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Sustainability Videos & Lecture Series

Sustainability and Environmental Justice

Sustainability is often described as the three "E"s—ecology, economics, and equity. Modern, technological societies must face the challenges of equity in contemporary life. Environmental justice is an American-based movement challenging disparities in risk-exposure and access to benefits. Environmental justice and sustainability reflect a deep division along race and class lines. Robin Morris Collin, professor of law, explores the need for collaboration and re-purposing in both movements.

Related Events: Sustainability and Environmental Justice: The Challenges of Equity


Robin Morris-Collin: It’s an honor and I’m very proud of my alma mater. Particularly because ASU has chosen to distinguish itself around the recognition that the environmental challenges that we face are inextricably linked to the issues of growing social inequity and to the economic inequity that we’re finding in our country and our world.

The recognition that these are really aspects of one problem and a unified vision about how to educate around those issues is really something that makes me deeply proud of Arizona State.

Thank you for to Julie Wrigley for her generous funding of this lecture series. Thank you to the lecture committee for inviting me back and also, thank you to you for coming today.

What I wanna talk to you about today is what I call the challenges of equity to sustainability. I want to explore why equity and distributional disparity threaten sustainability.

Many people in the United States, sustainability community of interest, have a blind spot where equity and environmental justice challenges intersect sustainability.

I maintain that we could achieve sustainable policies and practices today. That is, today, we could say everything from here forward might be sustainably manufactured, zero waste, no pollution, no toxins.

We might be able to solve every problem of sustainability from today going forward but we would still be unsustainable and that is because we cannot be sustainable unless we engage the disparities that historically have been created around intentional public policies.

The disparities that we are faced with, both environmental, economic and social, are products of a deliberate public policy and they have left a history of disparity with which we must deal in order to be sustainable.

The challenge of sustainability and equity requires honest recognition of what is going on around us. I believe that there is no ethical action that can come from any other foundation except an honest and complete appraisal of what is going on around us and that includes a history of racism and classism and sexism and all sorts of exclusions around the isms that we inherited as mental paradigms and public policy paradigms.

We can’t begin to deal effectively with the issues of sustainability unless, at the same time, we are willing to engage our history and that history will call for a high order of both forgiveness and a commitment to pay forward.

Let me begin my lecture today by defining three very basic terms. Forgive me for the simplicity. I know that some of you have come from the academic community. Some of you have come from the larger community and I wanna make sure I’m understood.

Let me begin by defining sustainability. There will be a test. I like the visual image of sustainability that you see to my left. This is a piece of glasswork by Dale Chihuly. Many of you may know Dale Chihuly because he’s a pacific northwest glassed artist and he’s done installations here locally at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Very beautiful stuff.

What you see in that image are nested glass baskets and Dale gave me permission to use this image when I talk about sustainability because this is the way I envision sustainability. We have three nested, very fragile vessels. The outer one represents the earth in our environment and our ecosystems and nested within that larger fragile vessel are other vessels equally fragile but smaller and they represent our economy and our communities.

To me, this image captures an important idea about sustainability, how fragile we are. The fact is that that outer vessel might be broken by an asteroid or a comet, we don’t have control over that yet, but it might also be broken from within.

That is to say, destabilization that comes from within that nested figure is just as capable of doing damage as any comet or asteroid. We have to attend to all of them.

The task of sustainability is learning to live within those sorts of fragile relationships and learning to configure our lives and our communities within that nested glass vessel is, to me, the task of sustainability.

There are at least two ways to define sustainability and I think it’s worth mentioning them at the outset. Many people talk about sustainability as the three E’s. You know what those are? The students are nodding.

Okay, the three E’s are environment or ecology, economics, and equity. The idea is often expressed as a three-legged stool where each rests on an equal leg. Some people talk about sustainability in terms of a traditional definition first posed in 1987 by Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was then the Prime Minister of Norway.

She wrote a report for the United Nations called Our Common Future and her definition–this is a paraphrase is, “Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet theirs."

Important idea here, fairness to future generations. So with that understanding of sustainability, I would like to add one more idea and that’s the importance of education. Education provides the basis for the way that we think about things and to the extent that humans can do great, great harm simply, by the way we think about things.

We, in education, need to be exceedingly mindful, at this point in our history, of our duty to train people to teach others in ways that communicate a normative relationship of sustainability. We need for education to create leadership in all manners and all sectors around this idea of sustainability. We will not have a planet if we don’t.

Environmental justice is another term I’d like to define for you in case you haven’t heard it. Let me just ask. How many of you have heard about environmental justice? You’ve heard the term? Right on. I tell you I’m proud of ASU.

Environmental justice refers to the equal protection of environmental law and policy regardless of race or class. There are more detailed and sophisticated definitions of it, but that’s the working definition that I wanna bring to you today.

It comes; again, from the year 1987, ’87 was a good year. Gro Harlem Brundtland and a study called Toxic Waste and Race by a radical Baptist Evangelical sect. You’ve heard of the United Churches of Christ, they did a study called Toxic Waste and Race back in 1987 and what they found–what they were asking is, “What predicts the location of toxic and hazardous waste in a community?”

That is to say what factor could we isolate that would tell us the likeliest location for a toxic and hazardous waste site or a transfer station?

