuously devoid of cultural character. It was interesting to see a city center that was “all-business” in this manner and not a mix of business and leisure entities like most major city centers. Nevertheless, I seized the opportunity to pose in front of the very official looking EU parliament building for good measure.

The climate change career panel was a big success. Soraya did an exceptional job coordinating this session for her fellow “Blue Book Trainees” across several departments and disciplines at the European Commission. These trainees are the best and brightest recent graduates from multiple disciplines, many of whom are seeking careers in governance policy, primarily in the EU but also throughout the world.  More information on the trainee program is available here.

I was on a panel with a lawyer for the World Wildlife Fund in Brussels and the coordinator of a rights of nature NGO based in Quito, Ecuador (via Skype). I learned a great deal of valuable information from my fellow panelists’ remarks and there was a robust Q&A session from the more than 50 attendees following our presentations. I have had several follow-up e-mail exchanges with Blue Book trainees who attended the sessions and who are seeking additional guidance in charting their potential career paths.

After a full and fulfilling day in Brussels, I returned to London and felt the effects of mental and physical exhaustion start to catch up with me.  Fortunately, Saturday and Sunday involved some welcome downtime with my wife, Nigara, who is very familiar with London. We did some sightseeing and extensive meandering around London in milder than normal weather. We enjoyed an informative Buddhism exhibit at the British Library and a hilarious slapstick play, The Play That Goes Wrong, which has received global acclaim.  I highly recommend it. More information is available here.

University College London

The second week of my U.K. tour got off to a great start with my Climate Change and the Voiceless book talk at University College London (UCL), one of the U.K.’s top 10 universities along with LSE. Unlike the first two speaking engagements as a panelist on a broader topic, the remainder of my presentations on this tour (UCL, Aberdeen, and Kent) would center exclusively on my book. My book talks began in fall 2018 and will conclude in summer 2020. I am grateful for the input and engagement I have received from audiences around the world on these book talks, but this U.K. tour was without question the most valuable and productive exchange I have had on issues relating to my book. The UCL book talk was a great first step on that path. The room was packed with approximately 75 attendees and “floor-sitting room only” (see photo below), and the post-lecture discussion was great.  Like the LSE event, I was particularly impressed with the turnout for this book talk given that it was held in the evening after the busy first day of their spring term.

I am grateful to Dr. Tom Pegram, Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of UCL’s Global Governance Institute, for hosting me for this talk. We enjoyed great discussion and shared ideas for future collaboration over an excellent gourmet vegan Italian food after the event. The web page for the event is available here.

University of Aberdeen Law School

The schedule for my visit to the University of Aberdeen Law School involved arriving in the afternoon on Tuesday, settling into my hotel and catching up on some work, and then joining my host, Dr. Daria Shapolalova, and her colleague, Dr. Roy Partain, for a delicious dinner and great conversation before my 1:00 p.m. book talk the next day. Roy, a globally recognized energy law and policy scholar who recently published a leading text on environmental economics, was a remarkable source of information about Aberdeen in general and the university specifically. He gave me informative tours of the town and campus on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning in unseasonably pleasant (and sunny!) weather in Aberdeen, which is exceptionally rare for winter (or any other time of year in Aberdeen), so I’m told.

The University of Aberdeen is the fifth oldest university in the U.K. When walking around the stately campus, dotted with castles and cathedrals perched on cobblestone streets, it’s easy to appreciate the rich history of the place. The university has about 15,000 students, which includes a diverse mix of students from all over the world, which I wasn’t expecting in this quaint northern outpost in Scotland. I also learned from the locals that the proper Scottish pronunciation of the town’s name is “Aber-DEEN” (as I soon learned after saying “ABER-deen” and getting politely corrected with the proper pronunciation).

Daria did a wonderful job attending to all the details of my visit, including arranging a valuable opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Mike Radford, a colleague on the faculty who is a leading animal law scholar in the U.K. Mike and I had a great discussion over lunch and I learned a great deal about some of the finer points of U.K. animal law and how it compares to aspects of animal regulation in the U.S.

The Cathedral Church of St. Marchar in Old Aberdeen (founded in 580 A.D.)

There was another full house of approximately 50 attendees for my book talk, which was again followed by great discussion during and after the lecture from an audience that featured an international mix of professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students from law and other disciplines. The web page for the event is available here, the Twitter feed is available here, and the audio recording with slides is available here.

