Academic journal article Washington Law Review

William H. Rodgers, Jr., and Environmental Law: Never Give Up, Keep on Going

Academic journal article Washington Law Review

William H. Rodgers, Jr., and Environmental Law: Never Give Up, Keep on Going

Article excerpt


To celebrate the first forty years of Professor William H. Rodgers, Jr.'s career, his colleagues streamed up to Seattle for a symposium at the University of Washington, from locations near and far.1 However, learning that something fishy was afoot, Professor Rodgers turned the planning for the symposium toward a broader purpose. Instead of allowing it to be a mere encomium to his career thus far, he used the availability of such a rich array of thinkers to nourish ideas for the protection of ecosystems like that of Puget Sound. One participant called the result an "intellectual potlatch"2 for the community. In the symposium and now in this volume, professors, lawyers, and other experts have given freely the riches of their knowledge and ideas involving the environment and its protection through law.

We must also talk of the young elder whom the symposium honored. Despite his best efforts to give the riches of the symposium to others, Professor Rodgers could not completely deflect the attention and recognition that was being paid to his own work and example. He was required to sit and listen as words of praise fell everywhere around him.3 While experts were speaking, comments were also coming in by e-mail and on pieces of paper circulated during the lectures. Who was the subject of this talking circle? This essay attempts to paint a picture of Professor Rodgers's contributions to environmental law and the impact he has had on the lives of others. He never gives up. He keeps on going, and he does so with humor and humanity.


Professor William H. Rodgers, Jr. sometimes seems like a primal force of nature. From his way with words, some may consider him as the William Shakespeare of environmental law.6 From his humor and humanity, it would be logical to label him the Will Rogers of environmental law.7 From his steadfast dedication to doing something about environmental degradation, he has even been labeled our Captain Planet.8 The science of mathematics can provide another view. If the pages of his books and articles9 were put end to end,10 they would reach 5.8 times as high as the Empire State Building,11 would equal 6.7 Eiffel Towers,12 and could just barely be matched by twelve Seattle Space Needles.13 In a comparison that is perhaps more apt, if laid horizontally and end-to-end, his pages would be as long as the behemoth Grand Coulee Dam plus almost the huge powerhouse at The Dalles Dam put together.14

Of course, numbers tell only a portion of the William Rodgers story. Unlike Grand Coulee Dam, which blocked passage of salmon to 1,000 miles of fish habitat,15 and The Dalles Dam, which destroyed the most important Indian fishing location in the world, Celilo Falls,16 Professor Rodgers's works do not interfere with the forces of nature or harm peoples. Instead, they use the power of ideas in an attempt to help revitalize those forces, as well as the cultures of the peoples who depend upon them. Professor Rodgers's incisive wit,17 powers of sharp observation, and habit of speaking truth to power with a grin and a bite place his writing in a special class. Throughout the first forty years of his academic career, he has brought us insights from the fields of biology,18 evolutionary biology,19 geology,20 mythology,21 architecture,22 psychology,23 modern warfare,24 decision theory,25 legal theory,26 and philosophy.27 What one colleague has termed his "marriage of passion and intellect"28 has played an important part in creating a new and distinct body of learning and law.29 As that body has grown from infancy into middle age, Professor Rodgers has acted as its playmate, its mentor, and its teacher. He has scolded it as a friendly uncle and showered it and its participants with what can only be called "love."

Sometimes the love can be tough love. Richard Lazarus points us to a Rodgers critique of an opinion on dams by Judge Patricia WaId, U. …

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