Environmental Law: A Very Short Introduction | Elizabeth Fisher


While a desire to protect the
environment is at the heart of environmental law that desire can be
seen right across populations in countries.That’s because the
environmental law is not just about valuing the environment but protecting
it so we as populations live within the carrying capacity of the earth. A better
way to think about an environmental law is as the law of environmental problems.
Some problems are going to be very local: contaminated land. Others are going to be global: climate change. A common feature of environmental problems is that they are both physically complex and socially complex. They’re physically complex
because they involve ecosystems–if we put fertilizer on agricultural land and
it runs off into rivers, a whole range of implications might happen for the
natural environment and also for human health, but they’re also socially complex.
Environmental problems are often caused by a range of different people not
intending to harm the environment but each of their actions contributing to
environmental problems. Nation-states play a significant role in environmental law
and that’s because they have the authority and the capacity to develop
collective responses in relation to these problems. Modern environmental law really has its roots in the 1960s and it wasn’t just a
response to environmental problems it was also part of a commitment to make
societies more just, more fair and more democatic. Environmental law is not a
magic wand. It’s not a case of passing a piece of legislation, signing a treaty, or
a court deciding a case and an environmental problem disappears. What is required is the creation of legal frameworks which ensure the ongoing
management of an environmental problem in as fair and just a way as possible. Environmental law is very technically
complex. If you look at a textbook on the environmental law of any country it’s
big, it’s thick, and environmental lawyers need to know a lot of law and they know
how to apply it with nuance and sophistication. Environmental law has
required the expansion of the legal imagination. That’s because a lot of law
hasn’t developed with the environment and these type of collective action
problems in mind and so with the development of environmental law we’ve
had to think about different types of legal obligations in countries such as
India and New Zealand. There have been legal developments where the legal
rights of rivers have been recognized. An important theme in environmental law is environmental justice, but environmental justice means many different things. It
might mean justice between nations, justice across generations, justice
within local communities, or even a form of justice that takes the rights of the
earth into account. Environmental Law is often controversial.
We might debate whether there’s an environmental problem, we might debate
how to solve it, there may be issues about what is a legitimate role for
government, and given the fact that environmental law often requires
limiting people’s behavior, it will awake resentment, but while it is
controversial it is also necessary and it’s necessary coming back to my first
point, because we have to live within the carrying capacity of the earth.

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