University of Kent

Nestled in the quaint British town of Canterbury, castles and stately charm were also abundant in the last stop of my U.K. book tour at the University of Kent. Although some of the charming historical features from Aberdeen were also evident in Canterbury, Aberdeen is a city of a quarter million residents whereas Canterbury has a small town vibe that is pulsing with pub culture and warm interpersonal bonds. This book talk was arranged by my colleague, Dr. Corey Wrenn, who just joined the Sociology Department at Kent in January 2019. Corey and I overlapped in my first semester at Monmouth and we hit if off famously and stayed in touch after she “flew the coop” for greener pastures in Canterbury. I was so happy to hear and witness how fulfilled Corey is in her new university and home.  It was easy to see why Kent and Canterbury are a great fit for her. As an animal protection scholar and a vegan activist, her expertise and passion in these areas is embraced as an asset in her new home and, not surprisingly, she is happy and thriving in that new environment. She is already working with colleagues to build an animal protection specialization at Kent, with an exciting first animal advocacy conference on the horizon at Kent in June 2020 (which I hope to attend) and a newly approved course in Animals and Society that she will soon teach.

The book talk was co-sponsored by other faculty clusters at Kent that work on human-animal relations in disciplines beyond sociology. It was exciting to see the valuable cross-disciplinary synergies that Corey was able to facilitate in a short period of time.

Approximately 40 of Corey’s Kent colleagues and students from several disciplines attended the two book talks I delivered that afternoon. The dialogue was lively once again during and after the presentations. We continued that conversation (on and off topic) over drinks at local Pub with great vegan food.  It’s rare to find great vegan food at watering holes in the U.S., so it’s great to see how far the U.K. has come in such a short period in being a leader on vegan options, even in the most unlikely places. On the fast food front, the U.K. has the Beyond Meat meatballs at Subway and the vegan chicken patty at KFC, whereas we are still waiting for the roll out of these exciting menu items in the U.S.  The U.K. also has the Impossible Whopper at Burger King, but they call it the “Rebel Whopper.”

The web page for the Kent book talk is available here. The video recording is available here.

May-July 2020 promises to be my biggest and most impactful book tour yet, and it will span several countries. Planning is underway and more details will be available soon.

Climate Change Law and Justice Revolution Reaches the Middle East and North Africa

On November 2-5, I had the pleasure of traveling to Morocco for the first time to participate in and deliver a keynote presentation at the Second Annual Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Environmental Law Scholars’ Conference in Casablanca. I attended and presented at the first installment of this important conference last year in Doha, Qatar.

When one thinks of climate change hot spots around the world, the South Pacific, the Arctic, Bangladesh, the Amazon, and South Florida may come to mind initially; however, the MENA region is rarely part of the dialogue when considering how to address the global climate crisis. And that’s why this conference is so important. In addition to shining a light on climate change and other environmental law issues in this region, this conference convenes leading scholars to discuss issues that the region faces for dialogue and collaboration on how to respond to these concerns. The conference has assembled an executive committee that works to raise awareness of and discuss responses to these issues between these annual events. A summary of this year’s conference and its outcomes is available here: https://www.gulf-times.com/story/648506/Higher-education-key-to-propelling-climate-action- The third installment of this conference is planned for Kuwait in November 2020.

There were many positives that came out of this visit. First, I was very impressed by the level of engagement from the audience after my keynote presentation on my Climate Change and the Voiceless book, which was published in October and is now available in hardcover, paperback, and kindle formats on the book’s webpage and on Amazon.

The Q&A period after my presentation was quite lengthy and the dialogue continued for much of the rest of the day. The level of interest in my books was very high, as evidenced by several realities: (1) dozens of my book flyers were snatched up quickly on the first day of the conference; (2) one student offered to pay me in Moroccan currency for the display copy of my Climate Change and the Voiceless book; and (3) all three of the display copies of my books had disappeared after the first day of the conference (fortunately, the books were located and returned to me the next day).

