Sustainable Development and Our Future

It may be human nature, but I find myself going through the motions of law school. I think it’s the same for a lot of others here too.  We get so caught up in reading for class, writing papers, and worrying about money that we stop looking at the big picture of what we can do. These ruts are to be expected but every once in a while it’s nice to go and listen to something new.  Something you don’t have to take notes on or remember for an exam. Listen to something just to learn and be a little better off.  In the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to two such lectures. The Hopkins Lecture, presented by Professor John Nolon, and the Rediscovering Sustainable Development Law: In the Community and In Legal Practice conference gave me the chance to sit for a few hours and learn without extra pressures.

The message of these two events can be summarized into one simple sentence. “While a sustainable America may be impossible, an unsustainable America is impossible.”- Professor John C. Dernbach. The sentiment is clear, society must do more to ensure peace and stability for the future. Professor Dernbach, from Widener Law School, was the key-note speaker of the Rediscovering Sustainable Development Law conference. He provided listeners three tools to help reach a sustainable America. First, understand what exactly sustainable development is. Professor Dernbach defined it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  It is not simply an aspect of environmental conservation, but instead an umbrella that covers environmental, social, economic and security issues.  As such, sustainable development cannot be reached by simply applying environmental law solutions. Prof. Dernbach’s second step is to consider the role of law and governance in sustainable development. Instead of singularly using environmental solutions, sustainable ideas must be systematically integrated into the goals and considerations of governmental decision making. Patricia Salkin suggested a need for greater communication and cooperation between governmental agencies. She specifically called on agencies such as Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, Departments of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, and others to interact with each other to reach a sustainable America. Prof. Dernbach’s final step is for society to engage the law on behalf of sustainability.  It is not a political question but instead, something to incorporate into as many legal principles as possible, whether it be property law, contract law, tax law, employment law or other.

Professor Nolon’s message expanded on a sustainable America but also included a simple but critically important realization. We as law students are an invaluable tool for social change.  Prof. Dernbach lectured that students are at the epicenter of change in the law. Prof. Nolon substantially confirmed it. He recited numerous published works that admittedly would not have been completed or even thought of without the assistance of Pace students.  Prof. Nolon stated “Students write to answer questions which leaders have.”  What can be done now to ensure sustainability? Prof. Nolon stated that in thirty years, two thirds of all buildings will have been constructed after today. There is plenty of influence left to be exerted on the future. Law students can direct the path of change by researching and writing about important topics. Topics like greener transit oriented development, sustainable development incentives, priority growth districts, local environmental laws, land use laws, climate change, securities law, and insurance law all have an effect on a sustainable America.

It is hard to pull away from the daily grind of school to even think about these realities much less take an active role in working toward solutions. Instead of pulling away to think about them, maybe the right approach is to implement them into our daily thought process. What kind of questions can I ask in tax, corporations, or international law that shows at least a consideration of sustainability? Answers cannot be found, until someone asks the question.

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