Would it be hydrology? Would it be geology? Would it be property values? The factor that they identified and isolated was race, not hydrology, not geology, not the property values. Race and the darker the skin color of the place, the more likely it would have not one, not two, but multiple saturated exposures to toxic and hazardous waste.

By the way, that study was repeated in 2007, 20 years later, and the results were even worse 20 years later. This was the foundation for a movement called The Environmental Justice Movement.

Finally, I want to talk about poverty and what I mean by poverty is deprivation of access to employment, to education, to healthcare, and to housing anywhere. Deprivation of access to housing and healthcare and education and employment anywhere and at the extreme, I’m talking about poverty that kills.

Nationally and internationally, environmental justice has been challenging poverty and exposures that kill people. It’s been challenging the fact that race and income are so predictive of these sorts of exposures and lack of access.

In the future, this country will be multi-racial. It will be multi-ethnic and it will include more and more people from lower income backgrounds and households. You probably know the demographic statistics. One-quarter to one-third of the population today is non-white, so-called minority, and that number is growing.

The non-Hispanic, white person edge tends to decrease every year and is expected to become a plurality of the overall US population by the year 2050.

Since the great recession of 2008, the middle class in the United States has decreased, has suffered massive losses of wealth, and indeed, the gap between rich and the rest of us has grown incredibly in the United States. If you’d like to read more, look at the Atlantic Monthly for the month of August of this year.

My point with all of these statistics is sustainable decisions for the future will require cultural competence, competence in the outreach for public decision-making; and it will require competence in the assessment of the benefits and burdens of decisions. These are the competencies of environmental justice.

I’m the founding chair of the Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force and we received the National Environmental Justice award for 2010 for the work that we had done.

What we have done in our task force is to establish a commitment to these competencies within the 14 natural resource agencies of Oregon. Our 14 natural resource agencies, working with our task force, volunteered to make multi-cultural competence and environmental justice competence requirements for all management level positions in our 14 natural resource agencies.

You can’t be promoted without demonstrable competencies in these areas in the natural resource agencies. I think this is culture change and it’s what we need to do.

I’m also the director of the Sustainability Certificate Program for my law school and I’m also on the Oregon Sustainability Board. I’ve done a substantial amount of my research and scholarship in the field of sustainability. What I have experienced and seen is a color line between sustainability and environmental justice and it’s not green. This is unsustainable.

Specifically, when sustainability is being raised or discussed and funds for sustainability are created and made available, environmental justice isn’t in the room. Mostly white people are and when environmental justice is being discussed, there’s no money in the room but a lot of people of color. This is not sustainable.

Environmental justice provides the equity practice and the equity doctrine and the equity competency that are necessary for sustainable decisions. I maintain whenever sustainability is on the table, environmental justice needs to be in the room, or they’re likely to be on the menu.

My experience with doing this work of sustainability and environmental justice is to emphasize the importance of culture. Every community has a culture. Indeed, every building has a culture and until we learn to embrace those cultures, we can’t implement sustainability in a fully engaged way.

Culture helps us to clarify our relationships to place and it helps us to configure our right relationships between our economy, our communities, and our ecosystems.

Every environmental challenge is local in nature and every community has a culture. The capacity for building community engagement must recognize the likelihood that communities will have distinctive views and demand incorporation of those distinctive elements into any plan for sustainability.

This may require working through face-to-face social networking. It may require visiting churches and barbershops and nail salons and not relying on E-technology in order to establish the relationships that are necessary for building resilient communities and capacity for public participation. That kind of work requires multi-cultural competence and it requires environmental justice competence.

As I mentioned, Gro Harlem Brundtland gives us a very traditional and foundational definition of sustainability. She says that, “Sustainable development means meeting our needs without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet theirs.”

My question to you tonight is whether you think it is possible to achieve fairness or justice to future generations without engaging the disparities of the past and the needs of contemporary communities?

My answer is we cannot do that and I want to share why but my conviction about this is shared widely and I just want to quote briefly from the German statement of sustainability that accompanies its work plan for German sustainability.

The Germans say, “That sustainability for them means not living at the expense of people in other regions of the earth or at the expense of future generations. Too often, our decisions about development have discounted the value of future lives and the value of contemporary lives without political power.”

What I mean by discounting the value of these lives is simple. It means that people at the table take all the benefits. People in the room take all the benefits and all of the burdens and costs will fall on either future generations, who are not present or politically unpowerful people who are likewise not present.

That’s unsustainable decision-making and public policy decisions of the past have often been predicated on exactly that kind of situation. It was rationalized by a kind of utilitarian philosophy that said, “Well, they may not be in the room but we’re doing the greatest good for the greatest number right now so that ought a be all right.”

That way of thinking elevated the value of contemporary powerful people because they were making the decisions and other people weren’t there. The greatest good for the greatest number was often not reflective of the greatest number. It was reflective of what a very small minority thought were good for the greatest number. Do you see the difference?

It’s John Rawls who proposes a different way of thinking about justice and fairness in his book, A Theory of Justice. Difficult book but really well worth the effort. A Theory of Justice. He says, “We should stop asking about the greatest good for the greatest number and instead consider what sort of decisions we would make for ourselves if we didn’t know who and what and where we were going to be born.”

