Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fukushima and Burning Questions

This week, National Public Radio aired the first of a four-part series entitled BURN:  An Energy Journal.  The first, aired on the one-year-anniversary of Japan’s earthquake, focused on Fukushima, asking what we’ve learned, and what’s next.

Also this week, the National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements held its annual meeting, with a focus on two events:  a study showing medical exposures to radiation now account for about 50% of the United States population’s annual radiation dose; and the accidents at the Fukushima reactors and storage facilities.  Both issues raise questions about lessons learned and best practices going forward (and look for a later post on low-level radiation exposure). 

Here’s a sample of the law, policy, and science flurry of activity over the past week or so that’s focused on some of the enduring questions surrounding nuclear technology made especially salient by Fukushima’s anniversary:

  • Scientific American:  1 Year Later, What Does Fukushima Mean for Nuclear Research?
  • The journal Science published a study entitled Nuclear Fuel in a Reactor Accident, which discusses research priorities for developing predictive models of radionuclide behavior during and after accidents
  • A U.S. Geological Survey study measured minimal amounts of fallout in U.S. precipitation following Fukushima
  • Lincoln Davies’s piece Beyond Fukushima: Disasters, Nuclear Energy, and Energy Law appeared on ssrn
  • National Geographic published an article exploring energy shortages in Japan

What are the most pressing issues for nuclear technology? What have we learned? And by the way, does your answer depend on how you perceive risk?


--Emily Meazell

March 15, 2012 in Current Affairs, Energy, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Teaching Environmental Law Case Studies

Several weeks ago, Lincoln posted about bringing practice into the classroom.  On that theme, I thought I’d say a few words about a teaching approach I’ve been using for several years. To preview the punchline, I think it works well; I’m happy to share resources with other interested professors; and if there’s interest from others, I think creating a website for sharing teaching materials would be worthwhile.

The basic approach involves using case studies.  That’s nothing new—the Stanford Law School environmental case studies series (which I love) has a whole library—but the studies I’ve created are different in a few ways.  Most importantly, I usually divide the students into teams, some of which have shared interests and some of which are in adversarial positions.  I also usually create some sort of hearing or other proceeding at which the students will speak, and designate a few students to play the role of the decision-making body.  Often the “hearing” is somewhat contrived, but it still gives students a chance to practice speaking before,and answering tough questions from, a panel of decision-makers.  Usually at the end of the class the decision-makers explain their resolution, and then we discuss arguments, tactics, and the relevant substantive law.

I think this approach has several benefits. 

- It’s fun for students.  Sometimes by the second year of law school, and often by the third, students are burned out on traditional lecture-and-discussion classes.  Case studies, my students have repeatedly told me, are a welcome break.

- Students get to practice speaking.  In a normal quasi-Socratic class, students speak for only a few sentences at a time, and the dialogue format, while better than pure lecture, doesn’t resemble the ways lawyers communicate in actual practice.  These exercises give a chance to practice oral advocacy.

- Students get to practice identifying parties' interests.  Environmental and natural resource disputes are often complex and multilateral, and it isn’t always obvious what positions a client should take, what positions potential opponents or allies will assert, and where opportunities for collaboration or compromise will arise.  Case studies provide a good opportunity for that sort of strategic thinking.

- Students challenge each other.  Perhaps it's just the culture of my law school, but I wish students were a little more willing to disagree.  A case study with an adversarial format quickly solves that problem.

- Students prepare better.  A little bit of competition does wonders to motivate students to read more carefully and critically, particularly when the reading involves the sort of dense statutory or regulatory materials that practicing environmental lawyers often confront.

- Case studies provide a good foundation for writing assignments.  In my seminars, I’ve started asking students to write bench memos, client memos, or advocacy letters based on case study fact patterns.  Students have told me they like having their written work approximate real-world legal writing.

- I don’t know what’s going to happen.  The best case studies are usually a little bit unpredictable.  That keeps the experience fresh for me as a teacher, even if I cover the same studies year after year.

