• PIELC 2014: Running Into Running Out

    By Gordon Levitt

    Four weeks ago, the 32nd annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference: Running into Running Out, began with Dr. Michael Pavel (Chixapaid), introducing the conference with a traditional indigenous ceremony that got the EMU Ballroom buzzing (WATCH). Next, Professor John Bonine – Land Air Water’s Faculty Advisor – and the conference co-directors set the tone for PIELC 2014, challenging attendees to urgently act on the knowledge gained over the four-day conference. These introductions were followed by keynote addresses that presented a challenging contrast on civilization. The first set of speakers – Wen Tiejun and Zhihe Wang – are experts on ecological Marxism and constructive post-modernism, respectively, and are working to solve China’s daunting environmental challenges. As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China’s history and ideas are crucial to understand if we are to form just solutions to the global environmental crisis. Their presentation provided the audience with a perspective that is rarely discussed in the U.S., yet is so important because the relationship between the U.S. and China is one of the defining relationships for global environmental governance in this century.

    The presentation by Chinese scholars was followed by Lierre Keith’s speech on the downsides of civilization, and how civilization is the root of environmental degradation. Although her solution to the ills of civilization are believed by many to be “radical,” and I certainly do not claim to be supportive of her views, I think the views are illustrative of the situation humanity is in, and of the possible reactions to the unprecedented speed at which the ecological web is unraveling. My personal opinion is that the tension between the Chinese speakers’ ideas on how to construct an ecological civilization and Keith’s ideas on how to deconstruct civilization spurred many to recognize the diversity of responses that humans are capable of implementing in response to the climate crisis. It is exactly this kind of discourse, and exactly this kind of unvarnished look at proposed solutions, that makes PIELC one of the most meaningful, and occasionally controversial, environmental conferences in the world.

    On Friday, former NOAA director Dr. Jane Lubchenco (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyprqlMnvyw) and Vermont Law Professor Patrick Parenteau (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ajI4KUxOd8) delivered the lunch-time keynote addresses, focusing on the connections between science and policy. Some of the things that I learned during their speeches were the importance of building genuine relationships across political divides and the transformative impact of optimistic humor when communicating with a group of people. For the evening keynote, Dr. Stephen Corry from Survival International and Mary Pavel, Chief Counsel for the Senate’s committee on Indian Affairs, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RcN8PTKdNg) discussed the historical and cultural dimensions of the relationship between environmentalism and development. Corry focused on the self-determination of indigenous peoples around the world and how the imposition of development, even if done in good faith, can destroy communities and traditional knowledge. Pavel discussed ongoing challenges in the relationship between tribal sovereigns and the US, as well as the conflicting environmental priorities of different tribes.

    One of the challenges of PIELC is the impossibility of engaging in all of the events. Following the end of the Friday keynote, my intent was to go to the Indigenous People’s Reception, but instead I had to rush off to pick up Dr. James Hansen from his hotel for an event. Due to miscommunication on my part, a ride had not been arranged for Dr. Hansen, and he did not know what his schedule was for that evening. When I showed up to his lodging, it was like a bad horror movie; no one was there and the hotel seemed deserted. I called Dr. Hansen and others repeatedly and eventually knocked on every door in the hotel, but no one was around. After 20 nervous minutes, Dr. Hansen wandered down to the lobby and apologizing for his cell phone being on vibrate while he was in the shower. Whew! Now that I had found him, we were finally off to a gathering of attorneys, law professors, and other engaged citizens working on the atmospheric trust legal efforts (http://ourchildrenstrust.org/legal). It was very exciting to meet many of the attorneys I have been working with over the past nine months as a law clerk for Our Children’s Trust, and to hear them pick the brain of Dr. Hansen about how the newest climate science should inform environmental legal and policy change.

