It’s real!

Summer 2008 Bulletin Cover

Summer 2008 Bulletin Cover

The summer issue of the Bulletin in its appropriately “green” paper arrived yesterday, and let me record how appreciated your efforts are. This does ratify that [HLS’s new environmental] program is real! The effort you put into this is really commendable—the depth and variety of articles and commentary, and portraits of alumni young and old, near and far.

Sadly, the environment also framed two of your obituaries, Peter A.A. Berle [’64] and Judge Jim Oakes [’47]. Peter’s legacy in the Adirondacks is one our family celebrates each summer. And Judge Oakes volunteered at his 50th reunion to be part of our 1996 25th reunion program on environmental law, which marked the beginning of our contemporary effort to create the environmental law program, and his presence and message then inspired us in the often frustrating days between then and now.

Sunny side down

So Harvard Law School has now jumped with both feet onto the global warming catastrophe bandwagon. Before committing a big part of the school’s resources to this effort, shouldn’t somebody have checked the evidence as to whether the earth is actually warming as predicted? You guys stand to have a lot of egg on your faces as this charade falls apart over the next few years.

Polar bears occasionally drown

Summer 2008 Bulletin Cover

Summer 2008 Bulletin Cover

The Summer 2008 issue wrongly imagines a global warming crisis and blames it on CO2 released by combustion of fossil fuels:

“Houses, roads and airports buckle because the permafrost is no longer permanent.”

The permafrost melts because the ground is heated by the structures themselves, not by CO2.

Polar bears “are drowning.” Like humans, polar bears occasionally drown because they spend a lot of time on the water. Polar bears survived warmer periods than the present, and their numbers worldwide are the highest in decades.

“The reefs are bleaching.” Some are, especially when people dump raw sewage on them. CO2 is not the problem. Reef corals evolved hundreds of millions of years ago when both temperatures and atmospheric CO2 were significantly higher than they are today.

“Kilimanjaro’s snow is melting.” A recent retreat was a function of reduced precipitation, not higher temperatures. As of May 2008, the Tanzanian government reported that snow cover on the mountain is increasing.

The “polar ice cap is retreating.” Which one? Antarctic ice sheets and sea ice are growing. The retreat of ice in the Arctic likely has been caused by ocean floor volcanic activity since 1999, wind patterns that have blown ice into warmer waters and heat-trapping soot from industry in Asia.

Sea levels are “rising.” So they are, at the same rate as they have been for decades.

Storms are “frequent and destructive.” No more than usual, except that we have put massive new coastal development in harm’s way.

Temperatures are “increasing.” Not since 1998 they’re not. After a very active period in recent decades, solar activity has begun to settle down, taking temperatures down with it even as atmospheric CO2 levels continue to climb.

Cyberone and the environment

Summer 2008

Credit: Melvyn Calderon/Getty Images Antonio Oposa Jr. LL.M. ’97

I am greatly encouraged to read about some of the innovative approaches undertaken by students in the new HLS Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. But the one crucial element missing from the clinical opportunities cited is direct civic engagement, such as what Antonio Oposa [LL.M. ’97] is courageously doing in the Philippines [“Visionary of the Visayan Sea”]. The greatest imaginable victory in the courts or government would be hollow indeed if not accompanied by a huge shift in the attitudes and habits of the people of the U.S. and the world. Working with investor groups and informing consumers are both laudable projects, but serve as poor substitutes for addressing the public directly.

Of every course I took at HLS, the most useful to my new career as an environmental activist was Professor Nesson’s CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion. I urge all students and graduates with an interest in the environment to take this course [which is available online], and so arm themselves with the tools necessary to make a difference. The American public needs to hear the case for the environment—who better to present it than us, the best-trained advocates in the world?

Shaping sustainable paths

As the Summer 2008 Bulletin illustrates so well in its “Changing the Climate of Environmental Law” special section, it certainly is a great time to practice environmental law. After 12 years working at the intersection of environmental law and public policy, including five years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I would encourage today’s students to focus their efforts on becoming constructive contributors to the debate and, ultimately, the path forward. There are many who talk, text and blog; but real progress requires the ability to navigate statutory and regulatory frameworks, identify drivers for change and forge initiatives that draw upon the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues. From “green” buildings to developing renewable energy projects on brownfield properties, I can think of no better place than HLS, and the larger Harvard University community, to study—and to shape—sustainable paths forward to better protect the air, water and land, without compromising competitiveness on a macroeconomic level.

Remembering Berman

I was motivated to write this short note after reading the memorial for Professor Harold Berman in the Summer 2008 issue. Professor Berman was all of those things mentioned in the article and more. Indeed, he was one of those professors who make Harvard proud. In addition to being intelligent and erudite, he was (perhaps even more importantly) approachable and concerned about his students as individuals. He certainly took a great interest in me, to the extent that he and I kept in touch for many years after my graduation. He will be sorely missed.