There’s a downside, however, and that leads to a pitch.  Writing case studies is a lot of work.  In my first two years of teaching, while I was possessed of pre-parenthood energy levels that now seem unfathomable, I wrote a whole bunch of studies, including a set of water resource management case studies that now take up half of a course.  My pace has slowed considerably.  But I’d like to use more in my classes (and would be happy to share,and get external feedback on, the ones I’ve already created), and I’m wondering if other professors are generating similar materials.  If they are, I also wonder if other professors would be interested in setting up a website where case studies could be shared.

If you’re interested in seeing a sample of the kind of case study I’ve used, you can click on the links that follow.  This study addresses NEPA compliance in an urban environment. This one addresses water marketing (along with the case study, I also ask students to read articles promoting and questioning water marketing).  This one (which I just finished writing this morning and haven’t test driven yet) addresses offshore oil exploration.

-Dave Owen

March 15, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Call for papers--LSU Journal of Energy Law and Resources

Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center is inviting articles for its inagural issue of the Journal of Energy Law and Resources. Details regarding the submissions and deadlines are available here:

Download LSU Journal of Energy Law and Resources


March 14, 2012 in Current Affairs, Energy, Law | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Getting to the Questions of Green Schools and Student Performance

Recently, editors of this blog have reported on some of the impressive sustainable efforts of schools around the nation.  Perhaps because I am fortunate to have two of the best little boys on the entire planet, I think the subject matter is worth an ongoing dialogue.  Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, explains the charge: “With so many of our country’s schools in disrepair, it is critical to highlight the importance of providing our children with healthier, more sustainable educational environments that enhance learning.”

On February 27, 2012, co-authors Lindsay Baker and Harvey Bernstein - on behalf of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC and McGraw-Hill Construction – released a report entitled, The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Learning: A Call for Research. The report addresses the very important question of how we research school building design, maintenance, and operations to assess and maximize the relationships between building performance and student health and performance.  The report highlights the state of research on the subject and identifies areas where attention to building performance may reap substantial rewards for our children.  In particular, the authors provide an inventory of student needs in the classroom based on how students hear, breathe, see, feel, move, think, and learn.  The authors also identify the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders in researching the impacts of buildings on childhood education:  school staff and leaders; teachers and students; building professionals; researchers; governmental agencies; and other supporting networks and organizations. The paper suggests a need and basis to account for the already 2,300 schools across the nation that are already participating in the USGBC’s LEED green building program.

One take-away from the report is that the information needed to complete research on this relationship is becoming easier to access, at least in part because high-performing buildings are becoming an easier sell to higher education administrations.  At least, sustainable initiatives are quite popular and stimulated on the campuses of higher educational institutions.

Nevertheless, to many the ultimate challenge remains the cost, a nagging obstruction that is exacerbated by the growing price tag on higher education.  However, the evidence on cost savings associated with energy efficiency continues to grow.  For example, Gregory Kats argued in 2006 that “Green schools cost on average almost 2% more, or $3 more per ft2, than conventional schools. The financial benefits of greening schools are about $70 per ft2, more than 20 times as high as the cost of going green.” More recently, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project recently released The Efficiency Boom: Cashing In on the Savings from Appliance Standards, in which it reported that the existing energy efficiency standards governing appliances will net consumers more than $1.1 trillion in savings cumulatively through 2035.  New and revised energy standards will improve these savings, resulting in typical household savings of over 180 MWh of electricity and over 200,000 gallons of water between 1995 and 2040.

An equally promising trend concerns school investments in “Green Revolving Funds” to facilitate cleantech and other sustainability improvements on campus.  Harvard’s $12 million Green Loan Fund is self-described as follows:

The Loan Fund provides capital for high-performance campus design, operations, maintenance, and occupant behavior projects. Basic project eligibility guidelines state that projects must reduce the University’s environmental impacts and have a payback period of five to ten years or less. The model is simple: GLF provides the up-front capital. Applicant departments agree to repay the fund via savings achieved by project-related reductions in utility consumption, waste removal, or operating costs. This formula allows departments to upgrade the efficiency, comfort, and functionality of their facilities without incurring any capital costs.