What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna be male or female? What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna be black? There’s a thought. What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna be rich or poor? What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna be in the US or Mexico? What if we didn’t know any of that? What decisions would we make in the absence of that knowledge?

He calls this position the original position. He says, “We should make decisions from behind,” what he calls, “A veil of ignorance about what all of these things might be that we now know because we are in being now.”

He said, “If we make decisions from that veil of ignorance point of view, we would be behaving justly and fairly, not utilitarian, we would behaving justly.”

My question is from behind that veil of ignorance, would it be acceptable to pollute? Would it be acceptable to poison? Would it be acceptable to extinguish lives and livelihoods? Of course, not.

We have to begin to educate for fairness and not merely expedience. We have to begin to create students who will enter the workplace and citizens who will speak in the larger public domain to issues of sustainability when they see them and that requires courage. What I was saying to my colleagues at the law school yesterday.

It requires courage and the language of virtue. Something that academics too often have been uncomfortable with because it isn’t neutral to talk about courage and to talk about virtue, our normative ideas. We are most comfortable with procedures but procedures don’t always lead to the right result. At least not for that configuration that I’m talking about.

Sustainability will require us to confront disparities that exist because of our history and deliberate public policy decisions that were made to sacrifice certain groups and communities.

Even if we were to adopt radical resource efficiency, a change to free and clean energy, even if we built nothing but net zero buildings, even if there was zero waste in the manufacturing, even if all the products made were toxin free we could not ignore the brown fields in our midst. They are poisoning our underground water. Not just here in Phoenix. We did the same thing in Salem.

Our little local prison used to run a dry cleaning facility and tri-perchloroethylene–tri-perc was routinely poured down the drain. The prison officials in my little town were told back in the 1950’s not to shower onsite. What is that evidence of?

Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, they were drinking bottled water. Do you know anybody who drank bottled water back then? What is that evidence of? Yet, prisoners had no access to anything else except that underground water stream that was being routinely poisoned.

You know what justifies it some people’s mind is that punishment is not enough, it’s okay to kill them slowly. They’re prisoners after all and this is a lesson for all of us I’m going to repeat.

Now, the underground water system that flows beneath the prison goes right from the prison to our state house. There’s now an irony for you and people are concerned now because it’s all of us, not just them.

It’s a mistake to think that we can clean up the land and the air and the water and not attend to and engage the needs of the communities that are on that land, who take care of that watershed, and who breathe the air. We will need them in order to make that clean-up work and last. We don’t have enough cops on the beat to do the enforcement any other way.

In a collection of essays, that’s the book at the back of the room, called, Moral Ground, this is a collection of essays devoted to exploring moral duties to the planet. Your president, President Crow, suggests that we need an amendment to the Constitution in favor of future generations.

He wrote, “In an effort to redeem ourselves, let us at last reconsider our design derived from the framers of the Constitution in the 18th century; however belatedly, it is at long last time to add one more value to the concept of self as expressed in the Constitution.

To provide for the common good we cannot only consider justice for those of us present, we must also conceptualize and enact into law provisions for justice for future generations."

He says, “We cannot look only 40 or 50 years ahead or behind. Individually, we must come to terms with the realization the decisions made during the past 250 years have put humanity during the next several thousand years at risk."

We must cultivate the long view to be sure but we cannot remain blind to the poverty and injustice that characterize our communities now.

There is another reason to question whether the interests of future generations can survive the radical disparities that we have inherited from the past and that is our inter-connectedness now. We are so deeply intertwined with each other that there cannot be acceptable sacrifice zones. They all harm all of us.

I wrote in my contribution to this collection of essays, “We are so inter-connected by transportation; by communication; by viruses, real and virtual; by the cycles of life that define us that to imagine we are somehow separated is delusional and ultimately leads to illness. Our future depends upon this recognition."

What one individual does, deliberate or not; what one nation does, intentionally or not, may mean disaster for another and that is as true of our choices in this country as it is true of the choices made in China and India. We are too inter-connected now not to behave as if we understood that fundamental thing.

The Dalai Lama wrote in this same collection of essays. “We will definitely have to find new ways to survive together on this planet. We have seen enough war, poverty, pollution, and suffering. According to Buddhist teachings, such things happen because we often fail to see the essential common relationship of all beings.

To counteract these harmful practices, we can teach ourselves to be more aware of our mutual dependence. When we are able to recognize and to forgive ignorant actions of the past, we gain the strength to constructively solve the problems of the present."

Let me speak now directly to poverty. Poverty is speaking to us whether we are listening or not. Poverty is speaking to us whether we are poor or not. Whether we want to acknowledge the claims that poverty and inequity make upon us, those claims make themselves felt in a multitude of forms.

We know that we are facing a time of destabilized ecosystems. These predictions about destabilization are uniform, even though the rate of change is debated. Destabilization is a physical phenomenon but it is also a moral and a political reality.

The consequences of unstable and collapsing ecosystems will be drought, will be floods, will be lost lives and livelihoods, and here I’ve seen the work that GIOS does in the website on climate change in Arizona. Good stuff but deeply depressing.

