Wednesday, March 27, 2013
This is a post-script to my 2012 series about my environmental experiences living in China as a visiting American environmental law professor. (For the full series background, see the introductory post, reflections on China and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, an account of air quality issues in China, an exploration of water quality issues, a review of Chinese food and consumer product safety, differing Chinese and American conceptions of the human relationship to nature, cultural approaches to conservation, stewardship, and scarcity, and parting musings about the philosophical roots of some of these differences and the processes of cultural change.)
My family and I returned from Qingdao to Portland, Oregon months ago, but the experience remains vivid. As the Year of the Snake begins, we find ourselves poignantly missing our friends and adopted family members across the Pacific. Yet as news reports broadcast apocalyptic levels of air pollution in North China this winter, we are also grateful to be home. This essay is about the experience of coming back to the United States from China, or perhaps more generally, returning to the developed world from that which is still developing. It mixes deep gratitude for the blessings of the American bounty with queasy culpability over the implications of that bounty for international and intergenerational equity.
(Note: To contextualize our experience returning to the U.S., I include photographs depicting our contrasting experiences in China.)
The Long Journey Home Begins. In departing Qingdao, we flew to Seoul, South Korea, then on to Los Angeles, and finally to Portland. It was a long trip, but the transitioning away from China began immediately. Seoul is barely an hour’s flight from Qingdao, but the airport was already worlds away—eerily foreign from that with which we’d become accustomed. Surfaces were shiny and clean (and strangely well lit), as though everything had just been wiped down. Airport shops sold unimaginably expensive perfumes, gadgets, and chachkis. We devoured the best sandwiches we have ever had in our lives from a Quizno’s free-standing cart in the middle of the airport corridor. We didn’t speak for the entire meal; we just savored the fresh lettuce, tomato, and avocado.
And I should note that despite this overly indulgent reunion, I was intensely aware of no longer being the fattest person in every room that I occupy.
On our second or day back, I went grocery shopping with my four-year old son. I was mentally prepared for how psychologically fraught this might be. I had often heard tell of the experience from the other side—what it was like for Chinese and other foreigners to walk into an American supermarket for the first time. I knew it would be overwhelming, with fifteen brands of nearly identical peanut butter and every possible signal of over-consumption. I believed that knowing this would steel me for the experience, but I was wrong. I walked in with my son and within seconds I felt dizzy and confused. Everything was so sterilized, and there was just so much of it all. No animals roaming around or strung up on a rack, but so much light and color and so many brands... So much electronic activity, so much everything.
I dropped something, and I froze in my tracks like a crashing computer, because I couldn’t figure out whether to pick it up (the correct response in the U.S., to avoid littering) or leave it on the ground (the correct response in China, where things that have touched the ground should not be touched with clean hands). It was all I could do to lead my baffled son back out the door and collect myself on a nearby bench.
I shut my eyes, centered my breathing, and considered how much we wanted those strawberries. And then, after just a moment’s recovery, I weirdly just walked back inside and went shopping. Like I had never left. In fact, I knew exactly what to do. I plucked a sani-wipe from the dispenser, cleaned the handle of a shopping cart, plopped my son in the front, and roamed the aisles collecting milk, toilet paper, and just the right brand of peanut butter. Suddenly, it wasn’t so strange after all.
Which became its own haunting experience: was all this excess really my personal norm?? So help me, it was. This was my normal, and normal for everyone else now around me, auto-piloting through this most basic American chore. But why didn’t they know how abnormal it really was? Don’t they know what the rest of the world eats and where they find it? That most people alive today (or at any time in history) could never imagine a place like this? Why aren’t all these people moving distractedly around me more upset about the imbalance, the gluttony, the unfairness of it all? Why are they just walking around like there’s nothing weird at all about any of this at all, when EVERYTHING about it is completely bizarre?
Strangers in Our Own Land. Navigating the rest of our renewed American lives continued along the same strange lines of being simultaneously refreshing and disturbing.
It was hard to get over how clean the world suddenly seemed. Like a movie set, because it couldn’t really possibly be that clean. The streets and houses are clean. The air is brilliant; sweeter than I had imagined. Colors seem brighter because the air is clean, without the billowing Chinese particulates that dull the visual edges of everything in sight. We revel in immersing ourselves in a bathtub once again, and running the clothes dryer is a guilty pleasure. Our clothes no longer smell like air pollution, inevitable as they hang to dry amidst those plumes of particulates. But of course, running that American clothes dryer is probably adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in ways that rival particulate pollution.
There is not so much litter here in the U.S., and not so much dust. We were amazed to discover that our house had less dust on its surfaces after having been left alone for an entire year than we experienced on a daily basis in China. (No exaggeration: our East China home dusted in the morning was saturated again by evening. But then again, we all know what dust is mostly made of—dead skin cells. There are more than a billion people crowded along China’s East Coast; you can do the math.) Nature in the U.S. is spectacular. The grass really is greener; the sky improbably blue. The moon is no rounder in America (as the Chinese sometimes joke it must be), but here you can find the man in it. And yet we also have to remember not to look directly at the sun, as we so often could in China.
This was a hard lesson for my son, who had become used to gazing openly upon that smoky, blazing orb in the sky. But oh, how his eyes lit up to once again play in a public playground—that monument to the carefree, whimsical freedoms of childhood! We never once found a children’s playground in China (at least one that wasn’t gated into the grounds of an expensive private school). And in his own preschool yard, the children were required to follow a prescribed order of activities, one at a time, during outdoor play: up the rope ladder, down the red slide, and then back in line, single-file, to wait your turn for another chance.
My son loved his Chinese teachers, who could not have been more loving or patient with him, and he gradually adjusted to the controlled style of Chinese schooling. But back in Portland, we enrolled him in a local Montessori preschool, where learning activities were largely self-directed. At first, the teachers didn’t know what to do with his hesitation to act independently. “He asks permission to do everything!” one said, openly exasperated, “I’ve never seen anything like it!” After I explained the up-the-rope-ladder, down-the-red-slide nature of his previous experience, she began to better appreciate the depth of his transition. And perhaps more about the infinite cultural differences that follow from these deeply contrasting starting points.
Cultural Pride and Cultural Shame. Public safety and sanitation is different here. It took a while for us to trust that cars would truly stop for us in crosswalks and were not likely to pull up and park on the sidewalk we were walking along. I’m happy to no longer scour medical offices for unclean surfaces and unsterilized needles, as I had learned (the hard way) to do in China. I no longer worry about giving my child medicine when he is sick. That said, after a year of regularly assuring our Chinese friends that not every American owns an assault rifle, we returned directly to the Clackamas Town Center mall shooting that took place just a few miles from our home, and then the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown. I have never been more speechless, and so filled with national shame, trying to explain these events to some former Chinese students studying abroad here.
But there are also moments of immense cultural pride. I cannot boast enough about American tap water, with which we are all hopelessly in love. Drinking directly from the sink never gets old, and Oregon water is especially heavenly. My husband’s workmates found him drawing a mug from the bathroom faucet and reminded him that there was a filtered cooler somewhere in the office—and he laughed until he almost cried. We now understand that there is nothing in the world better than lukewarm, reliably running, municipally treated American tap water. Nothing! (And we need to do better to protect this hard-won feature of modern American life against backsliding regulation that would endanger it.)
Still, it has been confusing for me to wash dishes and water plants with this perfectly potable water. It feels excessively wasteful. It boggles my mind to see people using it to sprinkler lawns and wash cars. “No, no,” I think, “are you crazy? You could drink that!” But here in the U.S., all water that flows from a municipally-linked faucet is treated to be drinkable—even what gets used at the carwash. Which is obviously insane, especially in the arid West. I hope Americans will come to understand how incredibly fortunate we are to have drinkable tap water, before we end up not having it anymore.
At Home in America. Our neighborhood is lovely with trees and grass and wildlife, but strange with people. It’s weird the way we all drive to our individual houses, press the button on a garage door opener, and then drive into our homes without ever even getting out of the car. If you don’t walk a dog, it’s easy to never see neighbors face to face. In China, families take purposeful neighborhood walks after dinner, where they see friends and spontaneously mingle with strangers. Public spaces are alive with community in China, but here, we are much more isolated. We live close to our neighbors, but with little random interaction. With Tivo and Pandora, we don’t even partake in the same real-time broadcasts—no longer united in this last vestige of shared experience.
Americans are so alone, my visiting Chinese students tell me from their disbelieving vantages points. Public spaces are so empty by comparison. The country is so empty, with vast unpopulated tracts of land. “And I am so lonely here,” they almost always say, anxious to return to the thick sense of community they left behind. One student has his own room for the first time in his life—and he hates it. There is nobody to talk to. Nobody to care if you are even there or not.
While adjusting to being back in our own house—and as a reaction to how careful we were about not eating anything that had been in contact with anything that had been in contact with a floor—we became unreasonably nonchalant practitioners of the “five second rule,” to an indefensible extreme at first. But after eating and breathing for a year in China, we returned with the impression that it didn’t really matter what we put in our bodies anymore. A little dirt won’t hurt, we tell ourselves; how bad could that floor really be? (There’s barely even any dust!) And for that matter, why bother with organic? Why sweat the preservatives? After our year abroad, we have been fully absolved of the illusion that our bodies are temples.
But our house—goodness gracious—is ridiculously, shamefully big. I was deeply embarrassed when my Chinese students came to visit us in December. I wanted so much to host them here, while they were alone in a strange land and unable to be with their own families as Americans celebrated unfamiliar holidays. But at the same time, I cringed at the thought of showing them where I live. I didn’t want them to think about what it represents, in terms of the differences in our lives that were invisible while I lived in the boxy Chinese apartment in which my own family members nearly killed each other for lack of personal space, and which was about twice the size of the apartments that my students lived in with their families their entire lives. True enough, their eyes nearly left their heads when they arrived, and I somehow managed to never show them the master bathroom.
That said, I have never loved a material object more than I love my own oversized, coil-spring, pillow-top, all around over-the-top American bed now that I am back in it. It is soft, and it doesn’t hurt my bones the way every Chinese bed I slept in did while we were gone. I returned from China with bursitis in my hips because Chinese beds are so hard. But it isn’t just my American bed that has me in thrall: here there are comfortable chairs, with back support and arm rests. There is wall-to-wall carpeting, with padding beneath. On my first day back, I sank into the family couch and realized with astonishment that it had been a full year since I’d been physically comfortable. Embarrassingly, my body wilted into the cushions like a crying child to her mother. My fallen arches stopped screaming about the constant concrete floor underfoot.