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the high level of intellectual engagement on the issues was the irrepressible level of interest from students, many of whom has no prior exposure to environmental law in their course work. Students approached me about how to purchase my book, how to offer environmental law courses at their schools, what advice I could offer on their ongoing research on environmental and animal law topics for their thesis projects, and how they could arrange to come to my university or elsewhere in the U.S. as a visiting student. More impressive still, their command of English was outstanding and, for most of them, it’s their third language (Arabic, French, and English). The conference offered headphones for English-Arabic and Arabic-English interpretation of the presentations, but I didn’t see any students wearing the headphones. It was my generation of English speaking and Arabic speaking scholars who were the language-challenged ones in the audience.

Another very positive tidbit of information that I took away from this conference was how environmental law education and awareness generally, and on climate change issues in particular, is already thriving, thanks in part to this conference. Remarkably, there are already 60+ environmental law masters program in the MENA region. I met a Moroccan environmental law professor at this conference who researches and teaches many of the same topics that I do at her university in Marrakesh and we hope to capitalize on guest teaching visits to each other’s universities to build cross-cultural awareness of issues such as climate change law and justice developments that can be mutually beneficial and informative when faculty and student exchange is enabled. For example, under Islamic law, I learned that a “waqf” is a concept that can be applied to promote environmental stewardship that is comparable to the use of the public trust doctrine in atmospheric trust litigation in the U.S. in the Juliana case and in related efforts. Both theories support the notion of the need for enhanced government stewardship of resources in the Anthropocene era. Another colleague I met at this conference also invited me to deliver a lecture series on climate change law and justice issues at Kuwait International Law School, which is a school that regularly engages with law schools and scholars outside the MENA region on many legal issues.

The long arm of social media also has facilitated the reach and impact of climate change law and justice information to this region. As a general matter, I despise social media. I really do. I don’t use it and have no use for it. In the U.S., I feel that it has degraded human communication, enhanced cowardice, and exacerbated the existential alienation of the human condition. But I have to credit it, at least in part, for several significant political and social developments in recent memory. First, the election of Barack Obama likely would not have been possible without it. Second, the success of the #MeToo and LGBTQ movements were significantly enhanced because of it. Third, and most importantly for this discussion, the wildfire communication of the objectives of the Arab Spring wouldn’t have been possible without it.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, a rising tide of engagement in the climate justice movement has followed in the MENA region. I learned from an environmental policy colleague from Egypt that youth in Egypt are very concerned about the climate crisis yet they are not willing to make lifestyle sacrifices to promote climate mitigation. Much like U.S. youth, they blame government inaction for the climate crisis. Their approach is more understandable, however, because as a developing country their economy is still growing and they need to rely on GHG-intensive activities to advance economically. They are frustrated with Western countries like the U.S., who can do more to help diminish the global climate crisis but self-centered economic interests and misinformation campaigns on the climate change issue in the U.S. have led to our current state of federal inaction. My Egyptian colleague’s research confirmed that Egyptian youth see the environment as “instrumental” and not “intrinsic” in value. Again, this viewpoint is understandable in a developing country. The U.S. and other advanced economies in the Western world need to engage their political leadership to facilitate the transition to an ecocentric regulatory paradigm in the Anthropocene era so that we can view humans as part of the larger ecosystem that we share with nonhuman communities, rather than the masters of it, and adjust our legal frameworks accordingly. For further discussion of that topic, I encourage you to read my Climate Change and the Voiceless book.

Social media certainly has propelled the climate justice movement on a global basis. From climate displacement in all regions of the world to highly publicized youth climate movements, social media is facilitating this counter storm to respond to the devastation that climate change is wielding throughout the world. Some areas of the world, like the MENA region, don’t appear to Westerners as part of this storm of climate change impacts and counter storm of mitigation and adaptation responses. But a global problem like this one knows no limits, even in areas of the world that seem to be removed from it with different economic and social priorities. International climate change treaty negotiations have reached all corners of the world, including a significant meeting and outcome in the MENA region in 2001 that produced the Marrakesh Accords. Marrakesh again served as host for the world for the COP 22 meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement in November 2016.

The conference was held in an impressive brand new building on the campus of Hassan First University in Settat.

A common frustration I experience when traveling to developing countries is the limited number of vegan and vegetarian dining options, and Morocco was no exception to this general rule.  The culture has an overwhelmingly meat-based diet and I was the only vegan/vegetarian of all the speakers at the conference, most of whom were from the MENA region. The messaging on the virtues of a plant-based diet has not reached here as readily as climate justice messaging, but I’m confident that it’s coming soon. In just 2019 alone, the awareness of and access to plant-based options in restaurants at all levels of dining in the U.S. and other Western countries has skyrocketed and this cultural awareness will spread quickly to the developing world in the years ahead. Most importantly, awareness of the linkages between our meat-based diet and climate change is spreading quickly; again, just in the past year there have been significant developments in this regard in political arenas in the U.S. and internationally.  But I must say that the vegetarian options that were available in Morocco were delicious, and the world-famous couscous and Moroccan mint tea were quite memorable. It will be nice to see more vegan and vegetarian options on menus throughout Morocco and the MENA region in the years ahead.

On the topic of the need to limit our individual carbon footprints in our daily lives, I remain mindful of the carbon footprint dimension of my frequent air travel. And if I were pursuing this travel to secure a great tan in multiple beach destinations, I would feel ashamed of my self-indulgent and avoidable contribution to this pressing global crisis. But the most important tools we have to combat the climate crisis are information and inspiration. Every time I deliver a book talk or presentation in my speaking engagement schedule, I witness the positive buzz of energy that flows from the information and the corresponding inspiration to take action that I am able to inspire with conveying this information. Regardless of how bleak the world around us becomes, there is no substitute for human connection and the power of hope.

We always have the choice to see the glass as half empty or half full, and the effectiveness of our response to challenges in our lives is significantly influenced by how we understand and approach these challenges. If my role does nothing more than shine a light on the climate crisis challenges that we face and provide some hope and support on how to address them, I can rest content with the knowledge that my positive inputs in confronting these challenges overshadow my carbon footprint, at least for now. As technology improves to ensure effective transmission of remote participation in some of the conferences to which I am invited, I am happy to consider those options more fully in the years ahead. But at least for now, remote participation significantly compromises the quality and impact of what I am able to share. 

It’s the one-on-one conversations before, between, and after the formal agenda of presentations that always seem to have the greatest impact, and that’s hard to replicate remotely. I plan to make video recordings of my presentations available on this blog and on a YouTube channel to inform and inspire others on these issues without traveling. I’m already learning from colleagues around the world that they have located and used my video recorded presentations to help them impart information and inspiration in their educational efforts on these topics in their countries, which is very encouraging to hear.

As a closing note, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to travel as much as I have in fall 2019 to promote my new book and speak on climate justice and animal law issues.  The impact of these speaking engagements was enhanced by virtue of the rising tide of awareness of these issues in the U.S. and globally.  In many ways, fall 2019 involved a “perfect storm” of synergistic developments that have catapulted climate change law and justice to center stage in a unprecedented manner that has raised the global community’s awareness of and receptivity to this information. In other words, if ever there was a time to spend a lot of time on the road engaging audiences with these messages, this was the semester to do it.  Just think of all the significant climate change-related developments that have occurred within just the past few months (and this is non-exhaustive list)

  • California wildfires
  • Hurricane Dorian and the climate displaced populations in the Bahamas
  • Greta Thunberg’s iconic speech to global leaders
  • Climate crisis protests everywhere (including Jane Fonda regularly getting arrested in the U.S.)
  • Youth climate litigation exploding around the world as we eagerly await the highly anticipated decision in the Juliana case any day now
  • The IPCC’s Report on the looming global devastation from climate change impacts to oceans and frozen areas

So, to the extent that I am able to reach audiences around the world in any way on these pressing issues during this critical moment in time, I plan to keep talking.

European Book Tour: Climate Change and the Voiceless (June 9-30, 2019)

After months of planning, I eagerly departed from the U.S. on June 9 to embark on a three-week lecture tour in four countries in Europe (Turkey, Netherlands, Serbia, and Spain). The timing for this trip was ideal as it occurred immediately prior to the release of my forthcoming book, Climate Change and the Voiceless: Protecting Future Generations, Wildlife, and Natural Resources (Cambridge University Press), which will be published in fall 2019.