Destabilization is not just a physical reality, it is a moral and a political reality and we have to deal with it at those levels as well. Destabilization will hurt the poorest and the most vulnerable first. It will hurt the elderly, the children, and the poorest of the poor first but like canaries in the coalmine, we ought to be warned, they are only first.

It is illness to think that we can somehow float through the mechanics of wealth or technology–that somehow we can float on a sea of detritus like that. It cannot happen.

Additional exposures will transcend race and will transcend class. For example, public health officials predict particularly virulent viruses so the combination of economic depravation and environmental degradation create an expanding loop of poverty and environmental devastation.

The challenge we face is to slow growth in that loop. The only way to slow growth in that loop is to recognize these problems as part of a single unified problem.

For many of us, the point of entry into the study and appreciation of sustainability has been through the environment and the momentous environmental challenges we face. However, today’s environmental reality is powerfully linked with other realities and these include growing social inequity.

We must now mobilize our spiritual and our political resources for the transformative changes that must take place on all three fronts.

Some of you may know who James Gustave Speth is. He is the renowned dean of Yale School of Forestry. He wrote first describing the challenges to sustainability in terms of ignorance about the natural environment, inadequate education, and the overwhelming availability of data.

He says, “We have so much data that we can’t take it in. We can’t stay current. We don’t know what we don’t know and there’s too much of a resounding answer in the form of data."

He says and I quote, “I believe the solution to all three difficulties is to refigure them into a single problem.”

This is the School of Forestry speaking. The core of this unified issue is that living nature has opened a broad pathway to the heart of science itself and that the breadth of our life and our spirit depend upon its survival.

Isn’t it wonderful to hear a scientist speaking the language of spirit? An honest scientist, I maintain, must confront that. He says, “To grasp and discuss this fundamental unified core of the problem in spiritual terms is essential to sustainability because we are on common ground,” says he, “And the fate of creation is the fate of humanity.”

E. O. Wilson, another scientist and Nobel Prize winner, says, “We have a long way to go to make peace with this planet and with each other.”

Many of our scientists, as well as activists, have told us repeatedly, “We cannot address the problems of earth and ecosystems and remain deliberately blind or indifferent to our relationships to other people.”

Resolving these issues will require equity. Acknowledging and resolving, at last, a lingering heritage of inequality that has left some communities and some people lethally exposed to hazardous wastes and toxic conditions.

Building sustainabilities with resilience and the capacity for adaptation means that we must clean up some of these lingering disparities.

As I mentioned before, education is the foundation for how we think about things, and how we think about things dictates how we act. That’s why you’ll see, occasionally, this quotation, “Guard the thought” because the thought becomes the deed. There’s a longer version of it.

In that light, I am constantly challenged by an essay, quite old now, from David Orr, O R R, it’s short. It appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education years ago and the title–it’s online, too, What is Education For? What is Education For?

He writes, in part, “Tonight earth will be a little hotter. It’s waters a little more acidic and the fabric of life a little more threadbare and it is worth nothing that this is not the work of ignorant people. This is the work of people with BA’s and BS’s and MBA’s and PhD’s.” He left out JD.

Later in the same essay he questions, “Do the years at your institution make your graduates better planetary citizens or does it leave them ’iterant professional’ vandals?” He asks, “Does your college contribute to the development of a sustainable regional economy or in the name of efficiency, does it contribute to the processes of destruction?"

I think you can well be proud of ASU because at least the goal and the vision are here. It’s up to us in the room and those who may be listening to do the work. That’s another challenge.

Whatever the mental formations and paradigms of the past, we must educate for a future that is both multi-racial and it will be overwhelmingly urban.

In addition to the statistics that I mentioned about race and ethnic demographics, we know that the future will be urban. By 2030, 60 percent of the world will be living in urban settlements and in developed nations like ours, 84 percent of the population will be living in cities.

Environmentalism has not dealt well with cities. I think, in part, this is because of the history of environmentalism. It was 1970 and President Nixon who created the EPA. The EPA was given the task of coordinating the administration of a variety of new environmental laws, which had been created largely around disasters.

You know when the Cuyahoga River started burning, we said, “Oh, yeah, ah, we’d better get a clean water act.” Things like that, you know, sort of backing into a regime that we now have but through crisis management.

I mention 1970 because if you think about it, well, I had just moved to Tempe in 1968. 1968 was the year that Martin Luther King was assassinated. I remember living in Tempe at the time, Concorda Drive. 1970 was just six years after JFK had been assassinated. It was just five years after we passed the Civil Rights Act. It was four years after we passed the Voting Rights Act.

The leadership of the EPA deliberately disengaged the issues of the cities and urban populations. They made the conscious decision not to deal with cities and urban ecologies and that early decision to disassociate from cities has left a paradigm around cities that is also unsustainable.

Cities are often viewed by environmentalists as the enemy, as sources of waste and pollution, and this leads to demonizing urban areas and their inhabitants who are increasingly disproportionately people of color.

The statistics on future urbanization make it very clear. This negative mental paradigm is particularly unsustainable. We must embrace urbanization and explore ways in which it can preserve wild places and wild beings, while improving the quality and resilience of life.

