On Wednesday April 1, 2015, Pace University Law School had the honor of hosting Robin Kundis Craig as the keynote speaker of the 21th Annual Lloyd K. Garrison Lecture on Environmental Law. Ms. Craig is a leading environmental law scholar and author of The Clean Water Act and the Constitution (Environmental Law Institute 2004), Environmental Law in Context (West 2005), and over fifty law review articles on water and coastal issues. After graduating with a Ph.D in English Literature from U.C. Santa Barbara, Ms. Craig attended Lewis & Clark School of Law, where she graduated summa cum laude and first in her class. She taught previously at Lewis & Clark School of Law; Western New England College School of Law; Indiana University-Indianapolis School of Law; and the Florida State University College of Law and is currently the William H. Leary professor of law at University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law where her teaching focuses on Property, Environmental Law, Ocean & Coastal Law, Administrative Law, Water Law, Toxic Torts, and Civil Procedure. Ms. Craig is also very active with the American Bar Association’s Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources, where she recently completed a three-year term on the Executive Council and where she currently serves as Co-Chair of the Water Resource Committee, on the Planning Committee for the 43rd Annual Spring Conference on Environmental Law, as Vice Chair for the 2014 Water Law Conference, and as the designated Chair of the 2015 Water Law Conference.
While her credentials are exceptional, her lecture was similarly impressive. Titled “Learning to Live with the Trickster: Narrating Climate Change and the Value of Resilience Thinking,” the lecture focused on how humans think and cope with change (in this case climate change) through the use of different narratives. Ms. Craig used the tale of the trickster, a mythological creature who is known for its intelligence as well as its ability to bring chaos through its mischievous and “trickster” ways. By using the trickster as the model, she explained that the current narratives about combating climate change need to change from ones in which humans try to control that which is uncertain, to narratives about learning to live with chaos—as many societies in ancient stories and folklore learned to do while living with the trickster.
Ms. Craig offered an informative historical look at U.S. Environmental Policy, which she called the “Humans as Controlling Engineers” narrative. This narrative focused on human’ desire to try and conquer nature or, as she so eloquently put it, humans’ belief that if we created the environmental problems, then we can just as easily fix them through technology and other controls. Yet, as Ms. Craig explained, this belief in the “Humans as Controlling Engineers” does not fit into the reality of how nature works, and many times the consequences of our actions are hard to predict due to complex feed back loops. Nature is not a system that tries to stabilize itself after change, but rather one that is continually in a state of motion and evolution.
The second half of the lecture focused on examining what she described as the four narratives that people currently fall into when it comes to discussing climate change. The first narrative that people fall into is denying that climate change is happening. The second narrative maintains that if climate change does exist, it’s not because of us. The third narrative involves people who believe that technology will be the solution to our problems, and the fourth concerns those who have overly accepted climate change and believe that it’s going to lead to the end of the world as we know it. All four narratives have their own drawbacks, but this is where the trickster model comes in. It gives us a way of dealing with and living with long-term climate change. Once humans can get to the point of accepting the unexpected and incorporating it into our lives, we can step outside our current narrative as “controlling engineers.”
The lecture concluded with a short question and answer session. Many of the questions asked by professors concerned how Ms. Craig thought they should be talking about climate change with their students and how the students should seek to tackle this issue in the legal framework. While such questions do not have easy answers, Ms. Craig stressed the importance of having a strong precautionary principle and the need for strengthening current laws that reduce stresses on our eco-systems. Most importantly, Ms. Craig pointed to the need for positivity that encourages people to understand that while we may not be able to control the impact of climate change the way we want, there are things we can do to help make our lives living with climate change better.