The book’s content and themes were deeply etched in my mind as I refined my book talk slides in preparation for this trip. My first round of book talks on this book ran from October 2018 to March 2019 (see schedule of previous lectures in the “Lecture Tour” tab). Those discussions were invaluable in helping me tighten the message of the book before I submitted the manuscript to the publisher in March 2019. With the benefit of the input I received from those book talks, and the recent immersion in a detailed review of the full manuscript addressing the publisher’s edits in May, I was now equipped with a more focused and compelling message to deliver for this round of book talks. As I finalize this entry on July 1, the page proofs of my book manuscript have just arrived for my review, which is the final stage of the editing process before the book goes into production to be published and released. The insights and enhanced clarity I gained from the lectures will serve me well as I give the manuscript one last review.

The dialogue and feedback from this lecture tour exceeded my expectations. The timing of this book project coincided perfectly with the research and thinking that both established and rising scholars in these four countries have been pursuing in the past year. Contacts in all four countries have reached out to me to explore opportunities for further collaboration on rights-based approaches to climate justice issues. Some of these opportunities may involve future lectures and short courses in these countries, while others may involve participation in exciting grant-funded projects and other university-to-university initiatives such as co-hosting future symposia.

Listed below is a snapshot of the full European book tour schedule. I had actively sought additional lecture opportunities beyond these commitments, but I was grateful in the end that the schedule remained with these dates because I simply lacked the energy and focus to do more than what this schedule demanded of me. It was logistically exhausting to pack/unpack, settle in, and navigate around so many cities in such a short period. Upon completing this lecture tour, I have enhanced respect for rock bands that tour the world with schedules that make this one look like a walk in the park, but then again I was not propelled by any stimulant other than coffee for this tour.

June 11:  Book Talk, Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University (Turkey)

June 13:  Book Talk, Vrije University (Netherlands)

June 17:  Book Talk, University Business Academy, Faculty of Law for Commerce and Judiciary in Novi Sad (Serbia)

June 20:  Book Talk, Tilburg University (Netherlands)

June 21:  Book Talk, Wageningen University (Netherlands)

June 27:  Keynote Lecture, Tarragona International Environmental Law Colloquium (Spain)

June 27:  Book Talk, Tarragona International Environmental Law Colloquium (Spain)

June 28:  Session Chair, Tarragona International Environmental Law Colloquium (Spain)

Detailed below are my impressions “inside and outside of the lecture hall” from this tour.

June 11, 2019: Istanbul Policy Center

Lecture Summary

My lecture in Istanbul went very well. It was a diverse audience of approximately 20 professors, students, and community members from law and several other disciplines that interface with climate change issues. The lecture was sponsored by the Istanbul Policy Center (IPC), a high-powered entity associated with a major university in Istanbul (Sabanci) that hosts several lectures on climate change and other policy issues each year. The audience was very informed and engaged on the issues. The IPC has recently developed a partnership with a university in Sweden to conduct research on rights-based approaches to climate change, so my lecture was very timely and may lead to future collaboration with the IPC on climate justice-related initiatives.

Beyond the Lecture Hall

I learned from colleagues after the lecture that frequent heat waves, droughts, and heavy rainfall are the new normal in Istanbul, and that Istanbul faces serious challenges in adapting to these new threats. A highly publicized “redo” of the election for Istanbul’s mayor was occurring during my visit after the opposition candidate’s victory was discarded earlier this year because the vote tally was too close. The redo of the election brought out voters in record numbers and the opposition candidate prevailed by a decisive margin. This outcome bodes well for Istanbul (and perhaps Turkey overall in the years ahead) on many pressing social and economic issues that require a more progressive agenda, including climate change adaptation initiatives. More information on this important political development can be found here.

Links and Recordings

The webpage for my lecture is available here.

The video recording of my lecture on Facebook is available here.

I had a delicious vegetarian Turkish lunch overlooking the city and posed here with the famous Galata Tower in Istanbul (built in the 14th century) in the background. I then went to the best baklava spot in Istanbul for dessert and Turkish coffee – very memorable!

June 13, 2019: Vrije University (Netherlands)

Standing outside Vrije University with my three fabulous Netherlands-based research assistants (L to R: Agi, Soraya, and Andreea)

Lecture Summary

The audience for my lecture at Vrije University in Amsterdam was highly engaged. It included 15 professors, law students, and students from other disciplines. The dialogue began over lunch with four professors and two LL.M. students (both of whom have been valuable volunteer research assistants for me and who were instrumental is scheduling this lecture). Most of the audience members at the lecture were intimately familiar with climate justice issues, especially the world-famous Urgenda case from the Netherlands. The Q&A was very lively and many questions probed deeply into areas that I hope to address in greater depth in the Second Edition of the book after the rapidly changing law on these issues evolves a bit more.