Of course, this too is purely a matter of culture. One of my visiting Chinese students confessed that he had been sleeping on the floor since his arrival in the US because American beds are all too soft. Everything in the US is so unbearably soft, he complained—even the floors are soft! “Why are Americans so soft?” he asked innocently, honestly unaware of the gravity of his question.
Freedoms for Granted. The night before we left Qingdao, I stayed up past midnight with some of my favorite students talking about everything we could fit in before my departure, everything we hadn’t spoken about yet. Tiananmen. Terrorism. When NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia during the Clinton administration. What our parents tried to teach us about our roles in the world.
My students told me that the number one message their parents had tried to impart to them was to stay out of trouble: keep your head down, don’t stand out, don’t call attention to yourself. In the wake of Tiananmen, these were survival instructions. They described how their parents lovingly prepared them for their world by teaching them to disappear as much as possible into the background. Then they asked me what my parents taught me while I was growing up. I answered hesitatingly that my parents had raised me to never be afraid, to believe it was my responsibility to speak out, to stand up for what was right, and to change the world if necessary. We collectively stared at each other from across this enormous gulf of cultural experience, with both affection and amazement, as the significance penetrated.
In the air between Seoul and Los Angeles, while scribbling purposely vague notes about these conversations, it suddenly occurred to me that I no longer needed to be so vague. I could write freely. I didn’t have to be purposely ambiguous about connecting names with events or statements. I could make full sentences rather than mnemonics. For the first time in a year, I didn’t have to worry about my notes being found by uninvited visitors to my apartment, as I’d been warned to possibly expect at our orientation in Beijing. I didn’t have to worry, as I had meticulously done all year, that the details I recorded would bring trouble for my friends.
I had the same experience during my first telephone conversation with my sister (a sibling—so un-Chinese!) on arriving home. After a year’s worth of careful email and skype communication, always aware that what I had to say could be unintentionally interesting to someone other than my intended audience, I could suddenly speak freely. My Chinese friends had warned me to assume that my phone calls in China were not private, and I experienced at least one clear instance of intercepted email. But now, nothing I said could hurt anyone anymore. I could relax! But no, I couldn’t relax. It took a long while for me to shed the feeling of carefulness that must be part of the fabric of communication for many Chinese.
Between Worlds. So yes, the paradox of our homecoming has been this disjuncture between feeling so at once lost on return and like we never left. Supermarkets aside, it was remarkably easy to rejoin American culture. Just as one never forgets how to ride a bicycle, it turns out that I had no trouble at all remembering how to drive a car, even after my year as a passenger (in a culture with unrecognizable traffic rules). I knew how to use a credit card, seek directions, and chat idly at the checkout line—at just the right level of detail, and for just the right amount of time. I knew how to watch television, program the remote, read the news, operate a dishwasher, cook in an oven, and do all the other things I had not done for the full year away. I knew how to operate American culture like an expert. It was easy to return, seductively comfortable, and mercifully welcoming to one already on the inside.
Yet reverse culture shock sneaks up on you. A few weeks after we got back, I fell into what I can only describe as a brief but intense depression. I had heard that culture shock on return could produce something like this, and I figure that’s what it was, because it seemed untethered to anything else I could point to. I was delighted to be home in my soft bed and comfortable chair with my candy bowl of grape tomatoes, breathing fresh air and drinking tap water, using my clothes washer and dryer. Reasonable expectations of privacy, food and drug inspection, pedestrian safety, political freedoms—hallelujah, we were home!
But these were guilty pleasures, most, because of course life is nicer in the first world. Back now to that dizzy place. How to feel about all this? What about those we left behind? So strange to have worked so hard to find a way to fit in to this vastly different country—to penetrate the language, politics, and cultural traditions beneath the surface most tourists encounter—and then to just seemingly leave it all behind.
Then again, I know I’m not really leaving it all behind. Each of us will remain a bridge between the two cultures in our own ways—me as a teacher and scholar, my husband in his own career, my mother in her study of Chinese poetry, and my son as a child of two worlds now.
Indeed, in the weeks after we returned, my son spoke Chinese fluently and frequently, confused when his efforts to engage strangers in Mandarin failed. As time wears on, his moments of Mandarin are fewer and farther between, even though I take him to a Saturday afternoon class for children at the local community college. As the Year of the Snake began, he proudly adorned the scarlet New Year’s suit that our Chinese friends had given him at Spring Festival last year. He was so proud to be Chinese again, if only for the day. The next day, he was happy to be an American again, romping freely around the neighborhood playground. So yes, he is a clearly a child of two worlds now.
And in some smaller way, I guess I am too.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
This essay, the last in my series about the environmental experiences of an environmental law professor in China, concludes my three-part discussion about how different underlying environmental philosophies held by American and Chinese people can lead to different approaches in environmental governance. The first part addressed differences in the human relationship to nature, and the second addressed differing approaches to conservation, stewardship, and scarcity. This essay concludes with parting thoughts about the philosophical roots of some of these differences, the Cultural Revolution and the processes of cultural change, and the significance of all this for environmental protection in China. (For the full series background, see the introductory post, reflections on China and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, an account of air quality issues in China, an exploration of water quality issues, and a review of Chinese food and consumer product safety.)
I began the previous two essays about environmental philosophy by acknowledging the delicacy of exploring the underlying cultural differences that correspond to some of the environmental experiences I’ve written about in this forum. I noted how exquisitely careful one must be in discussing cultural differences, given the inherent shortfalls of any individual’s limited perspective and experience. And before plunging once more into that fraught territory (and with apologies for the repetition), I’ll once more share the important qualification that:
My observations are inevitably, hopelessly entangled with my own cultural vantage point. My Fulbright year did not make me an expert on the inner world of Chinese culture—nor, frankly, did my earlier Harvard degree in Chinese language, culture, and history. My observations qualify as neither empirical scholarship nor serious ethnography, based as they are on casual research, personal experiences, anecdotes, and generalizations. But in hope that they may be useful in illuminating the philosophical roots of some gaps between Chinese and U.S. approaches to environmental governance, I share them here.
In the prior two essays, I discussed how diverging Chinese and American environmental perspectives may be informed by different baselines in our cultural relationships with the natural world, and expressed through our different approaches to managing conservation, stewardship, and scarcity. This final piece, the most fraught and likely flawed of the three, considers the relationship between the Chinese approach and the Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian ideals that undergird Chinese culture. It engages issues of gender roles, environmental protection, and cultural change in both China and the United States (with a shout-out to Vietnam).
But first, a brief note about the cultural baggage that I bring to the project. Long before this seemed prudent to the average American college student, I majored in Chinese language, culture, and politics as an undergraduate in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I had started out as a philosophy major but switched departments in order to study Eastern traditions that were not part of the standard Western philosophy curriculum. I locked myself in the language lab to catch up on my Mandarin so that I could graduate on time, but it was worth it to peer into the incredible story of this unfamiliar nation. I was riveted by the breadth of Chinese history, the expanse of Chinese philosophical traditions, and the cultural foundations—so contrasting my own—that enabled modern societal movements like the Cultural Revolution and One Child Policy. I was curious about Confucianism and Buddhism and especially enchanted with the Naturalist School of Taoism, in which I saw an emphasis on harmony between the human and natural worlds that resonated with my own personal sensibilities. From Taoism originates the philosophy conception of Yin and Yang (literally, “the shadow and the light”), emphasizing the surprising but inevitable ways that seemingly opposing forces are interdependent and interconnected within the world, suspended in an organic embrace of balance.
So I was very excited when the Fulbright program and Chinese Ministry of Education placed me in Shandong province, the historic home not only of Confucius but also to many renowned Taoist temples among the enchanting Laoshan mountains. I knew that China faced daunting environmental challenges, but in some subconscious way, I hoped that home-grown Taoist principles would provide cultural support for resolving them. But the Taoism I found in China held little in common with the stylized, “Tao-of-Pooh” version that I studied in college. The Taoist temples that I visited appeared to emphasize faithful worship of colorful immortals over personal adherence to the Way (or “Tao”) of simple joy and interconnected balance. On the surface, they seemed very similar to Buddhist temples, which I had expected to differentiate a contrasting path of detachment to avoid suffering within cycles of rebirth.
Fully recognizing the interpretive limitations of my tourist perspective, I asked the students accompanying me to help me understand the differences between Taoism and Buddhism from their own vantage points, but I found that they were generally unable to articulate much about either tradition—nor were they terribly interested in doing so. What they did describe was wholly unrelated to my own schooling, focusing on important historical moments rather than underlying ideas. Granted, I’m sure I would have had a very different experiences talking with the actual Taoist or Buddhist monks in those temples, and I suspect that many echoes of these traditions continue to reverberate through Chinese culture in ways that neither I nor my students fully appreciate. (I’m also sure that the sterilized versions I learned at Harvard never accurately reflected the full reality of Chinese experience.) Either way, I discovered that the majority of mainland Chinese don’t pay all that much attention to these ancient traditions these days—many seeing them as quaint at best, and culturally backward at worst.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, given how strongly (and often violently) ancient Chinese philosophies were discouraged during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. In that second Chinese revolution, Chairman Mao set out to eradicate the traditional belief systems that he warned were holding the Chinese people back--and also, most likely, to consolidate his own weakening political power. Women were liberated from centuries of repression and peasants at the bottom of the social order were exalted, but teachers were pilloried, libraries destroyed, and many monks and scholars persecuted to their deaths. (Horrifying estimates suggest that somewhere between one and twenty million people were killed during the decade-long struggle.) Four decades later, it was fascinating to see how the Cultural Revolution had succeeded in some of its ideological objectives, especially in eroding the overt roles that Taoism and Buddhism play in the philosophical world of most mainland Chinese. For what it’s worth, though, the same routing of “old thinking” has also succeeded in fundamentally changing the status of women in society. While women are hardly co-equal with men in modern China, their position in society has improved immeasurably since 1949, thanks in part to the relentless urging of the early communist party that “women hold up half the sky.”
This example of purposeful cultural change yields an especially fascinating comparison with Vietnam, a neighboring socialist republic that is also the result of a political revolution, but this one uncoupled from a cultural revolution of the sort that rocked China. In Vietnam, the rhetoric of the new political order stands on seemingly equal footing with ancient cultural and philosophical traditions. Nearly every home, hotel, or restaurant that I visited included a little shrine, honoring a mix of immortals, ancestors, and other objects of traditional worship— unselfconsciously adjacent to political propaganda signs honoring heroes of the revolution or touting contemporary political objectives and loyalty. The richness of traditional Vietnamese culture continues to suffuse people’s everyday lives, in contrast to modern China, where cultural traditions flourish around holidays but seem less entrenched at other times. (Indeed, several Chinese privately lamented to me that the nation had lost its ethical moorings after the decimation of the Cultural Revolution, perhaps explaining the hunger for spiritual entrepreneur movements like Falun Gong—which revives some elements of Buddhism and Taoism—and Christianity.)