The number of schools utilizing the GRF model has been growing steadily, aided in large part by AASHE’s Billion Dollar Green Challenge. Of course, the GRF model may not suit every school, at least because the initial investment may feel like the type of discretionary spending that simply is not available.  Ideally, the lessons learned from existing and contemplated green schools, the predicted market shifts, and the associated forward-thinking will outgrow this misperception.

- Keith Hirokawa

March 14, 2012 in Climate Change, Law, Legislation, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

100 days to Rio +20

I have begun following the preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in just about 100 days. I wish I could be there, particularly because I know Brazil pretty well from having written a book about it!

So what’s going on in the lead-up to Rio +20 and what are the expected outcomes?  To begin with, it seems important to note that the first Rio conference in 1992 set a very high bar.  That conference -- formally called the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and informally called “The Earth Summit” – produced an incredible number of key documents in international environmental law including the Framework Convention on Climate Change; the Convention on Biological Diversity; Agenda 21; and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Later this month, governments will hold their first round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations on the zero draft of the Rio+20 outcome document at the UN Headquarters in New York.  The 19-page 128-paragraph zero draft, titled “The Future We Want,” was released on January 11.   Aside from the preamble paragraps of Part I, it has four major sections.  Part II is about reaffirming the principles of Rio and assessing progress on previous governmental commitments relating to sustainable development. Perhaps the most interesting, and certain to be debated, paragraph here is the section's final one, calling for a "global policy framework requiring all listed and large private companies to consider sustainability issues and to integrate sustainability information within the reporting cycle."

Part III regards one of the Conference’s two themes, “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has previously defined green economy to be not just about environment and economy, but also about equity:  “A green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”  Yet, I still find myself wondering whether questions of equity will get marginalized with this new "green economy" framing.

Part IV regards the Conference’s other theme, namely “the institutional framework for sustainable development.”  Here a couple interesting alternatives are being debated to strengthen relevant UN institutions.  Governments may either affirm the role of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) or transform the CSD into a Sustainable Development Council that would serve as the authoritative, high-level body for consideration of matters relating to sustainable development (see a relevant issue brief here).  Also, governments may agree either to strengthen the UNEP or to replace it with a new UN specialized agency for the environment, i.e. a World Environment Organization (relevant issue brief here).  Other specialized agencies linked to the UN include the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the ILO (International Labour Organization), the IMF (International Monetary Fund), UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and the WHO (World Health Organization).

Finally, Part V is entitled "Framework for action and follow-up."  It mostly consists of a list of 15 key issues and areas such as food security, water, energy, cities, natural disasters, climate change, and education.  It proposes a set of global Sustainable Development Goals to be devised by 2015, with progress "measured by appropriate indicators and evaluated by specific targets to be achieved possibly by 2030."

Of course, a lot of action is going on in the realm of non-state actors as well. I’ll save my remarks on that action for another post, and I’ll close with a few quotes from governmental and UN actors at the first Rio conference.  I am hoping that Rio +20 communicates a similar sense of urgency!

        - We cannot betray future generations. They will judge us harshly if we fail at this critical moment. (Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, UNCED, 1992)
        - ...we can waste the planets resources for a few decades more...we must realize that one day the storm will break on the heads of future generations. For them it will be too late. (UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, UNCED, 1992)

        - Every bit of evidence I've seen persuades me we are on a course leading to tragedy. I don't agree with those who say the status quo is the answer. (UNCED Secretary General Maurice F. Strong, UNCED, 1992)

- Lesley McAllister

March 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

21st Century Statelessness

The BBC's most recent article,"Kiribati mulls Fiji land purchase in battle against sea," describes the more novel land purchases that climate change forces some to consider.  The article describes Kiribati's 'last resort' option for moving their population, while keeping some communities intact.  I have written on this topic and offer one short essay reposted here.