Links and Recordings

The webpage for my Vrije lecture is available here.

Beyond the Lecture Hall

I learned a great deal about climate change impacts and responses “on the streets” during my time in Amsterdam. For example, I learned from a local contact about the new practice of “flight shaming” in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. It refers to social pressure applied to those who chose to fly within Europe for trips that could readily be completed by train.  Here’s some more information about flight shaming.

Similar “shaming” may be on the horizon regarding (the carbon footprint-heavy) preference for meat consumption in society. A recent proliferation of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and the availability of such options at many restaurants in all of the cities I have visited on this tour and in previous destinations over the past few years, underscores this trend. Effective greenhouse gas emission reductions will require rigorous bottom-up initiatives like these to supplement the less-than-ambitious regulatory efforts from most governments. A recent article in The Guardian made a connection between the social condemnation of tobacco use in society and how meat consumption may be the next social preference that gets snubbed in the near future.

During a boat tour along Amsterdam’s famous canals, I learned that last year was the first year that water had to be pumped into the canal system to maintain safe water levels.  Due to the unusual and sensitive building infrastructure in the city, even a slight drop in water levels could threaten the structural integrity of buildings in the city.

An Amsterdam local also remarked that the past few years in Amsterdam have brought heavier rains, more severe thunder storms, and higher winds that have exceeded anything witnessed in previous decades.

An even more unusual disruption linked to climate change (bordering on science fiction) is the connection between increased greenhouse gas emissions and the Northern Lights phenomenon being witnessed in lower latitude regions like the Netherlands. More information is available here.

And one fun fact about Amsterdam (apart from the omnipresent scent of marijuana smoked at all hours of the day and by people of all ages) is the prevalence of bikes as the preferred mode of transit in the city. This is a very good development to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Incredibly, there are actually more bikes than people in the city (as discussed in the article in link below).  Pedestrians need to look several times before crossing any intersection in the city because they face the multi-pronged threat of cars, trams, and bikes at every turn. The bikes are the most daunting threat of the three because they come faster than you expect (some are motorized) and the bikers are a bit fearless in navigating their way through crowds of unsuspecting pedestrians. I learned that bikes are in such high demand in the city that bike theft is a problem of epic proportions even for those who carefully secure their bikes with locks. I also learned on the boat tour that the canals in Amsterdam hold an insane number of discarded bikes. Read more about it here.

June 17, 2019: University Business Academy, Faculty of Law in Novi Sad (Serbia)

Lecture Summary

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Novi Sad, Serbia. The second largest city in Serbia, Novi Sad offers an impressively rich cultural history with an endearingly accessible small town vibe. I was greeted warmly and treated like a celebrity during my brief visit. The host institution, University Business Academy, Faculty of Law, is a relatively new private institution (about 20 years old) with an impressive faculty and engaged student body. The school has hosted many international scholars and has established partnerships with many prestigious universities around the world as part of its well organized and ambitious international cooperation program. More information about the law school is available here.

My lecture went very well. There were approximately 30 faculty and students in attendance and the Q&A was very engaging. The dialogue continued in a leisurely and lively lunch dialogue that consumed most of the afternoon after my lecture.

Entering the lecture hall with the president of the university.
A local television station interviewed me before my lecture.  Excepts from the interview are available in a news segment here.
Sitting beside me during the lecture (L to R) are the vice dean for research and development at the law school, the president of the university, and the vice dean for international cooperation at the law school.

Beyond the Lecture Hall

Novi Sad may not be on the cutting edge of awareness of climate change impacts as compared to the Netherlands, but the impacts are occurring and awareness of them is on the rise. The city, and the region of Serbia in which Novi Sad is located (Vojvodina), have been plagued by severe floods, droughts, heat waves, and shorter spring seasons in the past decades. One of my hosts observed that in May of this year, there were 17 consecutive days of rain leading up to his wedding. He enjoyed a clear day for his wedding, and then the rain continued for several more days.

After a brief break to change into more casual clothing after our extended lunch, my hosts treated me to a wonderful tour of the city, which included a visit to a historic fortress that offered spectacular views of the city. We capped off the evening with more engaging conversation as we took in the sights of the city and shared ideas for possible collaboration.