Urbanism is, in my view, the hope for a future that is going to be more populous. I would recommend Jane Jacobs in her last book, The Economies of Nations. Jane Jacobs is a renowned urban planner and this was her last work on the subject in which she suggests that cities are actually going to be the best friend of the planet, not the enemy.

Urban sustainability will unavoidably force us to deal with inequities of the past and those inequities have only gotten worse in the intervening years. Whether and how to resolve those disparities that have been left by a deliberate history of urban policy, whether and how to deal with them, are political and moral questions as fully as they are questions of engineering.

In conclusion, I’d like to add one more idea to the pillars supporting sustainability. This is the importance of forgiveness and the duty to pay forward. Let me explain what I mean.

I define forgiveness in this way. Forgiveness is the intentional giving up of one’s rightful legitimate claim for payback. By payback, I mean compensation in the form of legal compensation or payback in the form of karma, either way.

Forgiveness requires people who have an authentic and rightful claim to be mad and to ask for payback to give that up but that doesn’t mean it requires legitimating gains made from illegitimate suffering.

So, to the extent that we are privileged and our only crime may have been to enjoy the fruit of wrongdoing, I think a moral claim is made that is legitimate when we say the obligations of the privileged and the obligations of wealth are to pay that wealth forward. Not to pay it back, to pay it forward.

I was listening to a speech that you can find on YouTube by Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren is running for the Senate in Massachusetts. She made a particularly moving speech where she says, “Look, if you made money in America, you did it with help.

Nobody makes it in America, nobody, who didn’t have help. If you made a ton of money getting your product to market, you took it over streets and roads that we built. If you made money in terms of hiring Americans and you got good quality labor, largely that labor is publically educated and we pay for that.”

She says to multi-national corporations, to American corporations and to wealthy people, she says, “Look, the obligation that you have is to pay it forward to the future so that the next kid who comes along and the next business that wants to start gets the same chance that you got and gets the same help, pay it forward."

Let me close by quoting something that I wrote in this work, Moral Ground. “I can hear the voices of my contemporaries rejecting blame. They insist they have not actually done anything evil. They didn’t enslave anybody. They didn’t kill anyone and they didn’t take anyone’s way of life. They didn’t choose petroleum. They didn’t choose cars instead of public transportation.”

I say to all of us, “The only way forward lies in abandoning a time bound sense of right and wrong. We must make amends for wrongs to the earth and to the people who abide there, for the wrongs that degrade them and us; even if the one terrible wrong that we committed was to enjoy the fruit of wrongdoing."

We have some time for questions and answers but I wanna thank you for your attention. Thank you very much.

[Applause 00:46:10]

[No Audio 00:46:11 – 00:47:22]

Morris-Collin: I think it’s important to understand the limits of law. I went to law school really deeply entranced with the idea that law could change our society. I was born in 1954 when Brown versus Board of Education was decided and I lived through that period of civil rights where I saw statutes and litigation as really transformative tools of society.

What I have come to appreciate during my years as a scholar, and now my maturation as a scholar, is that law is an exceedingly limited discipline. It has certain extraordinary strengths but it’s easy to overstate them.

One of the things that I tell my students is this, “It is a mistake to win something in court that you cannot support in community."

I saw that in the education, the public education struggle. Unless you have done the work, unless you know how to create culture and consensus around a goal, you can win in court and you will lose, lose, lose inter-generationally now.

One of the things that I think we need to understand as lawyers, and I think you fairly pointed out, law is an extremely useful tool for building and configuring strength around consensus but law is really not a very good leader.

Having said that, my goals for law students are kind of different and you tell me if this is contradictory or not. When I teach law students sustainability, my goal is to educate lawyers who will be in the room with power so that they understand the issues of sustainability and equity when they are present and they have the courage and the skill to speak to those when they are in the room.

I want my law students–students of law and sustainability to be the voice of conscience and the voice of sustainability in the room. That is a different kind of function. A different relationship to power than thinking about law as simply shaping conduct through statutes and through administrative regulations.

It is a relationship of an informal nature but in some ways, I think it is more durable and more effective than protracted struggles. Especially struggles that create adversarial relationships that outlast the good they were trying to do.

That’s my partial answer to that. Anybody else?

By the way, my colleague, Dan, if you feel like chiming in, please do.

Well, of course, I’m standing next to one of the predominate legal experts on climate change. Thank you, Dan. Professor Bodansky is internationally recognized for his expertise in this area.

Let me just take your question–not so much about the law of climate change but really about the ideas of analyzing the distributional consequences of our conduct around climate change and thinking about what those mean for people in public policy positions and in law as they look at climate change.

As I mentioned before, it’s very clear that our changing climate will create disasters in certain communities. We know where they are. We know who they are. We also know, in part, that environmental justice and equity demand equitable disaster planning.

I won’t tell you which birthday it was but I celebrated one of my birthdays looking at Katrina. I could not believe that I was looking at a city in the United States, watching people die. You know did you have that–it just left me absolutely bereft that people, for day after day after day, were left there to die.

I had to ask myself if this was a white community, would that happen? If this were Portland, Oregon, would this have happened?

Part of what we need to do is equitable disaster planning and equitable relief planning for when disasters happen. I submit to you we’ve got a long way to go in the law in terms of that.

