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 lecture 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.

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