As a major fan of gelato when I travel in Europe, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an incredibly memorable lavender flavored ice cream cone that I enjoyed while walking around the old town in Novi Sad.

This iconic clock in Novi Sad is unique in that the long hand is for the hour and the short hand is for the minutes. Therefore, this picture was snapped at 7:20 p.m. rather than 4:35 p.m.
A captivating view of Novi Sad and the Danube River that I snapped from the famous fortress overlooking the city, which is listed as a UNESCO cultural heritage site.

June 20, 2019: Tilburg University (Netherlands)

Lecture Summary

My visit to Tilburg Law School was exceptionally productive. The audience was a very informed and engaged group of about 10 environmental law professors and Ph.D. students who were very familiar with and currently researching and writing on issues related to my book. The lecture and post-lecture dialogue over coffee was very stimulating. These colleagues hope to engage me in work on a grant-funded project that is intimately related to the theme of my book, which may ultimately lead to a visiting position for a summer or sabbatical term to further explore issues on rights-based approaches to climate justice.

Beyond the Lecture Hall

The good news is that the Netherlands is known for its ruthlessly efficient train system, which goes a long way to reduce the country’s carbon footprint as compared to the massive impacts from cars in the U.S. Nevertheless, the heavenly public transportation system in the Amsterdam metropolitan area can quickly turn to hell in the areas about 30 minutes or more outside the city due to the limited number of tracks to reroute trains when there are delays.

I experienced this descent into transportation hell on a firsthand basis on my trip to Tilburg. In a trip that should have taken just over one hour, I was in transit for close to three hours from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station and on to Tilburg. One source of the delay was a rookie mistake caused by my lack of familiarity with the trains’ lack of exterior identification and the absence of a conductor calling out where the train is going like they do in the U.S., which caused an avoidable 30-minute delay that required me to catch the next train to Tilburg.

But then the unavoidable misadventures in delay began, which were precipitated (I later learned) by a suicide on the train track on which I was supposed to travel to Tilburg, which caused a cascade of switches and delays and more missed trains due to unreasonably tight connections between platforms.  In essence, the trains in the Netherlands are incredibly efficient, except when they aren’t, in which case they collapse like a house of cards in a wind storm.

The phenomenon of train suicides in Europe rivals the gun violence epidemic in the U.S.  With more limited access to handguns, people will apparently find other gruesome ways to prematurely extinguish their lives. This train suicide trend has become such a daunting problem in the Netherlands and elsewhere that there are proposals moving forward to radically redesign train platforms in a way that will preclude “rail death wishers” from throwing themselves on the tracks. The older I get, the more that real life becomes stranger than fiction in so many ways. Here is some additional sobering information on the rail suicide epidemic in Europe.

On the train ride back to Amsterdam with a colleague from the Tilburg lecture, I also learned of golden jackals’ recent emergence in the Netherlands, possibly facilitated by climate change-related disruption to habitat ranges. Read more here.

June 21, 2019: Wageningen University (Netherlands)

Lecture Summary

Wageningen is a small and quaint college town and traditional Dutch community that is host to a prestigious research university specializing in life sciences that attracts students from 150 countries. I had a very engaged lecture audience of about a dozen students (Ph.D., master’s, and undergraduates) and community members, many of whom had an impressive understanding and awareness of climate justice and rights of nature principles and related developments. The lecture was held on Friday at 4:00 p.m., which made me even more impressed with the turnout and the enthusiastic level of engagement from the attendees. One of the students in attendance (a freshman who was impressively well versed in rights of nature developments around the world) just established a student organization on campus that addresses rights-based issues related to sustainability. She is interested in having me return to speak to their organization next year.

My lecture was held in this building, which was located slightly off this modest-sized campus in a densely forested residential area. After my circuitous travel to Tilburg the day before, I became quite frustrated in getting hopelessly lost trying to find this building with the “help” of two friendly but similarly directionally challenged locals.

Beyond the Lecture Hall

After the lecture, I enjoyed a brief walk through the charming and cozy downtown Wageningen, passing by the iconic Dutch windmill pictured below. This windmill prepares grains for bread and does not serve as a source of renewable wind energy.

Links

The website for my lecture is available here.