Yet in Vietnam, I also observed the inevitable flip-side of entrenched ancient traditions—a literal expression of the Yin and the Yang—epitomized by the plight of a remarkable woman I met while guest lecturing there, whom I’ll call Linh. Linh is a twenty-something, overseas-educated, up-and-coming young professional with a plumb job working for the government who nevertheless fretted about her future, especially regarding marriage. She feared getting married because, according to traditions once universal in China and still prevalent in northern Vietnam, marriage would require her to leave her family home and become a member of her husband’s family household, where she expected ill-treatment from her parents-in-law.
She had a vivid picture of what that treatment might look like based on the experiences of her own sister-in-law, who lived together with her, her brother, their toddler, and Linh’s parents in her father’s home. The sister-in-law had been unable to see her own family since the birth of her son, because Linh’s father had forbidden her from taking the child away from the family home for the two hour journey to her village.
Linh summoned the courage to tell her father that he should be nicer to his daughter-in-law and allow her to see her parents. After all, she reminded him, one day she would be someone’s daughter-in-law wanting to see him. But he did not take well to being scolded by his daughter, and nothing changed as a result. Linh seems resigned that she will someday have to get married, but she does not look forward to that day.
It broke my heart to hear—in 2012!—this age-old story of fear and sorrow from a well-educated professional woman at the pinnacle of Vietnamese society. Aside from the foreign education and government job, her story is reminiscent of countless Chinese women over the thousands of years that young brides were forced to leave their parents’ households for their husbands’, often to be persecuted by an unhappy mother-in-law once forced to leave her own family. I recall learning in college that the suicide rate among young Chinese women during this time was estimated to be the highest of any social group anywhere on earth at any time in human history, evidencing the misery that so many endured. (Sadly, recent studies show that this trend continues in rural China, where traditional family structures remain entrenched.) Fortunately, that time is long gone in the urbanizing parts of China that I visited, and the situation is much improved in Vietnam as well, given the social and economic power that comes to women like Linh from working outside the home. So at least some of the “old thinking” extinguished by the Chinese Revolution should not be missed—even if many of the methods can never be condoned.
Yet not every aspect of traditional Chinese culture was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Notwithstanding the dismantling of so many foundations, one critical cornerstone of traditional Chinese culture survived relatively intact: Confucianism. Founded on the teachings of the ancient philosopher Confucius, the philosophy of Confucianism continues to provide a strong ethic of righteous living and rules of conduct in relationships that redounds throughout Chinese culture. As a humanist delineator of right and wrong behavior, it focuses on the cultivation of personal virtue, respect for authority, and deference to proper roles within the community. Among its principles, Confucianism emphasizes the importance of education, reverence for the ancestors, and the critical responsibilities of individuals within clearly articulated social hierarchies.
Confucian ethics are among the proudest cultural traditions of China, and they form the backbone of many other Asian cultures, from Vietnam to Japan to Korea. They infuse the flavor and texture of Chinese society, gracing it with respectful behavior, deep regard for the wisdom of elders, and societal support for teachers and education more generally. It also emphasizes the proper role of individuals given their particular role within the social order. Children should obey parents, wives should obey husbands, and husbands should obey local leaders, who should, in turn, obey national leaders. This system of ordered relationships has provided needed social stability during times of great political upheaval, reaching back over thousands of years of territorial conquest and dynastic change that might have otherwise torn Chinese culture apart.
So even after the Cultural Revolution successfully eradicated the already weakening traditions of Taoism and Buddhism from the Chinese popular consciousness, the Confucian bedrock of Chinese society continues to thrive—probably because the current political system is itself so well-aligned with Confucian principles. The success of the Chinese Communist Party is inextricably intertwined with broad-based Confucian respect for the wisdom of national leadership, deference to authority, and Confucian-cultivated obedience within an explicit societal hierarchy. Of course, in reinforcing these strict social hierarchies, Confucianism has also facilitated the long stability of arguably oppressive traditions like the practice of female foot-binding (eradicated by the mid-20th century), and the gender roles that continue to haunt women like Linh throughout Asia. The Yin and the Yang.
How, then, does all this relate to environmental governance? Possibly profoundly. Even as the great tradition of Confucianism exhorts right behavior within the social order (and even setting aside the most contested areas of that social order), I cannot help but wonder about the relationship between Confucian principles and environmental ethics. As I discussed in the previous essay, I found a less entrenched cultural tradition of environmental stewardship in China than I have seen in equally crowded nations, and I wondered why. For example, I remarked on the striking way that most Chinese seem to differentiate between the care they take of the environment inside their own homes and the care they take of the environment beyond their front doors:
“Inside the home, Chinese people take immaculate care to maintain cleanliness and beauty. Shoes are often left at the front door. Walls and shelves are adorned with enchanting art and objects reflecting the majestic culmination of thousands of years of traditional Chinese culture…. But outside that front door, the duty of care appears to end. Common doors, hallways, and stairwells in Chinese apartment buildings receive little attention from residents; empty walls are often cracked with peeling paint and crumbling cement in seemingly abandoned hallways that open surprisingly into those beautifully maintained dwellings once you cross the inner threshold. This may reflect other collective action problems relating to commonly-owned property, but it also reflects a widespread sense that what happens beyond the inner threshold is someone else’s responsibility.
“Crossing the outer threshold onto the street reveals an even more dramatic difference… Littering is a human cultural problem throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world, demonstrated by American smokers who continue to discard cigarette butts indiscriminately, long since cultural tolerance for this waned after the 1970s environmental movement. But in China, cultural permission to discard waste in public places extends beyond water bottles and cigarette butts, complicating the environmentalist message... [discussing the tradition of allowing children to toilet-train on public streets and sidewalks]. With so much Chinese ground thus anointed, the outside environment is generally (and correctly) viewed as a terribly unclean place….
“Here’s the thing. If you see the world outside your own home as a legitimate place to offload waste… how can this not extend to greater environmental management? If it’s culturally permissible to drop litter (and worse) on the street or the beach, why wouldn’t it be okay to release manufacturing waste into the river, or pipe it into the air? The potential implications for environmental law are obvious. Because it’s not just an economic challenge for the government to convince industrialists not to pollute; in some important way, it’s also a cultural challenge. Professional polluters aren’t just doing it because it’s cheaper than the alternative. They are doing it because—at some level—it’s what they have always done, and without moral misgivings.”
Indeed, in China, moral misgivings are more likely to come from the violation of Confucian ethics than the violation of relatively new, state-mandated environmental laws. And herein lies the great challenge for Chinese environmental law.
Confucianism teaches the maintenance of social order through right behavior within strictly nested social hierarchies. Chinese culture is permeated with Confucian ethics, which teach people to focus on their own sphere of responsibility and act obediently toward the sphere above them. These ethics reinforce the power of the very political system now earnestly trying to generate meaningful environmental laws and nurture the “Recycling Economy” that I discussed in the previous essay. But in teaching people to focus on their own sphere and not beyond, is it possible that these same ethics unwittingly support an underlying environmental tendency to think, perhaps, a little too locally and not enough globally? Could Confucian ethics unintentionally encourage a duty of care that extends only to the corner of the world under one’s direct control—the inside of one’s home—leaving responsibility for the rest to others? Could this help explain the comparatively weak tradition of environmental stewardship in China?
It certainly can’t be the only explanation, given the confluence of Confucian ethics and strong environmental stewardship traditions in neighboring Japan, another Asian nation founded on deeply Confucian traditions, coupled with a Shintoist reverence for nature. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether there is some explanation lurking here to account for the remarkable way that the Chinese duty of care for the environment seems to coincide with Confucian circles of agency, responsibility, and authority. Americans sport buttons and bumper stickers exalting us to “think globally, act locally.” But most Chinese people seem to orient both their thinking and acting within the bounds of their most powerful culturally designated sphere of responsibility: the family home.
Confucian ideals remain steadfast in China, but cultural change is imminent—and on the rise, thanks to both top-down and bottom-up sources. Operating through the Internet from the bottom up, a thriving economy of Chinese social media has dislodged young people from the strictly local sphere as they build communities of interest across the country (although not the world, thanks to the “Great Firewall” that blocks domestic access to social networks abroad). And as I discussed in the previous essay, the Chinese government is working hard from the top-down—hopefully harnessing citizens’ Confucian respect for leadership—to inseminate a “Recycling Economy” within the new social order. The Recycling or “Circular Economy” sustainability campaign exhorts citizens to see the relationship between their every-day behaviors and the health of the overall environment beyond their front doors, and to connect the health of the environment to overall human well-being.
But there is no way around it: the environmental project in China is going to take an act of cultural change. The Cultural Revolution represents one way of successfully implementing cultural change, but nobody inside or outside China would advocate the tragic human and cultural violence of that method today. Instead, this is the time for a gentler variety or ideological entrepreneurship—best accomplished through the old-fashioned tools of community-based education and consciousness raising and the new-fangled platforms of mass and online social media.
Facebook and Weibo aside, it’s the same kind of cultural change that made recycling ideals an every-day part of American life. I still remember when curbside recycling began in my childhood neighborhood and we were asked, for the first time, to rinse cans and bottles before putting them out for street-side collection in big blue bins. My incensed father simply could not get past the idea that he was being asked to “wash garbage” (and then to pollute his pretty neighborhood with ugly blue bins). “But it’s not garbage,” my sister and I insisted—“it’s recycling!” And the blue bins weren’t ugly to us, because we found beauty in the good they would do for our environment (similar to the philosophically-driven aesthetic I find in many of today’s modern wind farms). This is what we had learned in school, though obviously not at home, and our family demonstrates the way that cultural learning can move through the generations backwards as well as forwards. My father, now in his seventies, today dutifully washes the recycling and my mother maintains separate receptacles for paper, plastic, glass and aluminum, and trash. This is what cultural change looks like.
Cultural change should come from within, not without, goes the very wise wisdom. The good news is that the “Recycling Economy” and other efforts to increase public sustainability awareness show that Chinese leaders are taking steps toward environmental progress, and a series of unprecedented public protests over pollution show that the Chinese public is also beginning to engage serious environmental issues. Just as China takes on issues of conservation and stewardship, so should Americans better grapple with our issues of overconsumption and waste. Indeed, all human beings must learn to live more sustainably, but the world’s two largest economies bear special responsibility. All of us must take care not only of our homes, but the hallways, streets, creeks, lakes, rivers, oceans, atmosphere, and biosphere that make up our shared environmental home. And as we move forward together through separate acts of philosophical growth, economic development, and cultural change—it just might help us to understand a little bit about exactly where each of us is coming from.