    As exciting as the events of Friday had been, Saturday was even better in my opinion. The morning began with a breakfast with Dr. Hansen and other Environmental and Natural Resrouces Law Fellows, followed by a presentation to the University of Oregon Climate Change Research Group. However, the most impactful moment of the conference for me came during the Saturday afternoon keynotes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhgVHWmcCrQ). The first set of keynoters – Lauren Regan from the Civil Liberties Defense Center and Richard Monje from Workers United/SEIU and Move to Amend – provided an incisive take on building the environmental movement through innovative coalition building. Their speeches were followed by the introduction of two tribesmen from the Amungme and Kamoro tribes of West Papua. They came to tell the audience about the environmental and cultural damage that the world’s largest gold mine has done to their ancestral land, and to share their struggle to change mining practices in their homeland. This presentation was the most heart-wrenching of the weekend for me because it demonstrated the clear and present paradoxes of modernity and environmental protection. On one hand technology allows us to more efficiently manage resource usage and to monitor changes, but that same technology is often a product of archaic and destructive practices that are devastating to some communities. At the end of this emotional presentation, the presenters invited all of the PIELC co-directors up to the stage and bestowed upon us stunning, handmade gifts. We each received a hand-woven bag, and were told that we should carry what we had learned in this bag. My bag is now the centerpiece of the art collection in front of my desk, reminding me of what I have learned and the expectations that accompany that knowledge.

    After a short respite, two of the most fun PIELC events rolled around – the student reception and the Environmental and Natural Resources (ENR) Law Alumni reception. It was great to mingle with environmental law students from around the country and to (re)connect with UO law alumni, many of whom travel to PIELC every year. As these receptions came to a close, my most anticipated moment of the conference arrived: the keynote addresses of Dr. James Hansen, the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and University of Oregon Law Professor Mary Wood (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5kSlsPctWo). Their groundbreaking work to understand climate science and environmental law, respectively, have been the guiding forces behind my work as a law clerk for Our Children’s Trust and as a fellow for the ENR Center’s Conservation Trust Project. The evening began with the presentation of the David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award to five long-time employees of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), and then segued to the world premier of the 10th film in the series: Stories of Trust: Youth Calling for Climate Recovery. The film featured Dr. Hansen, Professor Wood, and a number of other important figures in the fields of environmental science and law, and contextualized the interconnections between science, law, and communication that will be so important in the years ahead. Next, Dr. Hansen laid out the state of the climate and the need to severely reduce fossil fuel use NOW, and Professor Wood called for a holistic transformation of environmental law in the U.S. and around the world. I was truly blown away by the impact of these presentations upon the audience of nearly 800, and could barely contain my excitement to be returning to work for Our Children’s Trust this coming summer.

    On the final day of the conference, Heather Milton-Lightening, the Co-Director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign, and Dr. Jill Stein, 2012 Green Party Presidential Candidate, delivered powerful keynote addresses to conclude PIELC 2014. They spoke about the growing mass movement that is mobilizing to stop dirty energy, promote renewable energy, and build healthier communities (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY9TJu12Ajw). Dr. Stein also announced the launch of the Global Climate Convergence, to take place this spring between Earth Day and May Day (http://globalclimateconvergence.org/). I am hopeful that a global outpouring of actions over these ten days will show our political leaders that a critical mass of society wants, and is ready to work for, serious efforts to create a sustainable future.

    Ultimately, looking back on the conference, one of Professor Wood’s statements is going to stick with me. During her keynote, she went out of her way to thank the students of Land Air Water for organizing PIELC, saying that we will never see or know 99% of the synapses that we facilitated at this year’s conference, but that these conversations will have transformative impacts in the years ahead. This statement alone made all of the conference organizing over the past 10 months worth it, but then something more happened. I witnessed two of the conversations that could have a huge impact moving forward. The first conversation was between the Amungme and Kamoro tribesmen and Stephen Corry from Survival International. Although they had worked together previously, the opportunity to connect in person allowed them to discuss strategy for how to move forward with the protection of the tribes’ land and culture. The second conversation was between Professor Wood and Dr. Jill Stein – two of the most radiant advocates for a greener, cleaner future that I have yet met. I’m not sure what they talked about, but I can only imagine that some big ideas will be forthcoming.

    In closing, I want to thank the entire team of PIELC gurus and volunteers, the staff and faculty of the law school, and all of the conference attendees for making this year’s conference such a resounding success. In particular, I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with the other conference co-directors, Land Air Water’s treasurer, and two amazing 1L representatives to organize this year’s conference. I am confident in the future of Land Air Water and PIELC, and cannot wait to see what next year’s organizers will bring to PIELC 2015.

    Gordon Levitt was a conference co-director for the 2014 PIELC and is a second-year law student also pursuing a Masters degree in Conflict and Dispute Resolution. He is a lifelong resident of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon Robert D. Clark Honors College, where he studied Political Science and Business Administration. Ultimately, he aims to help resolve international environmental conflicts by protecting the environment and encouraging sustainable progress. Outside of class, he is active in the local Sierra Club chapter and enjoys skiing, hiking, and other adventures in Oregon’s great outdoors.