June 27-28, 2019: Tarragona International Environmental Law Colloquium (Spain)

Lecture Summary

Now in its fourth year, the Tarragona International Environmental Law Colloquium (TIEC) is internationally known as an impressive environmental law and justice event. It was the crown jewel of my European lecture tour. The colloquium featured the largest and most engaged attendees of all my professional engagements on this trip. More than 50 climate justice and environmental law and justice scholars (professors, post docs, and Ph.D. candidates) from Australia, Belgium, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. were in attendance.

TIEC is held at the Catalonia campus of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) in Tarragona. It is planned and coordinated by a diligent and exceptionally well organized committee of Ph.D. students in URV’s internationally renowned environmental law program (CEDAT). Here is some information on the faculty, affiliated researchers, and program features of CEDAT. In several conversations with the Dean and members of the CEDAT faculty during my visit, the foundation for future collaboration on climate change law and justice has been laid, potentially as early as next summer.

My visit to Tarragona was the anchor commitment for my lecture tour.  It was the first speaking engagement commitment that I secured for this trip and it was what inspired my subsequent efforts to build a lecture tour around these dates in late June. I wanted to capitalize on my time on European soil and make the most of this long journey. My participation initially was limited to serving as one of three keynote speakers at the colloquium. It subsequently expanded to include a book talk, a panel session chair assignment, a dinner with the Dean and faculty members, and a business meeting to discuss future collaboration opportunities, which ultimately spread my “business” here across four days. Due to travel logistics from my other speaking engagements in other countries, my visit here involved six days, which enabled some self-funded and long-overdue down time to enjoy the history, beauty, and charm of this city.

This is the view from the famous “balcony” in downtown Tarragona featuring a jaw-dropping vista of the Mediterranean Sea below, where I enjoyed some memorable sun-drenched runs complemented by gentle ocean breezes. Urban legend has it that if you touch this balcony, you will guarantee your return to this charming city. I made sure to touch it several times.

This view from a café in Tarragona’s historic and Roman-inspired downtown captures the laid back and historic vibe of the city.

Tarragona is rich in cultural traditions.  One of the most memorable one for this tourist is the cultural practice of “human towers” that one sees emerging spontaneously around the city in the evenings.  One of my contacts was able to secure a “back stage pass” to see a training session for a human tower team.  Apart from being a remarkable example of cultural tradition, the human towers represent an impressive form of team work in an athletic and spiritual way.  It’s a metaphor for the tightly knit, mutually reliant community that one finds in all corners of Tarragona.

Emergency personnel stand by as a measure of added precaution as another human tower climbs into the sky in the city square.
A back stage view of the concentration, athleticism, and team work involved in building a human tower.

Links

Colloquium Schedule

Presentation Abstracts

Closing Thoughts

One thing became clear during this trip. The gap between the focus of my academic work and my day-to-day realities in life has narrowed considerably wherever I go. When I started writing and teaching about climate change law and justice shortly after the turn of this century, climate change still seemed like a distant threat, but one that was close enough for vulnerable communities to fear as an imminent peril. Nowadays, whatever I do and wherever I travel, the fingerprints of climate change are evident, and the threat is much more imminent and widespread. It is no longer limited to vulnerable and impoverished communities – the affluent are no longer immune. The affluent are more protected and less in harm’s way than vulnerable communities, but it is now increasingly clear that we share a common vulnerability to climate change in the coming decades of this century in our shared status as Earthlings.

I enjoyed an excellent piece of creative nonfiction that was a useful complement to my thinking and engagement on this trip. In her book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, Elizabeth Rush compellingly portrays the stories of communities confronting sea level rise in the U.S. from Staten Island to Louisiana.  Her accounts from the front lines of these affected communities portray desperation, courage, and resilience in the face of these scientific realities and existential threats from sea level rise and its impact on what these communities had called home for generations.

One quote from the book resonated with me to help underscore the tenor of my reflections in the previous paragraph regarding the ubiquitous threat of climate change: “[T]he environmental apocalypse we often think of as existing only in films is already with us. The lines between our imagined futures and present tense grow increasingly blurry with every passing day.”

In 2004, we needed a jarring and fictional account to open our eyes to the daunting threats of climate change in the form of the Hollywood blockbuster movie, The Day After Tomorrow. Just fifteen years later, we are now living in and seeking to adapt to that scary, seemingly fictional new normal in our daily lives.