Which, in the end, has been the ultimate purpose of this series of essays. Now that I am back in the U.S. and reintegrating into the strange traditions of my own culture, I conclude the year-long series with the sincere hope that they have contributed helpfully in some small way to our ongoing cultural dialog, conducted in hundreds of thousands of individual points of contact every day. Indeed, U.S.-China relations have never been more important than they are right now, for both nations—and because of the collective environmental, economic, and political impacts beyond our own borders, to all the peoples of the world. Together, with a little patience, humility, humor, and mutual respect, we can all continue building that bridge toward a brighter future, brick by individual brick.
After all, it was the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu—the founder of Taoism—who intoned around 500 B.C. that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What do you think would happen if all 1.8 billion Chinese and Americans took that single step at the same time?
Monday, September 17, 2012
I had been wondering what ordinary people in India think about climate change. So last week on my ride home from the office, I asked my auto-rickshaw driver. He was a talkative guy, bearded, with black spectacles and a navy blue turban. He had been keen on identifying for me the many troubles a man like him endures on the subcontinent. “Too many people!” he shouted, his voice competing with the cab’s rattling frame and the bleats of oncoming horns. “Too much traffic!”
We swung around a landscaped rotary. I gripped my seat. A copse of date palms swerved by, and then a billboard: “Enrich Delhi’s Green Legacy.” I took the bait. “So what do think about global warming?” I shouted. We slowed to a stop behind a row of cars and two-wheelers waiting at the light. He cut the motor. A small boy pranced into the stalled traffic and began turning cartwheels in hopes of a small remuneration. “Yes, I know about that,” the driver said. “Too much warming. Too much heat.” “But do you worry about it?” “Me—no.” He fired the engine and frowned slightly. “You know, India has too much noise!” he shouted. “And too many dogs! Too many everything.”
I continue to grill my Indian acquaintances on climate change, but I’ve now found a more scientific source of information. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a report last month, “Climate Change in the Indian Mind,” that takes a broad look at climate change awareness and attitudes in modern India. Based on a survey of 4,035 Indians—both urban and rural, from a range of income and education levels—the report presents an encouraging view of the world’s biggest and most perplexing environmental challenge in the world’s biggest and most perplexing representative democracy.
Like the rickshaw wallah in Delhi, most Indians are aware of changing trends in the climate. According to the report:
Only 7 percent of respondents said they know “a lot” about global warming, while 41 percent had never heard of it or said, “I don’t know.” However, after hearing a short definition of global warming, 72 percent said they believe global warming is happening, 56 percent said it is caused mostly by human activities, 50 percent said they have already personally experienced the effects, and 61 percent said they are worried about it.
(Compare that to public opinion the United States. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 52% of Americans say the effects of climate change are now occurring. But ask about the cause, and one finds numbers similar to those in India: 53% percent of Americans, according to Gallup, attribute global warming to human activity.)
But, unlike the rickshaw wallah, most Indians are worried enough about global warming that they want their government to address the problem.
Here’s another excerpt from the report’s “Highlights”:
• Millions of Indians are observing changes in their local rainfall, temperatures, and weather, report more frequent droughts and floods, and a more unpredictable monsoon. A majority of respondents said their own household’s drinking water and food supply, health, and income are vulnerable to a severe drought or flood and that it would take them months to years to recover.
• 54 percent said that India should be making a large or moderate-scale effort to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs.
• Majorities favored a variety of policies to waste less fuel, water, and energy, even if this increased costs.
• 70 percent favored a national program to teach Indians about global warming.
This glimpse into Indian minds must come with caveats. Like any survey, it captures only a moment in time. Plus, it’s easier to favor conservation policies when you don’t know exactly who would bear the cost. Even with a firm public commitment to action, the translation from public will to government policy is notoriously complicated in India. (Or, for that matter, in the United States.)
But the survey offers a ray of hope. India’s ambition of becoming a true global power will depend on its ability to harness green energy and cope with higher temperatures, bigger rains, and longer droughts. In a general way, Indians know this. But ambition means nothing without political leadership. And that is one thing in India that is not in oversupply.
Robert R.M. Verchick is a 2012-2013 Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar and holds the Gauthier ~ St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Today I discuss the curious contrast between China’s role as an international and domestic producer of consumer goods, and some of the implications for average Chinese people. (This is the fifth in my series of reports from the field about the environmental experiences of an environmental law professor in China—for the full background on this series, see February’s introductory post, March’s reflections on China and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, April’s account of air quality issues in China, and May’s exploration of water quality issues.)
While preparing for our year in China, we wondered what we should bring with us from home. Friends joked that given how much of what we use in the United States is actually made in China, we probably didn’t have to bring anything—whatever we needed would be here! But after our arrival, we were surprised to discover how mistaken these assumptions were. It’s true that China produces a lot of the manufactured goods now sold in the U.S. and throughout the world. What’s not true is that they are available for purchase in China. As it turns out, China has two separate manufacturing industries—the factories that produce for export, and those that produce for domestic consumption. In fact, it’s illegal to sell goods produced for export on the domestic market. And while Chinese exports are generally of decent quality, that’s not always the case for products sold in domestic Chinese markets.
Before I say more, it’s important to acknowledge the relationship of this problem to China’s stage of economic development, and the mind-boggling progress it has made over a very short period of time. Just a few decades ago, China was still reeling from the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution and the chaos of the Great Leap Forward and famine times preceding it. Only after the Deng Xiaoping reforms in 1978 did national priorities shift toward full-speed-ahead economic development. In the thirty years since, the nation’s progress in creating new industry and providing for basic human needs has been astonishing—especially in urban areas, and most markedly in the coastal areas like Shanghai and Shenzhen, or the northern city of Qingdao, where we live. But even though there are some 500 million Chinese now using the Internet, some 170 million of them—more than half the population of the U.S.—still live on only a dollar a day.
Of course, such rapid development has been accompanied by the environmental degradation that I’ve written about in previous posts, just as American industrialization did a century ago. And indeed, when you’re trying to feed 700 million mouths in the underdeveloped countryside, it can be hard to focus on ground-level ozone. Still, people living close to the margin are especially vulnerable to environmental harms from pollution and climate-related disasters. Understanding this, the government has increasingly recognized that ongoing development efforts must be better partnered with effective environmental regulation, evidenced by a steady stream of reports about new environmental goals and sustainability initiatives. As far as I can tell, these are mostly hortatory at the moment, but hey—every environmental movement has to start somewhere, and it’s usually with consciousness-raising.
This is all just to fairly contextualize my observations here that, in addition to better managing pollution, China faces an uphill challenge to better ensure the safety of the products its people come into contact with each day. Product safety is like any other environmental regulation; both rely on state enforced rules to ensure that people are not harmed by toxins or hazards, especially when the harm is of the sort that most people couldn’t reliably identify on their own. And at least generally speaking, the safety and quality of domestically marketed Chinese products leaves a lot to desire.
Americans may recall how this problem reached the export market in 2007, when Chinese toys sold in the U.S. were found to have been produced with lead paint. Teething children, those most vulnerable to neurotoxins, risked exposure when they inevitably gummed or sucked on these toys.
As the parent of new baby at the time, I carefully pulled out all of his new toys that had been made in China, just in case. But now imagine the same kind of problem here in China, in every kind of product line, and with only a fraction of the government regulators available to inspect products for health and safety. You can’t just pull everything out, just in case. There will be nothing left.
In China, the most troubling examples relate to food safety. In recent years, there has been a parade of scandals in which chemical toxins have been found in local meats, vegetables, and other products. The most tragic was the milk scandal of 2008, in which several Chinese babies died and hundreds of thousands were sickened by milk products purposefully contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical that raises the apparent protein content of watered-down dairy products (and also causes kidney failure). Responsible parties were fired, jailed, and even executed in punishment—but two years later, it was discovered that 170 tons of contaminated formula that was supposed to be destroyed after the scandal was simply repackaged and resold on the domestic market.
I know Chinese parents who will only give their child imported milk, even though it is by far the most expensive item in the family budget—in absolute terms, 400-500% more expensive than the average milk sold in the U.S. (and this purchased by families with a fraction of the average U.S. income.) These frightened parents will carefully scan UHT milk products to make sure that the only Chinese characters appear on stick-on labels—not the original cartons—ensuring that no part of the production process took place here in China. We were taught to do the same on our arrival, and imported milk soon became the most expensive part of our family budget as well.
Baby formula price differences are even more exaggerated—even one can of imported formula can cost as much as a week’s worth of groceries—which is obviously prohibitive for most Chinese families. But this week, the China Daily reported that formula produced by one of China’s biggest dairy manufacturers was pulled from shelves after testing positive for elevated mercury levels. The Yili Industrial Group recalled three series produced between November and May after inspectors discovered high mercury levels, presumed the result of air, water, and soil pollution from coal-fired power plants and industrial and mining projects. Afterward, the government made an emergency announcement that it had tested 715 samples from all infant milk powders on the market, and none showed abnormal mercury content except Yili’s. But note the use of the word “abnormal,” rather than illegal: perhaps the most chilling aspect of the story is that China doesn’t actually have an official safety standard for mercury in milk power.
(Writing on July 4th, it’s a good moment for me to pause and reflect on the many things I am grateful for in my own country. And even with all of its flaws, I’ve never been more grateful for the FDA than I am right now. Let this be yet another post-it to all my fellow-citizens who have come to take our own regulatory state so for granted that they have forgotten what life would actually look like without it.)
China’s regulatory apparatus is struggling to catch up with the herculean pace of its industrial sector, and the gap between them is exposed by these tragic examples in which local people are hurt by the very products they are racing to produce, ever more quickly and inexpensively. The United States has been here before as well, and it may just be a necessary part of the process of economic development. But China is at that stage where its people are beginning to decide that the health and safety of their children is just as important as other aspects of economic development. The bottom line is that too little of what reaches the Chinese consumer is subject to reliable health and safety inspection based on sensible regulatory standards. And we know Chinese producers can do better, because they meet all kinds of health and safety standards when making goods for export!
Because milk is just the tip of this iceberg. Chinese of means are willing to pay extraordinary amounts for all kinds of foreign products—not just food, but also clothing and electronics. This puzzled me at first, until I lived here long enough to witness just how often the things I buy at the local market break, tear, or otherwise self-destruct. From clocks to toothbrushes to ziplock bags—I don’t know how else to say it—the Chinese goods we buy here just here don’t work very well, or very long. Even as I write, I am sweeping away from my son’s mouth the disintegrating pieces of the nice couch that was relatively new when we moved into our apartment last year (and worrying about what may be in it).
I’m no economist, but I can’t help but relate this to the high tariffs the Chinese government adds to imports—the source of so much international tension with economic competitors like the U.S. It’s no wonder the government favors these tariffs: if imports were not made artificially more expensive than they already are, Chinese consumers would prefer them even more strongly to local products. I had a conversation about this once with a student complaining about how expensive American-made clothing was in China (the tariffs make it much more expensive than it would be at home, even in absolute terms). I pointed out that from the perspective of his government, this was a way of accelerating the developing economy by harnessing the enormous purchasing power of China’s emerging consumer class. He responded that, yes, if he were a Chinese official, he would probably do the same thing. But as a Chinese consumer, all he really wanted were some quality shoes.
Of course, a lot of what I am describing is just the reality of life in a developing country, and I certainly don’t want to whine about that too much. My purpose in sharing this is not to complain, but to help those from the developed world understand the full scope of the environmental and economic challenges on the other side. If you were a government official trying to get 150+ million people out of abject poverty, wouldn’t you try to harness the purchasing power of your vast citizenry to do it, free trade notwithstanding?
Regulatory regard for individual health and safety here seems different from the west anyway, reflecting differences both economic and cultural. In flying back to China after lecturing in Vietnam, I was astounded to be fumigated without warning by an aerosolized pesticide sprayed on me in my seat by the Chinese flight attendant. I later learned that it was required by Chinese law, doubtlessly to prevent the spread of serious insect-borne diseases. But my eyes, nose, and throat burned worryingly for the rest of the day, and I wondered how I’d have felt about it had I been pregnant or carrying an infant. In an earlier post, I wrote about our harrowing experience trying to avoid domestic pesticides whose safety we could not ascertain, and I felt affirmed when it was later reported that the government was taking steps to ban twenty commonly used pesticides for reasons of human toxicity.
In another example, my husband—the grandson of a lifelong Milwaukie firefighter—was dismayed that our apartment has barred-in windows and no fire escape, for which I chided him as an over-privileged westerner until I saw ordinary people exploding fireworks just feet from neighboring homes and businesses. The displays are spectacular, but they also cost fingers, lives, and some famously devastating fires. Similarly costly are the traffic-related mortalities that are unfortunately common here. Still, most don’t wear helmets on their motorbikes, and seat belts are purposefully dismantled in most cars because people consider them a nuisance. (In one of our more hilarious cross-cultural moments, we lugged a child car-seat here all the way from the U.S., knowing we’d never find one in China—only to discover it useless because there are no seatbelts to secure it in place!) Traffic lights to help pedestrians cross the street are rare, and even those that exist are of limited value: “don’t walk” means that you will surely be killed if you cross; “walk” means it is now somewhat less likely that you will be killed.
Yet this is only part of the story. Notwithstanding the lack of health and safety standards, there are so many other elements of Chinese culture that are much more committed to human health than western cultures—and especially American culture. Americans may be good at regulating for health and safety, but our lifestyles certainly don’t do much to advance the goal—as documented by our famously expanding waistlines. Healthful living is a huge and important part of Chinese culture, and among its most admirable. Chinese people eat dried fruits and nuts instead of cheese doodles. They rest regularly and sleep well at night. Chinese medicine emphasizes the maintenance of wellness over the post-hoc treatment of disease. Most of all, healthy exercise is a foundation of everyday life.
I don’t just mean that Chinese people are in better shape because fewer have cars and must walk where Americans usually drive, although that’s also true. Here, exercise is a ritual part of daily life—and especially community life—in a way that would be wholly unfamiliar to most Americans. In the morning, people gather for morning exercise in public parks, courtyards, and parking lots, often doing tai chi. Seeing a hundred people spontaneously join in perfect, soundless unity this way is truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. After dinner, families take a ritual “digestive” walk around the neighborhood together. Then begins evening exercise, when people again gather in public areas for a variety of activities. Children play openly while men play team sports. Women regularly gather for a Chinese cultural version of line-dancing, in which they collectively perform a repeating, multi-sided sequence to accompanying music. We were sad to discover very few playgrounds for children—but in perhaps a wiser use of scarce resources, every neighborhood has an exercise parks for adults, with metal equipment to keep people fit and limber, especially as they age. They are frequently used, especially after work, by young and old alike.
So I end this essay where I began, acknowledging the developmental and cultural differences that make my observations here admittedly fraught. Nations struggling to feed rural populations have to be more concerned with crop yields than genetically modified organisms, more concerned with child malnutrition than child obesity rates. Chinese culture protects health in other ways, and it’s understandable that regulatory priorities have focused elsewhere than health and safety to this point—although perhaps the time has come for change. But where American regulations offer models for China, Chinese culture offers lessons for Americans, in exactly those realms we need them most.
Monday, April 23, 2012
I spent last Friday--the second anniversary of the BP Blowout--in the vast basement of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court building, shifting in my metal chair, ignoring the talk-show chatter from the flat screens, and keeping an eye on the red digit counter to know when my number was up.
I'd been called for jury duty.
Whether I will eventually be deployed is up to the gods, but until then I have resolved to study (with the help of this building's creaking Wi-Fi system) all 2,000 pages of the proposed multibillion-dollar settlement in the Deepwater Horizon case--the settlement made public last week by BP and thousands of Gulf Coast residents and businesses. (I blogged earlier when the broad outline of this settlement was first announced here.)
Now some of you may wish to savor the details, poring over the documents page-by-page between sips of Courvoisier. But for the rest, I've got the bottom line [SPOILER ALERT]: The proposed settlement rewards plaintiffs' hard bargaining, puts a crimp in federal and state hopes for a speedy trial, and demonstrates once again that despite the size of this deal, the main course is yet to come, in the form of federal civil fines and possible criminal prosecution.
Hard Bargaining Rewarded
The documents propose a class-action structure, in which private plaintiffs would be compensated for economic harm and health claims by way of a settlement fund. The fund would replace the one that began as Ken Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility, but would be administered by the court rather than BP. Payouts under the new fund could begin within weeks, following Judge Barbier’s preliminary approval of the plan.
Settlement claims are divided into those for economic loss and medical harm. It is the package for economic loss that offers the most sparkling feature: a Risk Transfer Premium or "RTP." The RTP is a kind of bonus, based on an agreed-upon "multiplier." It's meant to compensate plaintiffs for future uncertainty or for less concrete losses that are hard to monetize. So if you are the captain of a crabbing boat who can show $20,000 of lost earnings, you will get compensation in that amount plus a premium of $100,000--the $20,000 loss multiplied by the RTP multiplier for crab boat captains, which is 5. The multiplier varies by category. For coastal property owners, the multiplier is 2.5. For star-crossed oystermen, it is 8.75. I was especially pleased to find that subsistence fishers had secured an RTP multiplier (2.25) to compensate for non-monetized cultural losses, in addition to the multiplier for the economic value of the fish. In Louisiana and Mississippi, Vietnamese-American fishers often use self-caught fish as ceremonial gifts or as objects of community barter. Perhaps in exchange for RTPs, plaintiffs agreed to a total cap on seafood claims of $2.3 billion. All other claims are uncapped.
As for medical claims, any claimant who worked or lived on the coast may receive up to $60,700 for some specific ailments (but not many others), with the right to sue for medical harms that are identified in the future. Class members are also guaranteed 21 years of free medical monitoring.
The promise of quick payouts, combined with the RTP, gives plaintiffs compelling reasons to consider it. Surely, plaintiffs' lawyers will like it: BP has agreed not to object when they press the court for $600 million in fees (which would be paid in addition to plaintiffs' award). I suspect even BP is relieved to get this confusion of high-stakes claims out of the way.
Lost Hope for a Speedy Trial?
I envision federal and state lawyers, somewhere in Swampville, gritting their teeth over what appears the smallest of details. As part of the plan, BP has suggested the trial containing the state and federal claims be postponed all the way until November of this year. Ostensibly, that's because final approval of this settlement could not happen before then. But the timing all but ensures that the meatiest part of the trial--as well as last-minute settlement negotiations with the federal government--would occur half-a-year from now, when public concern has dissipated and a presidential election has just taken place, possibly putting a Republican in charge of the Justice Department next year. It will be up to Judge Barbier to decide that schedule, but right now the government lawyers must be steaming.
The Main Course
When that trial does happen, or when the federal and state claims settle, remember that those claims lie at the heart of this dispute. The partial settlement, valued at around $8 billion, is unquestionably one of the largest settlements in American history. But the remaining federal and state civil claims could eclipse that by many times. And it is possible that criminal penalties could add tens of billions of dollars more to BP’s bill. (See my itemizations here.)
Is their number up? Today, not by a long shot. But we’ll see.
April 23, 2012 in Current Affairs, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, North America, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 9, 2012
"Heeding the Signs of a Changing Ocean" -- Susan Avery, President and Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
- "Every second breath you take is provided by the ocean."
- "We have entered a new geologic age -- the anthropocene era."
- "The Gulf and other coastal waters have long been a dumping ground for human activities."
- "One thing that I think Rachel would be pleased about is that science [is now] at the stage where you can predict the emergence of harmful algal blooms."
- NOAA "has begun now issuing seasonal red tide alerts in the Northeast."
- "I really think it's harder to get into the ocean than to space. We probably know more about the surface of the moon and Mars than we do the ocean."
- "It's not funded, but we have a national ocean policy."
- "If we think about where we are now with the oceans, and what Rachel Carson would think today, I think she we be partly despairing and partly hopeful."
- "The economic benefit of the ocean is huge, and it is just beginning to be documented."
- "Everyone has a stake in the oceans."
- "One of the keys" to ocean management "is the realization that best practices by an individual corporation is not enough . . . . Collaboration is needed . . . . The problem is that there has not been a structural process to" bring ocean industries together.
- "Thinking to the future . . . , these are the kind of cross-sectoral things that . . . businesses can get involved in and be part of the solution and not just part of the problem:" (1) ocean governance -- Convention on Biological Diversity, (2) marine spatial planning, (3) regional ocean business councils, (4) smart ocean / smart industries.
- "Marine mammal issues will increasingly affect marine activities, especially shipping."
- "We need to balance that growing need for resources and food and energy with those areas that already have resources."
- "Better data means better modeling and better forecasting," which fundamentally helps businesses, "let alone leading to better environmental management."
"Challenges for Ocean Governance in a Climate Change Era" -- Robin Kundis Craig, Attorneys' Title Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Environmental Programs, Florida State University College of Law
- "I think what we should really be thinking about is how to keep those ecosystems healthy, functioning, and resilient rather than collapsing."
- "The problem is we have one ocean but many governments."
- "As much as we'd like to treat the ocean as one place, there are serious problems for doing that under our current legal system."
- "Marine spatial planning was introduced, internationally at least, before governments were really thinking about climate change. . . . It is not a panacea. . . . It will not really help with climate change mitigation . . . ."
- "Marine spatial planning can help with climate change adaptation, and it" can become "more climate change adaptable."
- "Ocean acidification is the technical fix for anyone who wants to [address] climate change" in the oceans.
- Australia has a climate change adaptation plan for the Great Barrier Reef. In part, it seeks to "fill knowledge gaps," "identify critical ecosystem thresholds," and translate that into management practices.
- "Australia is also using the Reef as a reason to engage in climate change mitigation."
- An example of dynamic zoning possibilities is TurtleWatch, which predicts on a daily basis where sea turtles will be so that fishers can avoid them (and thus prevent closure of the fishery).
March 9, 2012 in Biodiversity, Books, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, February 10, 2012
Increasingly, I find it important to bring the practical into the classroom. To be upfront, this view is not new for me. I joined the academy with the presumption that deep theory, legal doctrine, and careful analysis cannot stand alone; the best learning couples heavy doses of those with the real world. Five years in, consistent feedback from students and the bar have overwhelmingly confirmed what I initially assumed. At least some professors also seem to agree.
Injecting the practical is comparatively easy in some courses. In my civil procedure class, for instance, I am constantly trying to find ways to help students see that the rules are not just principles; they are tools that you can only truly understand if you pick them up and use them repeatedly. In the litigation context, avenues for making this clear are both discrete and fairly digestible, even in the first semester. Students in my class attend two court proceedings. They draft a complaint or an answer. They write a set of discovery. They complete a CALI exercise that tries to replicate the discovery process of a case. It is not uncommon on my exams for students to be asked to draft a motion, complete the next entry in a deposition transcript, or create a notice of appeal. Certainly, I have no illusions that any first-year student will leave my class a master of any of these tasks. But the hope is that by being exposed to some of them, students not only begin to gain an understanding of what litigators do on a daily basis, but also learn the material more deeply while laying a foundation of skills they will actually need in practice.
The question, then, is whether this kind of hybrid learning is also useful for more specialized, upper level law classes, particularly those in the environment, energy, and natural resource fields. More and more, I have become convinced that it is. Conceptually, this makes sense. Lawyers in any field have specific, practical skills they cannot be effective without. There is no reason this is not also true for the areas in which we teach. Having practiced for seven years, I know that's the case. The environmental lawyer is always translator: To handle a pollution case, you have to comprehend risk analysis and toxicology. To grapple with energy rates or mergers, a grasp of economics is essential. To do endangered species, biology is fundamental. In all these, an understanding of the industry the lawyer represents, or that the law at issue regulates, cannot be foregone.
The problem for the classroom, however, is twofold. First, there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Students cannot really dive into the details of many topics on a practical basis until they have the basics of the law under control. But getting to how that law really works is tough without practical exercises. Second, there is an allocation quandary. Every minute spent on a practical exercise deepens students’ understanding of that topic but does so at the expense of another subject area that could be covered instead. In courses that present as many fascinating issues as ours do, making this choice is often more painful—for me at least—than deciding, for example, whether to do another day on summary judgment or covering standards of review in civil procedure. At some point, moreover, too much of the practical in the classroom converts the substantive topic to a clinical one; there is a balance to find.
Nevertheless, I believe we owe it to our students to add this dimension to their understanding of the field. To that end, here are a few things we are doing in my energy law class this semester.
- Field trips to various energy sites, including to PacifiCorp’s Gadsby Power Plant earlier this week.
- Mock cost-of-service ratemaking exercises, using a hypothetical utility’s rate base, debt structure, and production costs.
- Guest lectures and case studies on actual energy controversies.
I’d be thrilled to hear what others are doing in their energy, environmental, or natural resources classes to add practical or experiential learning to the classroom.
(photo credit: S.P. Hansen)
Friday, August 26, 2011
The most recent edition of the ABA Journal inspired me. Its cover story is the feature "30 Lawyers Pick 30 Books Every Lawyer Should Read."
This got me thinking. What are the must-read energy, or energy law and policy, books out there?
Looking around a little, I found one person's answer. Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, came up with these "13 Energy Books You Need to Read":
- Consuming Power by David Nye
- Petrolia by Brian Black
- The Prize by Daniel Yergin
- Energy Policy in America Since 1945 by Richard Vietor
- Technology and Transformation in the American Electric Utility Industry by Richard Hirsh
- The Bulldozer in the Countryside by Adam Rome
- Soft Energy Paths by Amory Lovins
- Energy at the Crossroads by Vaclav Smil
- Hubbert’s Peak by Ken Deffeyes
- A Golden Thread by Ken Butti and John Perlin
- Sorry Out of Gas: Architecture’s Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis by the Canadian Centre for Architecture
- Wind Energy Comes of Age by Paul Gipe
- The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart
Madrigal's is a fascinating, insightful list. I'm still wondering: what's my list of must-read energy and energy law/policy books?
More to the point, what's yours?
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Cambridge University Press has announced a new environmental law journal: Transnational Environmental Law.
The journal will begin publication in Spring 2012. The journal will be peer-reviewed and "strive to develop a new generation of environmental scholarship which bridges geographical, generational, disciplinary and academic-practitioner divides," according to an announcement.
Its editorial team includes:
- Thijs Etty, VU University Amsterdam (editor-in-chief)
- Veerle Heyvaert, London School of Economics (editor-in-chief)
- Cinnamon Carlarne, University of South Carolina
- Daniel Farber, UC Berkeley, Boalt Hall Law School
- Jolene Lin, Hong Kong University
- Joanne Scott, University College London
The journal's website is http://journals.cambridge.org/TEL.
And here is a bit on their submissions and publication policies:
The Editors of TEL warmly invite the submission of manuscripts from scholars, lawyers and professionals active in fields related to environmental law and governance. Prospective authors may also contact the Editors with proposals for planned submissions. The Editors will also consider revised versions of previously released working papers, provided that such publication is clearly acknowledged upon submission of the paper for consideration to TEL.
All contributions in the journal are peer-reviewed (double-blind), and will be evaluated on their:
• Analytical thoroughness
• Affinity with the mission and scope of the journal
• Conformity with the highest standard of scholarly presentation
TEL will strive to respect a turn-around time of under 6 weeks between receipt of the manuscript and notification of acceptance, rejection or need for revision. All accepted work will be scheduled for publication in print and online. To reduce time between acceptance and publication articles will appear online as FirstView publications in advance of their scheduled publication in print.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
No doubt that one of the most important forces in environmentalism over the last three decades has been the environmental justice movement. Leaders in this field -- Bunyan Bryant, Robert Bullard, Sheila Foster, Eileen Gauna, Hazel Johnson, and Beverly Wright, to name only a few -- changed the way environmental issues are seen. They point out that much of environmental protection has been myopic, and that its focus must change: to include equity, gender, income, race, and, ultimately, justice.
This week, the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Department of the Interior, among others, are sponsoring what looks to be a phenomenal conference on the state of environmental justice today. From the press release:
The U.S. Department of Energy, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Small Town Alliance, the Howard University School of Law and others, kicked off the State of Environmental Justice in America 2011 Conference today in Washington, D.C.
This year's conference theme is "Building the Clean Energy Economy with Equity," and will focus on climate change, green jobs and equity for low-income, minority and Tribal populations. The goal is to continue bringing together participants from Federal agencies, academia, business and industry, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and local communities to participate in a dialogue on achieving equality of environmental protection.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The Economist published an article Data Diving discussing new data that allows closer analysis of whether speculators are responsible for driving up oil prices. The short answer according to the speculators is probably not. And, even if they were, in the Economist's opinion, the critical importance of liquidity overwhelms any effect on higher prices.
The regulatory question is whether the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should limit the positions that speculators such as banks, hedge funds, and others take on oil because of the harmful influence that speculators have on the market.
... whether speculation has really been responsible for spiking prices is a controversial issue. In 2008 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report dismissing the role of speculators in last year’s startling run-up in prices. But banks, hedge funds and others who bet on oil (without a use for the stuff itself) still face limits on the positions they can take, if Gary Gensler, the new CFTC head, can show that their influence in markets does harm.
New disaggregated data show more clearly the role of speculators in the market:
On September 4th the CFTC added more evidence to the debate by releasing what it said were more transparent data on market positions. Before this month, the CFTC simply classified traders as “commercial” or “non-commercial” in its weekly report on the overall long and short positions in the market. Now it has started to disaggregate them further, into producers and buyers, swap dealers and “managed money”. The third category includes hedge funds.
The new data indicate that speculators (swap dealers and managed money) were long on oil in the week to September 1st, with managed money holding a net long position by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Those actually involved in the oil business (producers and users) held positions that were net short by similar ratios. And the swap dealers and managed-money players are bigger in the market, both in terms of the contracts they hold and their own sheer numbers.
So, the speculators constitute the largest amount of the market and they take dramatically opposite positions in the market as compared with producers and users. Still, the speculators' analysts discount the ability of speculators to affect the market. I'm not market savvy enough to understand the speculators' analysis proffered by the Economist so would someone out there explain how this tells us that speculators are not influencing the market?
But analysts at Barclays Capital note that long swaps accounted for just 6.4% of total futures and options contracts, not enough to drive prices up on their own. Physical traders held more of the outstanding long positions (10.3%) and held even more short positions. This one set of numbers, in other words, does little to prove that speculators are overriding market fundamentals to drive prices. New quarterly data also released by the CFTC show that money flows to exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in commodities failed to correlate strongly with last year’s price surge.
Maybe some more numbers will help us sort this out (in favor of the speculators):
There are more disclosures to come. The CFTC says it will soon release the newly disaggregated data going back three years. If those numbers, like the quarterly ETF data, are equally unconvincing on the role of speculation, the case for limiting positions will be weakened.
And the Economists' speculator-friendly bottom line:
And a strong counter-argument remains: that speculators provide crucial liquidity. Even if they also have some effect on prices, taking them out of the game could well do more harm than good. It is tempting to look for scapegoats when high prices hurt consumers. But the real culprits for oil-price volatility may be much more familiar: supply, demand and global instability.
September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I teach Sustainable Natural Resources Law in the spring. Here's a new publication brought to my attention by Gerd Winter that looks like a great fit for introducing students to the fisheries area. A slightly edited summary of the book courtesy of Gerd appears below:
Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law
As most of the fish resources in the world's oceans are constantly depleting, the development of effective and efficient instruments of fisheries management becomes crucial. Against this background, the IUCN
Environmental Law Programme proudly presents its latest publication in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper Series, edited by Gerd Winter, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, which focuses on a legal approach towards sustainable and equitable management of fish resources.
This publication is a result of an interdisciplinary endeavour with worldwide participation studying multiple demands on coastal zones and viable solutions for resource use with emphasis on fisheries. The book consists of six case studies including Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU, which are preceded by an analysis of the international law requirements concerning fisheries management. The final part of the book summarizes the case studies and proposes a methodology for diagnosing problems in existing management systems and developing proposals for reform.
Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law thus helps the reader to learn more about the international legal regime for fisheries management that is currently in place, improves the understanding of the institutional and legal problems related to fisheries management that countries face at the national level, and provides guidance for sustainable use of fish resources through a "legal clinic" for fisheries management.
The book was published as IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 74. Free copies can be ordered at the IUCN office or downloaded (2,05 MB) from the IUCN website at: Toward Sustainable Fisheries Law
September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
For those of you who try to stay current on science policy, I am a member of AAAS and receive its policy alerts. I encourage all of you to join and subscribe to Science. Here is today's policy alert:
AAAS Policy Alert -- April 29, 2009
President Addresses National Academies
President Obama addressed the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 27 and called for a renewed commitment to basic scientific research and education. During his speech he stated that his goal would be to increase our nation's share of federal investment in research and development (R&D) to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In recent years, the share has hovered around 2.6 percent of GDP. Furthermore, Obama announced the membership of the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST). Members include past AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson of RPI, as well as former Board member Rosina Bierbaum and current AAAS Treasurer David Shaw. They join former AAAS President John Holdren who is both the U.S. President's science advisor and co-chair of PCAST.
The House and Senate have nominated the conferees to resolve the differences between their respective versions of the FY 2010 budget resolution. House members include: Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), Ranking Member Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Reps. Allen Boyd (D-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). Senate members include Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND), Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The conferees met today (April 27) to begin deliberating over a consensus document.
Other Congressional News
Congressional Climate Change Update. The House Energy and Commerce Committee held four days of hearings
on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, with much debate on the
merits of moving ahead on the climate and energy package. Subcommittee
markup of the bill has been pushed back to next week, with details such
as how to allocate permits to emit greenhouse gases and how the
revenues will be used yet to be determined. Meanwhile Senate
Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced
the formation of five working groups
to find compromises in several areas of concern: regional issues, cost
containment, targets and timetables, market oversight and coal research
and technology. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee
heard from Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State
Department, who testified on the diplomatic cost of inaction on climate
change and emphasized the need for all countries - developed and
developing - to engage in negotiations with "common but differentiated
responsibilities." Stern is leading the first session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate
on April 27-28, a White House initiative to develop a dialogue among
major developed and developing economies on climate change.
New Bill Promotes Science Envoys. Last week, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation (S. 838) that recognizes the importance of international scientific cooperation and the work of organizations such as AAAS and the National Academies in this area. The legislation tasks the State Department to appoint Science Envoys to represent our nation and promote international collaboration.
Presidential Memo on Scientific Integrity. OSTP issued a Presidential Memo on scientific integrity in the April 23 Federal Register
and requests public comments on six principles for maintaining and
protecting the responsible use of science in decision-making. The memo
builds upon a March 9, 2009 memorandum from the President that called
on OSTP to issue a set of recommendations within 120 days. OSTP has
launched a blog
on the subject and is seeking comments on the selection of scientists
to serve in the executive branch, peer-review of science used in
policy-making, access to scientific data used in policy-making, and
whistleblower protection. Comments are due May 13, 2009.
NIH Stem Cell Guidelines Now Open for Comment. The NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research are now open for public comment until May 26.
NCI Director Speaks on Cancer Plan. National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber recently spoke of his institute's plans in the wake of President Obama's cited goal of doubling funds for cancer research. Included would be a boost in the NCI payline to fund more meritorious research grants, as well as more grants to first-time investigators and new faculty researchers. There will also be a focus on personalized cancer care.
EPA Examines Ocean Acidification. On April 14, EPA issued a Federal Register notice requesting information on ocean acidification, the changing of ocean chemistry from increases in carbon dioxide that affects coral reefs and other marine organisms. In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, EPA is trying to determine whether changes are needed to the water quality criteria under the Clean Water Act. Comments are due June 15, 2009.
Toxics Reporting Tightened. As mandated in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, EPA finalized changes to reporting requirements under the Toxics Release Inventory that will take effect July 1. The final rules restore more stringent reporting requirements than those from a Bush-era rule that raised the pollution threshold for reporting. In 2006, AAAS submitted comments stating that the increased threshold would "threaten the ability of researchers to identify and understand potential threats to the environment and public health in a scientifically rigorous manner."
FDA Widens Access to "Morning-After" Pill. The Food and Drug Administration will now allow 17-year-olds to purchase the Plan B "morning-after" pill without a prescription, following a recent federal court order that it do so. The decision has been labeled a "triumph of science over politics" because of widespread concern that the previous administration overruled scientific advice on making the pill available over the counter, leading the FDA's top women's health official, Susan Wood, to resign in protest in 2005.
Nation's First CTO: Clarification. Last week's Policy Alert reported on the President's selection of Aneesh Chopra to be the nation's first chief technology officer. It has since been reported that the CTO will also be one of the associate directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) concerned with overall technology policy and innovation strategies across federal departments. Chopra's position (which is subject to Senate confirmation) should not be confused with that of Vivek Kundra, recently named Chief Information Officer, who is located in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), overseeing day-to-day information technology spending and interagency operations.
Climate Risk Report Released.
Led by the Heinz Center and CERES, a coalition of insurance,
government, environmental, and investment organizations released a
report, Resilient Coasts: A Blueprint for Action that listed steps the nation can take to drastically reduce rising coastal hazard risks and their associated economic impacts.
Texas School Board Chairman Up for Confirmation. Texas State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, a vocal opponent of teaching evolution, is up for Senate confirmation by the state Senate, and during a recent hearing some members of the Senate Nominations Committee expressed dissatisfaction with McLeroy's performance. One state senator said McLeroy has "created a hornet's nest" and noted that 15 bills filed during this legislative session would strip powers from the state school board. Even if McLeroy is not confirmed as chairman, he will still remain a member of the board. In other news, the Institute for Creation Research is now suing in U.S. District Court over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's decision to deny its request to offer a master's degree in science education.
Animal Rights Activists Charged. Two animal rights activists have been arraigned on charges of conspiracy, stalking and other crimes, including attempted fire-bombing, against UCLA scientists engaged in animal research.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Joanne Carney
Contributors: Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Steve Nelson, Al Teich, Kasey White
NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest. Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications. Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and private use of our members. Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 29, 2009 in Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Monday, March 2, 2009
Sometimes its a good idea to stand back and contemplate the universe. Today's early news that the Dow Jones Industrial Index took another header because of AIG's $60+ billion loss prompts me to do that.
What is the vector of our society? What will it look like after all the dust has settled? It is not just the financial crisis that prompts me to contemplate this. Although the phrase is over-used, we are in the midst of a perfect storm -- a global economy that creates and distributes goods and services through the internet, computerized machines and cheap labor virtual collapse of the financial system, the advent of peak oil, and the climate crisis. How will all of these things cumulatively affect our future?
We've lived with the first problem for decades now -- what do people do as they become less and less important to production of goods and services. The science fiction of our times: what happens when people and their primary asset, labor, becomes virtually superfluous. Certainly countries with high labor costs relative to Asia and South America already are beginning to experience the problem. Computerized machines can plant, water, and harvest the fields; robots can make the cars and prefabricated housing; department stores, bank branches, car dealers, even retail grocery stores can be replaced by internet marketing; 100 law professors lecturing to law students and 1000 college professors lecturing to college students is more than enough -- creating the prospect of a British or continental education system, with those professors raised to unseemly heights and the remainder left to do the grunge work of tutors; even more radically, 100 K-12 teachers can teach a nation of students with computer graded exams, if we believe that convergent answers are the goal of education; priests and ministers can be replaced by TV showmen and megachurch performers.
So what do the other 6.95 billion of us do? Now, we consume. Voraciously. If we don't, then the basics can be provided by a very few and the rest of us become unwanted baggage. A non-consumer is a drag on the system. We depend on the velocity of money, excess consumption, and inefficiency to provide each of us with a job and to maintain the current economy.
And what happens when money moves at a crawl, when people stop consuming, when production becomes life-threatening to the planet, and when a key resource for production, oil, reaches the point of no return??? The answer is a new subsistence economy. A new world where a few are need to produce, a few more can consume, and the remainder have no economic role and are left to subsist as best they can.
Admittedly, it will be subsistence at a higher level -- through the internet, computerization, and technology, each of us will have the capacity to do things for ourselves that are beyond the imagination of today's impoverished subsistence farmers. But, relative to those who own all of the means of production, a few entertainers (be they basketball players, lecturers, moviestars, or mega-church leaders), and a few laborers (building the machines, computers, the information infrastructure and doing basic and applied research), we will all be poor. Perhaps only relatively and perhaps only in material terms. But poor, living at a subsistence level, consuming food from our own gardens, building our own houses, wearing clothes for function not fashion, educating our own children through the internet, capturing essential power through distributed energy, and buying very little of goods that are bound to be too expensive for most -- probably just computers. It won't necessarily be bad. Perhaps we can refocus on relationships, family, community, art, music, literature, and life, rather than define ourselves in terms of our job and our things. Perhaps we can refocus on spirituality instead of materialism. Who knows? Maybe the new society won't be such a bad thing after all -- at least if we insist that the few who have the privilege of production have a responsibility to share the wealth with the many.
March 2, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
As the President says about the long term investments that are absolutely critical to our economic future:
It begins with energy.
We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.
Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.
Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.
We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.
As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.
None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.
February 25, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Congratulations to all of the participants in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition held at Pace University during the last few days. Roughly 70 law schools participated in the competition, which featured a difficult and oft-times confusing problem about salvage of a Spanish shipwreck. The law covered by the problem included admiralty law, administrative law, international law such as the UNESCO treaty and the Law of the Sea, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and for good measure, the Submerged Military Craft Act. Just typing that list makes me tired!
The learning is in participating, but the honors for Best Briefs go to University of Houston, Georgetown, and University of California at Davis, with Houston winning overall Best Brief. The Best Oralist Honor goes to Louisiana State University. The final round of the competition featured Lewis & Clark law school, University of Utah, and Louisiana State. Lewis & Clark prevailed, winning the overall competition for the 2d time in a row. If I recall correctly, that may be the first back to back win. Congratulations to everyone!
