19th Gilbert & Sarah Kerlin Lecture on Environmental Law

by Morgan Dowd

On Wednesday, October 24th, the Elisabeth Haub School of Law hosted its 19th Gilbert & Sarah Kerlin Lecture on Environmental Law.  Pace’s Environmental Program celebrates its 40th year.  The Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture is given each year to promote education, professional and scholarly activity within the environmental community.  Professor Katrina Fischer Kuh, a Haub Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law and the 18th speaker of the Kerlin Lecture, gave the opening remarks and introduced this year’s speaker.

This year’s distinguished speaker was Dr. Robin E. Bell.  Dr. Bell presented “Change in Antarctica: What Does It Mean to Us?”  Dr. Bell graciously thanked her colleagues and husband, Professor Karl Coplan, for the continuous support in her career and achievements.  Dr. Bell graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in geology and received a PhD in geophysics from Columbia University.[1]  Her career focus includes the effects and changes on the three major ice sheets on Earth, including Greenland, East Antarctica, and West Antarctica.[2]  Dr. Bell has made ten major expeditions to these ice sheets.[3]  Her research includes observations on ice sheet collapse and movement but also discovery of lakes and mountains underneath the massive ice sheets.[4]  Her recent project is exploring the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the size of France and covers a piece of undiscovered ocean floor.[5]

Dr. Bell started by educating the audience on the icy history of the Earth.  The audience was intrigued by the giant ice sheet that used to cover New York and created ice striations seen on the boulders in Central Park.  Dr. Bell displayed a chart on the fluctuations of CO2 over time and pointed to the various ice ages.  She stated that the biggest experiment on our planet is the adaptation of humans and our impact on the Earth.  The level of CO2 is at its highest since 3 million years ago.  Scientists can only hypothesize how the high CO2 levels and human inhabitation will impact the environment.  In addition, Dr. Bell also points out research done by other scientists worldwide.  The ice sheets are moving faster, getting lower and losing mass.  Sea levels are rising in certain areas, including Manhattan.  One side of Antarctica is projected to melt almost entirely by the year 2500.

Although the ice sheets are changing rapidly, Dr. Bell encourages the audience to see the beauty beneath the surface.  Dr. Bell discovered lakes and mountains beneath the ice sheets in Antarctica.  She points to Lake Vostok, which is beneath 2 miles of ice.  The water flow runs upward to the base of the ice sheet.  In 2005, Dr. Bell was honored with a mountain underneath the Antarctic sheet named Bell Buttress.[6]

The last part of Dr. Bell’s lecture concluded with ways that Pace law students can help locally and for the world.  She encouraged us to stay informed on current science and how it affects our planet.  She emphasized the individual responsibility to track our waste, specifically the amount of CO2 production.  Finally, Pace law students and the community must demand collective responsibility for waste.  The community should reach out to government institutions and societies for policy change.

Dr. Bell’s lecture was thought provoking for the discovery and innovation in technology in the ice sheets of Earth.  There are a lot of unknown environmental factors that can make big impacts.  However, as a legal community, we need to do a better job of communicating with scientists.  Dr. Bell and many other scientists are researching the causes of environmental change.  Lawyers and policy makers can make the legal changes to improve our national environmental impact.

[1] Speaker Biography of Dr. Robin E. Bell, Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), U.S. Geographical Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bell Buttress, ID:18725 (last updated October 25, 2018).


  1. Thank you Morgan for this great post! It was very interesting hearing Dr. Bell discuss the scientific sides of the fight to mitigate climate change. As a law student, it is refreshing to see that this fight is not only being supported by those in the legal field, but also those in the scientific field.

  2. I really enjoyed Dr. Bell’s discussion on what people can do about climate change. She stressed individual responsibility and even showed her carbon footprint during this last year (traveling being the most carbon-heavy). I thought this was a great point to make since people can feel “hopeless” after learning about climate change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *