Academic journal article Environmental Law

Unnatural Foundations: Legal Education's Ecologically-Dismissive Subtexts

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Unnatural Foundations: Legal Education's Ecologically-Dismissive Subtexts

Article excerpt

  I. INTRODUCTION

 II. INCLUSIONARY ECOLOGICAL SCIENCE MEETS EXCLUSIONARY PROPERTY
     EDUCATION A. Balking Antiques: How Originalism Thwarts
     Ecological Holism
     B. Reified Property

III. LEGAL EDUCATION: ELUSIVE ETHICS IN THE CRASS NEED GAME

 IV. EXPANDING ETHICS: REDEFINING HUMAN-EARTH RELATIONS
     A. Paradigm Shift: Green-Letter Ethics
     B. Expanded Standing: A Stone Left Unturned?

  V. GREEN-LEVERING LAW

I. INTRODUCTION

   If we are dwelling within a system that is degrading life on Earth,
   then every node of the system requires attention. (1)

Four decades after the inaugural Earth Day, a substantial number of law schools offer environmental law specializations, with most providing elective courses for those students eager to develop insights and skills in this thriving area of advocacy. (2) However, this development has been shadowed by the rise of a resurgent anti-environmentalism, as aggressive corporate-promoted co-option ("greenwashing') and confrontation (global warming "denialism") have obscured or belittled otherwise unavoidable indications of accelerating environmental decline. (3) Prospects for impactful reform have dimmed, despite the abundance of studies portending potentially calamitous climate change. As environmentalists' concerns over these increasingly-inescapable harbingers of ecological damage grow, so too have the efforts of some in their ranks to identify and target those deemed most responsible for marginalizing and minimizing the potency of their message.

Deep ecologists, eco-socialists, and other systemic-focused critics consider the legal profession the linchpin of this emboldened anti-ecological perspective, noting that "[t]he number of lawyers hired by single corporations to defend themselves against any limitation of their perceived rights to exploit the natural world is evidence of the strange principles of jurisprudence that allow the devastation of the planet to proceed." (4) They also contend that "[o]ur legal and political establishments perpetuate, protect and legitimi[z]e the ... degradation of [the] Earth by design, not by accident." (5) The "perpetuate and protect" accusation refers to the number of prestigious law firms and legally-advised industry pressure groups that facilitate this process, while the "legitimize" label is affixed to legal education, which is considered thoroughly complicit in environmental degradation, given that "law schools teach the principles that allow these violations of the planet." (6)

Legal education evades or otherwise implicitly discourages necessary whole earth thinking, and exclusion of extra-occupational perspectives has intensified in a recessionary job market. Lawyer training exemplifies how we have "fractured our educational system into its scientific and its humanistic aspects, as though these were somehow independent of each other." (7) Such specialization obscures total views, so that "we have trouble understanding the world as an integrated community in which the well-being of the parts depends on the well-being of the whole." (8) Adhering to such a narrow, parochial mindset is especially troubling when considering the deepening ecological crisis, in which lawyers, as the acknowledged "architects and defenders of property rights," are indispensable actors. (9)

Contemporary legal education prioritizes the development of skilled technicians, prepared to apply allegedly agenda- and bias-free solutions to complex problems. It also fosters a crisis-impervious mindset; zealous pursuit of client representation, not greater social concerns, characterizes the educational ethic. Law schools provide a Turner Classic Movies perspective for a Discovery Channel world, adhering to timeworn scientifically and ethically-discredited precepts despite their self-evident ecological inapplicability. Legal education "repeats an ancient curriculum developed for nineteenth century lawyers to meet nineteenth century concerns and contexts," and fails to "challenge the categories or to question the underlying worldviews reflected in that century-old system. …

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