“Drowning” Nations: Climate-Induced Migration and the Advent of 21st Century-Statelessness

Migration of peoples and communities due to climate change may have dramatic effect on the globe in the next half-century.  It is estimated that some 200 million people worldwide may be on the move because of increased storms, flooding, sea level-rise, and desertification.  For some small-islanders the perils of migration will be made worse by the loss of the State.  In other words, while displacement within and across borders may be a compulsory journey for many ‘climate migrants,’ small-islanders may be on the move absent a country to which to return.

Of particular concern are island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans—including, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Kiribati, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, among others.  Already grim climate forecasts suggest that they may face challenges to their existing livelihoods, which are heavily dependent upon coastal resources.  Sea-level rise, coastal inundation, seawater intrusion into freshwater sources and soil salinization compromise freshwater availability and adversely affects coastal agriculture.  Indeed, this is already occurring in some Pacific island communities. 

These climate change impacts will exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities typical of nation-states of similar size and stage of development—with small economies, highly dependent on imports and weather-dependent exports.  For some states, however, climate change threatens their very survival.  Juxtaposed with their infinitesimal contribution to global emission, the threats to their existence are significant when viewed through any ethical, legal, or geopolitical lens. 

It has been 20 years since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first stated that the “gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration;” yet the international community has made no legal or political progress on the issue in the interim.  A number of challenges inherent to the migration discourse aid this political lethargy.  A persistent lack of information undermines the conversation in three main respects:

(i) Estimating the number of people and reasons why they may need to move.  While 200 to 250 million climate migrants by 2050 are the most widely cited numbers, estimates vary greatly – from a relatively small 25 million to a high of one billion depending on the greenhouse gas emissions scenarios employed, among other factors.

(ii) Identifying the type of migration that an arbiter can directly and causally link to climate change versus the normally multi-causal influences on migration.  The many potential and overlapping causes of migration confound settled numbers for displacement, both current and estimated.  Deteriorating environmental conditions interact with other relevant factors, including levels of development, governance, and the capacity for individuals, communities, and countries to adapt to external pressures, climate-related or otherwise.  Further, demographic markers, such as age, sex, culture, education level and work experience as well as general risk perception and risk aversion, play an integral part in the decision and ability to move.

Finally, (iii) Affixing the appropriate term for those who may move.  To the extent that one could directly link a given climate-related storm, for example, and the displacement of peoples in its path, there is no agreed upon definition for those dislocated.  “Climate refugees” has been the mostly widely used term in popular discourse, which certain scholars vigorously defend.  From a law and policy standpoint, however, the term “refugee” is not an accurate reflection of the legal status of these migrants.  In fact, those dislocated due to impacts reasonably related to climate change have no legal status at all.  Finding an appropriate term is vital, however, as clearly defined and articulated legal categories delimit the rights of individuals and the concomitant obligations that bind relevant states and the international community.

With these challenges and the absence of empirical information, the plight of climate migrants is easily sidestepped.  This might continue to occur in the larger context of global migration.  For small island states, however, there are myriad reasons to act now.  In particular, for certain small islanders, the assumption that climate impacts may lead in a linear way to migration is clear. 

In the extreme scenarios that small island states face, there exist again significant gaps in the current legal infrastructure.  There are international law regimes that govern issues of deprivation of nationality following the succession of a state, for example.  There are none, however, that govern circumstances in which no successor state exists and the predecessor state has disappeared.  When island states are no longer inhabited and the population is permanently displaced to other countries, it is unclear whether they may become stateless persons under international law or if they become merely landless citizens of a state that no longer exists.  An international or regional legal regime, swiftly conceived and implemented, is vital to resolve this kind of question.  The complexity of the issue and the immediate threat of climate change call for early efforts at planning and coordination.  The alternative is disorganized and insufficient aid that might come too late.

-Maxine Burkett

March 11, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)