Equitable disaster planning means that we need to do the public outreach to poor people, to vulnerable people, to young people, to handicapped people, whatever their nature of their vulnerability is, we have to make sure that they’re included in adequate disaster planning but that’s not enough.

When disasters happen, we need to be ready to move and save people, whether they’re in a black community like New Orleans or whether they’re in a white community like Portland, and that’s equitable relief.

By the way, the United Nations doesn’t deal well with this kind of an environmental refugee situation; many of you may know this. Some of you may not. We’ve come to expect that the UN will come in and deliver equitable sorts of relief planning but they don’t do that when the crisis is environmentally driven. They call them environmental refugees and they’re outside the purview.

We’ve got to do better at relief planning but that’s not enough. We have also got to do a better job of looking at the systems, looking at the people, the programs, the organizations that are responsible for creating climate change and get those systems to respond to their duties. To tell them, to make them, to encourage them, to exhort them to live up to their duties and do their part to prevent this terrible disaster.

I think we have not put it in moral terms. Too often, the law is uncomfortable with moral terms and yet, there is a tremendous amount of mobilizing strength and organization in speaking directly to people in moral terms. This is a part of an answer.

Would you like to add? Yes, please.

Audience: As you all didn’t come here for me but to come here to hear [audience inaudible 00:54:46] I’ll try to keep my words very short. [Audience Inaudible 00:54:48] It really was the great inequities that the countries that are most contributing to carbon climate changing could be the ones that are less affected by it and most capable [audience inaudible 00:55:02] The countries that are gonna be most affected, most hurt, are the ones that are contributing the least.

This sets up a fundamental problem of injustice. The countries that are gonna be most affected are poor countries typically. Countries that don’t have a lot capacity [audience inaudible 00:55:20] in Africa and some Bangladesh, Slavo states.

Part of it is to try to raise money to [audience inaudible 00:55:28] and there are quite a few different ideas out there about trying to generate funds to help them get out of it. Ultimately, there’s no way for them to get out, to allow what’s gonna happen.

A country like Maldives is gonna be underwater with the expected sea level rise. The President of Maldives held a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear to demonstrate what his country would be like in 50 years, 100 years in the future.

You couldn’t even master that. You try to reduce initiatives but we gotta find [audience inaudible 00:55:59] mapping. Now it’s very difficult for countries, these foreign 00:56:04 countries, like Bangladesh or like Maldives to do that because they’re not what’s causing these issues. These issues are being caused by people that live in different countries.

There is now, after it’s been tried to address climate changes for people who might be affected, to try to use some of those tools. I think those make sense to some degree but I don’t think they’re ultimately used. ’Cause one of them, I think it takes–it’s required–it’s shaming the countries that are actually [audience inaudible 00:56:31] I think that the problems that they have [audience inaudible 00:56:35] We still have to see whether that one works.

Morris-Collin: Thank you, Dan, and I appreciate using the word shame. Can I add one other thought? I think there is embedded in this whole area another important piece and this is the importance of technology transfer.

To some extent, we really have to be willing to build these countries in a different way. These are poor countries. They are looking for survival, not thrival. They’re just trying to hang on and in part, it’s tough to have a conversation about sustainability if you’re likely to die of hunger first.

I think part of our obligation is also to be willing to transfer the technology to build these countries in order to grow in the right way. We can’t tell them don’t grow like we grew and expect that to carry any kind of persuasive power at all.

I wanna give you an example of where the US has shown leadership in the past and we ought to do it again. After World War II, we had destroyed Japan and we destroyed Germany. There was a meeting, Bretton Woods, at which the allies who were the undisputed victors decided they were gonna rebuild the enemy.

We went and we built those economies from scratch and I’ll tell you what we really need today is for somebody to come and eliminate our infrastructure because they’re in better shape to build from the ground up than to try to remodel the mess we have. If you’ve ever remodeled a house, you know exactly what I mean.

We saw, in that moment, not self-interest but an opportunity to grow and re-grow the world the right way. It turned out to be in all of our interests. Yes, the Japanese and the Germans have a better economy, or they had a better economy for a while, but we all floated. This rising tide floats all boats idea and we need to do this again.

We can’t allow the law of intellectual property to stop this. It’s too important and sometimes I like to leave people with this thought. Law is way too important to leave to lawyers. Take the power back.

Other comments?

Male Voice: Other questions?

Morris-Collin: You know there’s a lot of thinking going on at GIOS and SOS and SHESC and all the other acronyms. There’s a lot of thinking going on. I’ve learned a lot as I listen to people today talking about these issues but let me just share some of my thoughts about this.

First of all, I think we have to convey in data-driven terms exactly where we are at with respect to some of the conditions that communities face and for that, science is absolutely indispensable. We have to have scientists who go out and do the measurement and the descriptive work for what kinds of exposures exist, how those exposures are being transmitted to communities. We need to describe in rich detail exactly where we are at.

We must also learn to describe the economic pre-conditions that surround where we’re at. I submit that most of the problems we are talking about have been driven by an economic policy of the past and we need to make that clear. Whether or not we agree or disagree, many of these decisions–and I’ll go back to the Salem prison.