The students of Pace University deserve special mention for sacrificing their ability to compete and for running a flawless competition. More details can be found at the NELMCC site.
February 25, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 23, 2009
Here's my church's video to launch our 2009 Drink Water for Life lenten challenge. If you benefit from the work I do on this blog, please, please, please......take the challenge or find another way to contribute to organizations that do community-based water projects. Church World Service or Global Ministries are great faith-based organizations. Water for Life and Water for People are great secular groups. Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water borne disease like cholera or dysentery from lack of clean water and sanitation. Together, we can change this. Village by village.
January 23, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Today I had the pleasure as Director of our law school's Certificate Program in Law and Government to host two visitors from Mozambique through the International Leadership Visitor Program funded by the State Department. This program focuses on bringing emerging leaders from developing countries concerned with good governance to the United States, to expose them first-hand to various aspects of American governance. Last year, we hosted 16 visitors from more than a dozen African countries. Today's session was more informal and a bit more manageable.
Our visitors were the Governor of a northern province and the second in command of a major department within the national government. They were interested in learning how the United States trains its graduate or advanced students in law and government. We were able to share some aspects of our program, including attending and speaking with my first year Lawmaking Process class. They were also fascinated by how the United States is evolving with its election of President Obama.
The treat, of course, for me was to learn first-hand something about Mozambique, its politics and policy, and role in Africa. Certainly, its thorough integration of woman into the power structure and into all aspects of administration is a lesson for Americans as well as other Africans. This is beginning to happen here, witness Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, the corps of talented Governors through the US and the league of women joining the Obama administration. But, until a woman stands where President Obama stood today, we still lag behind virtually every developed country in the world -- and many, such as Mozambique, in the developed world. Women took their place in the struggle for independence in Mozambique -- even on the battlefield. They have continued to serve in Parliament and throughout government, with stature and an assured equality that American woman still lack.
Their challenge is to solidify their independence and their emerging democracy -- and to solve the problem of poverty. There, President Obama gave them reason to hope: "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our boders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."
As you who read this blog regularly no doubt realize, these words, especially about providing clean water and reducing our consumption of resources, were music to my ears. And perhaps to yours.
We have a President who in the midst of the raging storms of the failure of our economy and two wars, understands that "each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet." That the work to be done includes the promise that "[w]e will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories." That "we will work tirelessly...to roll back the specter of a warming planet."
As my new friends from Mozambique realize, President Obama has not become just an American president, but he is today the most important leader of the whole world. Not just by virtue of our relative prosperity and military power, but by virtue of our willingness to turn the page of history and to pledge to live up to our responsibilities to people seeking peace and justice and equality and means to enjoy their full measure of happiness throughout the world.
Today, my friends, let us celebrate with all of our new friends...and pledge ourselves to making this vision become a reality, in law, in policy, and in how we conduct our obscure, everyday lives.
January 20, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 19, 2009
FOURTH ANNUAL ENDANGERED ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
STUDENT WRITING COMPETITION (2008-09)
The Environmental Law Institute
The American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
The National Association of Environmental Law Societies
The Constitution has long been interpreted by the courts and understood by most Americans to
support comprehensive environmental protections. However, arguments targeting the
constitutional legitimacy of environmental laws continue to gain traction in the federal courts. To
inform the debate, we invite law students to submit papers exploring current issues of
constitutional environmental law.
AWARD: $2000 cash prize and an offer of publication in the Environmental Law Reporter.
TOPIC: Any topic addressing recent developments or trends in U.S. environmental law that
have a significant constitutional or “federalism” component. (See sample topics below.)
ELIGIBILITY: Students currently enrolled in law school (in the U.S. or abroad) are eligible,
including students who will graduate in the spring or summer of 2009. Any relevant article, case
comment, note, or essay may be submitted, including writing submitted for academic credit.
Jointly authored pieces are eligible only if all authors are students and consent to submit.
Previously published pieces, or pieces that are already slated for publication, are ineligible.
DEADLINE: Entries must be received no later than 5:00 PM ET on April 6, 2009. Email essays
(and questions) to Lisa Goldman at email@example.com. You will receive a confirmation by email.
Cover page. This page must include the following information:
• Author’s name, year in law school, and expected graduation date (to facilitate impartial
judging, the author’s name and law school must NOT appear anywhere in the essay, other
than on the cover page);
• Law school name and address;
• Author’s permanent and school mailing address, email address, and phone number
(IMPORTANT: indicate effective dates for all addresses);
• Abstract (limited to 100 words) describing the piece;
• Certification that the article has not been published and is not slated for future publication
(while authors may submit their articles to other competitions, publication elsewhere will
disqualify an entry from further consideration); and
• Statement as to where the author(s) learned about this competition
Format. Submissions may be of any length up to a maximum of 50 pages (including footnotes),
in a double-spaced, 8.5 x 11-inch page format with 12-point font (10-point for footnotes).
Citation style must conform to the Bluebook. Submissions must be made by email attachment in
Microsoft Word format, with the cover page as a separate attachment.
CRITERIA AND PUBLICATION: The prize will be awarded to the student work that, in the
judgment of ELI, ABA-SEER, and NAELS, best informs the debate on a current topic of
constitutional environmental law and advances the state of scholarship. ELI reserves the right to
determine that no submission will receive the prize. While only one cash prize is available, ELI
may decide to extend multiple offers of publication in the Environmental Law Reporter.
For more about ELI and its Endangered Environmental Laws Program, including past writing
competitions, please visit www.eli.org and www.endangeredlaws.org. Information about
ABA/SEER may be found at www.abanet.org/environ/. Information about NAELS may be found
SAMPLE TOPICS FOR THE 2008-09 ELI-ABA-NAELSWRITING COMPETITION
Students may choose a topic from below or develop their own constitutional environmental law topic.
1) Challenges to environmental plaintiffs’ standing to be heard in federal courts–
a) Standing to sue to enforce environmental laws. E.g., Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck, 490
F.3d 687 (9th Cir. 2007), cert. granted, Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 128 S. Ct. 1118 (Jan.
18, 2008); implications of Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), and progeny; Coalition
for a Sustainable Delta v. Carlson, 2008 WL 2899725 (E.D. Cal. July 24, 2008).
b) Standing to sue for “increased risk of harm.” E.g., implications for environmental protection
of an ever-higher bar in the D.C. Circuit for establishing standing in risk-based injury cases. See
Public Citizen v. NHTSA, 513 F.3d 234 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (Sentelle, C.J., concurring) and 489 F.3d
1279 (D.C. Cir. 2007); NRDC v. EPA, 440 F.3d 476 (D.C. Cir.), vacated, 464 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir.
2) Application to climate-change cases of other constitutional theories, such as statutory and foreign
affairs preemption, political question doctrine, dormant Commerce Clause, and Compact
Clause. E.g., possible challenges to regional cap-and-trade schemes, such as RGGI and the WCI; the
impact of a future federal cap-and-trade law on state and regional climate frameworks; challenges to
California’s tailpipe emissions regulations, as adopted by 16 other states; and efforts by states and
local entities to recover damages from industry for contributions to global climate change.
See Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie, 508 F.Supp.2d 295 (D. Vt. 2007),
appeal filed, No. 07-4342, -4360 (2d Cir.); Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep, Inc. v. Goldstene, 529 F.
Supp. 2d 1151 (E.D. Cal. 2007), aff’d on reh’g, 563 F. Supp. 2d 1158 (E.D. Cal. 2008); Lincoln
Dodge, Inc. v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 5054863 (D.R.I. Nov. 21, 2008); California v. General Motors
Corp., 2007 WL 2726871 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2007), appeal filed, No. 07-16908 (9th Cir.); Comer v.
Murphy Oil, No. 05-436 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 30, 2007) (granting motion to dismiss), appeal argued, No.
07-60756 (5th Cir. Nov. 3, 2008); Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., 406 F.Supp.2d 265
(S.D.N.Y. 2005), appeal filed, No. 05-5104 (2d Cir.); and Kivalina v. Exxonmobil Corp., No. 08-
01138 (N.D. Cal. filed Feb. 26, 2008).
3) Legislative developments and potential court challenges to Congress’s authority under the
Commerce Clause and other constitutional provisions (e.g., Spending Power, Property Clause, and
Treaty Power) to afford comprehensive protection to the “waters of the United States.” E.g., Clean
Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421, S. 1870). In the wake of SWANCC v. U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001), and Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006), and the resulting
confusion for Clean Water Act administration and enforcement, much of the debate over the
constitutional reach of federal water protections has shifted from the federal courts to Congress.
4) Invocation of constitutional due process to cap punitive damages in environmental cases. See Exxon
Shipping Co. v. Baker, 128 S. Ct. 2605 (2008), establishing as an upper limit in maritime cases a 1:1
ratio between compensatory and punitive damages. Justice Ginsburg, writing separately, wondered if
the Court intended to signal that this ratio would eventually become a ceiling imposed by due process.
5) Impact of preemption jurisprudence (including in non-environmental cases) on environmental
protection. See Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 128 S. Ct. 999 (2008); Levine v. Wyeth, 944 A.2d 179 (Vt.
2006), cert. granted, Wyeth v. Levine, 128 S. Ct. 1118 (Jan. 18, 2008); Pacific Merchant Shipping
Association v. Goldstene, 517 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2008).
January 19, 2009 in Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 22, 2008
Know your source: American Council for Capital Formation contends that CO2 controls will conflict with job creation and economic stimulus plans
E & E:
Can President-elect Barack Obama successfully stimulate the economy, create jobs and reduce emissions? What are some of the pitfalls of pursuing a "green" stimulus? During today's OnPoint, Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation, gives her take on why some of the incoming administration's aggressive climate and economic goals may conflict with each other. Thorning assesses Obama's energy and environment Cabinet picks and explains how she believes the chairmanship shift in the House Energy and Commerce Committee will affect the push for cap-and-trade legislation.
ACCP has been an ExxonMobil-funded, conservative think tank with a climate skeptic slant. For example, in March 2003, Dr. Thorning had this take on the minor cuts required by the Kyoto Protocol:
Given the severe macroeconomic impacts the Kyoto Protocol would impose on the United States, including reducing U.S. GDP by 1-4 percent, slowing wage growth significantly, worsening the distribution of income, and reducing growth in living standards, Dr. Thorning called for a new approach. Voluntary measures to reduce CO2 emissions should include modifications to U.S. tax policy that reduce the cost of capital for energy-efficient investments
ExxonSecrets.org reported that American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research has received $1,619,523 from ExxonMobil between 1998-2006. The 2007 report indicates that ExxonMobil still supports ACCF-CPR, again providing a $15,000 additional contribution.