  • 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference to Feature Civil Liberties Defense Center’s Founder Lauren Regan as Keynoter

    laurendogLauren Regan will keynote at Running Into Running Out: Public Interest Environmental Law Conference 2014, held at the University of Oregon.

    Lauren Regan is an activist and public interest attorney who has specialized in civil rights, criminal defense, and environmental and animal rights law for the last 16 years. As state repression grew, and the consequences and punishments for protest and dissent became more severe, Lauren saw a need within the environmental and social justice movements for more focused, serious legal representation to support activists who place their liberty on the line in order to be as strategic and effective as possible.

    For the last 10 years, she has been the founder, staff attorney, and executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, a nonprofit organization that strives to protect and educate movement activists, including environmental, animal, climate, immigrant, worker/labor, anti-capitalists, GLBTQ, and poor people’s movements, as well as communities of color, about their civil liberties and constitutional rights.

    Regan has successfully represented over 800 political activists in both civil and criminal litigation around the country. Her unique work serves to highlight and strengthen the necessity for cross-movement organizing to save the planet. She currently provides legal and strategic organizing assistance to climate justice movements around the country, and coordinates activist defense and police misconduct litigation, ‘know your rights’ trainings, anti-repression trainings, as well as legal observing and copwatching coordination for a multitude of campaigns currently kicking ass and building a mass movement that will overpower corporate and governmental ecoterrorists.

  • Stephen Corry to speak at UO environmental conference

    Stephen Corry photo by c.Wolfgang SchmidtAnthropologist and Survival International general director among keynotes at 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

    Anthropologist Stephen Corry will be among the keynote speakers at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, “Running Into Running Out,” taking place at the University of Oregon February 27-March 2. Corry’s presentation is cosponsored by the University of Oregon Anthropology Department.

    Corry was projects director of Survival International from 1972 and has been the director general since 1984. Corry was chairman of the Free Tibet Campaign from 1993 until 2009 and remains on its board. In the 1970s, he promoted self-determination in the debate about indigenous peoples, a revolutionary concept when the debate centered on the poles of assimilation or preservation. In the 1980s he pushed to popularize tribal peoples’ issues, and in the 1990s he led the opposition to ideas such as the rainforest harvest, which threatened to confuse economic issues with human rights.

    Corry’s work now is centered on building a groundswell of support for tribal peoples, significant enough to permanently change the false and harmful assertion that they are backward remnants destined to disappear. Recently, he has also challenged the resurgence of colonialist ideology about ‘brutal savages,’ which claims that science proves tribal peoples are more violent than industrialized societies.

    Corry’s published work includes a guide titled “Tribal Peoples for Tomorrow’s World” (2011).

  • Professor Mary Wood to keynote UO environmental law conference

    Presentation to focus on themes from her latest work, “Nature’s Trust.”

    University of Oregon School of Law Professor Mary Wood will be a keynote speaker at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), “Running Into Running Out.” Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law and the faculty director for the school’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program.

    Wood frequently speaks on global climate change issues and originated the Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL) approach, which holds governments worldwide accountable for reducing carbon pollution within their jurisdictions. She has published extensively on climate crisis, natural resources and native law issues.

    Wood’s latest book, “Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age,” defines the frontiers of public trust law and maps out a full paradigm shift for the way in which government agencies manage public resources. Called a “profound assessment of the legitimate foundations of government” by Gerald Torres of Cornell Law School, the book reveals the dysfunction of current statutory law and calls upon citizens, government employees, legislators and judges to protect natural inheritance rightfully belonging to future generations as part of the public trust.

    Wood’s research currently is being used in lawsuits and petitions brought on behalf of children and youth throughout the United States and in other countries. These lawsuits, which seek judicial decrees enforcing carbon reduction, represent a “macro” approach to climate crisis calibrated to planetary requirements for climate equilibrium.

    The 2014 PIELC will take place February 27 through March 2 at the University of Oregon. “Running Into Running Out” conveys a sense of urgency that we must take greater action to prevent ourselves from running out of the resources necessary for survival. PIELC is an opportunity for lawyers, students, scientists, activists and citizens to gather and discuss issues critical to our planet. For additional information on the 32nd annual conference, visit http://pielc.org/.