Many of the decisions made to dump perc into the water were economic. They knew better. They didn’t wanna spend the money and we need to make clear how many of our economic and environmental decisions are driven by simple expedience and not by intelligent people. ’Cause, “It’s not the work of ignorant people,” says David Orr.

This is the work of people who have been trained to think expediently, and by expedience, that means they are willing to sacrifice certain people in certain zones. We need to address, in plain terms, the language of virtue or shame and then I think we can begin to have an honest conversation about what to do with the inherited situation but that won’t be easy.

I think we also have to mirror and start, particularly I ask this of my law students, courageous conversation, and by courageous conversation, I mean this. We need to be able to have conversations that are painful and shameful and hurt to have this talk.

Lawyers ought to be good at this because very few people go to a lawyer feeling good. Most of the time, if you’re talking to a lawyer, it’s because something painful or shameful has happened. Having a conversation that involves shame, having a conversation that is hurtful needs to be a managed conversation. One that includes respect. One that includes forgiveness.

I think we need, in our environmental justice work, to do that work of establishing a respectable kind of forgiveness. Not a sentimental type of forgiveness. Not obsequiousness and certainly not legitimating suffering. We do need to talk to victims as well as people who have–they’re not perpetrators but people who continue to profit from wrong in those terms.

I think the politic–I’m in Arizona. First of all, given my druthers, I would make everybody listen to Marvin Gaye’s song about electoral politics and if you haven’t heard it, you need to go listen to this. It’s called You’re the Man. It’s a great tune. It’s a great tune and what he says is, “Politics and hypocrites are turning us all into lunatics."

So part of my answer to the politics of this, and remember I’m just a lawyer, I don’t actually know anything. Part of my answer to the politics is I think we need to speak to commonly held shared values. We can find them and we have them but we’ve had 30 years of a politic of difference that have left us in a posture of seeing what divides us more than we understand what we have in common. This is craziness.

As Americans, we have far more in common than what divides us but we haven’t had a politics that celebrates what we have in common. If we don’t start speaking to those shared values, we will lose them.

I think part of the answer to politics is to start talking to commonly held shared values as Americans, secular values, if you will. Then I also think we need to begin to talk about and insist upon common sense. Common sense is not so common but it’s what most people want. They want common sense politics not lunatics.

I’m encouraged, I heard that Mesa–yeah, go Mesa. Mesa got rid of Russell Pearce. I know he’ll be back. That’s okay.


You know about roaches. Roaches come back, right. Roaches are gonna be here when all else is gone and I kind of look at some politicians in that way. They’ll be back but when they come back, we need to be prepared. We know what they are. We know the kind of toxins they have so let’s not get fooled again. All right. We need to do our work at this end.

That’s just a few preliminary thoughts about politics but really, it’s a tough issue now, in my view, because we have had 30 years of rhetoric that only talks about our differences, that vilifies all these minutia instead of celebrating this tremendous heritage that we have of democracy, of freedom, of individuality, of autonomy.

We oughta be shouting that from the mountaintops and everybody else who doesn’t wanna share those values, I wish there were a way–no I don’t. Okay, that’s forgiveness. See, right there.


Male Voice: This gentleman here I think is a [audience inaudible 01:06:34]

Audience: I wanna say I really appreciate your talk today. I was very impressed. I’ve been talking and talking green ideas since the ’80’s and when you really discussed it what [audience inaudible

001:06:57] Kind of a mystery lover but, well, you really get frustrated. It’s nice to see somebody like you out here.

I’m very happy to see these young people because when I did it, there were very few people that [audience inaudible 01:07:04]

In fact and I think America stands for ingenuity and the young kids here that’ll be engineers and scientists can take that spirit that we have and move it forward.

When you talk about spirituality, I came up with on my hybrid car and said, [audience inaudible 01:07:23] the grace of that, look for the glory of God but read.

I was wondering, what if we went and read–I’m not a big religious person but maybe Jesus Christ will come back. “I knew that when I come back here–”

I heard on NPR the other day, a lady that started about Planned Parenthood. She retired in Tucson and she wasn’t for abortion. We just hit 8 million people and part of the problem, I feel, what she said, “Was when she lived in New York City, she’d see families with eight, ten kids and kept them [audience inaudible 01:08:03]

How do we currently bridge that gap with religion in our culture and start teaching people if you wanna get out of poverty, it’s not considered racism but to consider having one or two children? I’ve been wondering whatever it is for people in Utah that you can share anything?

Morris-Collin: Let me see if this is fair but I think the question is about population and how to manage population because, at some point, it’s destroying the earth. It’s too much. At what point, I’m not sure, nobody knows. That’s epistemological ignorance; we don’t know what we don’t know.

Here’s what I do know about population. What works to control population is not a condom or birth control pills. It’s giving women education and employment opportunities; and therefore, I think rather than try the Chinese method of enforcing a one-child family state, what I’d like to try is making sure, not only in this country but around the world, women have educational opportunities and having employment opportunities. Then I think population would be radically curtailed. I know that is a matter of data.

There’s another part of what you said that I wanted to respond to and it reminds me to say this to our students. I say this to my law students, particularly. Imagination is more important than information.

If you’re education is killing your imagination, look around. Find a way to get your imagination back because we are capable of building, not merely survival, but building beauty. That’s our choice but we have to awaken our imagination.

This is Einstein’s thought experiments, what if all energy in the future was clean and free? Nobody ever had to pay for energy and it wouldn’t pollute. How would that change climate change? How would that change our ideas about entrepreneurship and wealth? You know, that could be the future? It is definitely possible.

Especially if we don’t recreate a grid system. Especially if we create energy that is assessable by individuals without mediation by corporations. Especially if it’s renewable.

What if there was healthcare and a pension for every American? How many of you would go out and start your own business rather than spend more time in school? I bet there’re a bunch.

That’s why Norway is the leading entrepreneurial nation in the world because people don’t worry about healthcare and they don’t worry about whether there’s gonna a pension. There will be one so they take an idea and they say, “You know what, I’m gonna do this.”

That frees up a tremendous amount of creativity, of entrepreneurialism, of all the things that we say we want to do. So experiment with the what if’s and if you think that it might work, let your imagination be your guide.

Any other thoughts? Questions? Comments? Hicoo 01:12:06? Tough question, thank you.

Audience: Not looking for an answer, just your thoughts.

Morris-Collin: Thoughts, of course. [Laughter]

Audience: I was looking for an answer. [Laughter]

Morris-Collin: Let me ruminate a little bit. First thought is this, I don’t think individuality is necessarily inconsistent with sustainability, within qualifications, but it seems to me that one of the great things about our American version of individuality is a faith in autonomy. Choice.

We think, rightly or wrongly, in many areas of life people ought to be able to make their own choices. That’s a wonderful thing. The problem, I think, where we can go wrong is when that kind of autonomy and individuality is so, as you point out, disconnected from nature around us.

Here, I think, we are blessed with a gazillion opportunities. A million opportunities, a thousand ways to reconnect but we have to do this to reconnect to nature.

I’m appalled by the number of people who never let their feet touch the ground for very long. I’ve spent most of the day, today, indoors and I usually walk my dogs, at least walk the dogs, so that my feet touch the ground.

There is an important piece of the human anatomy and psyche that are absolutely dependent on being able to touch something natural, not artificial.

You know what I really worry about with prisons? I think we create monsters when we don’t let people touch the outside. I think we take hurt people and hurt them more when we put them in places where they can’t see the sun and they can’t feel the ambient air. I think this is shocking. We will come to understand how counter-productive that that truly was.

In the Oregon prison system, we have a program co-sponsored by the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that takes rescue animals and they are trained by women inmates to become service dogs. Oh, I love that loop. Right?

This is taking abandoned people and abandoned animals and creating a purposeful life for them both and here’s the thing, the inmates who have this relationship with the animals, they know they have to let them go, but it’s a first time for many of them that they have ever felt an unconditional love. Ever. Ever and it’s transformative. Connectedness with these other beings.

There are other prison programs where people grow something. They’ve never grown anything in life. It’s transformative. So part of my thinking that you’ve prompted, thank you, is that we need to explore the opportunities, both great and small, both individual and systemic for reconnecting to earth, to reconnecting to those things that make us human.

We construct opportunities every day to separate ourselves but we need to think about how to use those opportunities to reconnect. Just a part of a thought.

Part of what we’re wrestling with in these large questions are how to empower people and communities to make good decisions and to some extent, those good decisions require us, as communities, to come together and to have conversation and dialogue about what kind of community we want to have and how to get there.

We did that in Oregon in the Oregon Benchmarks Program, which is not unflawed but it’s still this kind of community conversation. Do we want a community that has Leaf vehicles or what about less vehicles altogether? How about this, even if we could have Leaves, is that the plural? [Laughter]

Even if we could have Leaves, maybe what we really want is a system of zip cars, on-demand cars, ’cause we really don’t wanna own cars at all. We just wanna be able to get where we wanna go when we wanna get there. The service that cars provide.

I think, in part, the answer to your very broad question lies in letting communities speak for themselves, articulate their needs, and giving them good choices. I’m not even sure, as good as the Leaf might be, as wonderful as bikes might be; maybe what we need is not individual bikes but a kind of zip bike situation. Right?

They have that in Amsterdam. I was there this summer. I mean you take a bike; you leave a bike. Right? We have that in Portland, as well. They’re painted yellow. Take a bike; leave a bike.

My point about this is often the way we think about technology is bound in a paradigm of private ownership and everybody’s gotta have one but an important theme in terms of diminishing our environmental impact it’s often overlooked.

People wanna talk about affluence. They wanna talk about population but they don’t talk about the way we deploy technology. Perhaps if we had a culture of sharing, we could dramatically decrease some of these impacts.

Sharing, of course, is one of those virtue words, again. I grew up saying, “Share your toys.” Being told, “Share your toys. You don’t have to have everything.”

If were able to talk about, even our existing technology in terms of shared, we might have a whole constellation of other choices that are good for the environment and liberating because frankly, I don’t like having a car and I don’t need a fancy bike. I just need to get around.

How are we doing on time?

Male Voice: I think we’re actually out of time. I think that’s a good place to end. I started by saying that Professor Collin is not your ordinary [audience inaudible 01:19:19] She’s not sensitive-wise to that. Please join me in thanking Professor Collin.


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