By Shannon Roesler (Professor of Law, The University of Iowa College of Law)[*]
The Environmental Law Collaborative (ELC) comprises a rotating group of law professors who assemble every other year to think, discuss, and write on an important and intriguing theme in environmental law. The goals of this meeting are both scholarly and practical, as ELC participants seek to use their disparate areas of scholarly expertise to study trends and important events in the law and ultimately to improve the environmental conditions of the world in which we live.
Participants at the ELC’s most recent meeting in July 2021 were asked to consider the adaptation challenges of the worst-case climate scenario: a world that warms to 4°C by 2100. As environmental law professors, we remain dedicated to the study and support of laws and policies designed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst-case scenario. But we cannot ignore what scientific studies and newer climate models show. The Paris Agreement’s goal to hold warming to 1.5° – 2°C above preindustrial levels now appears unrealistic. In the United States, regulatory inaction and political gridlock frustrate efforts to implement the decarbonization measures that we need now to prevent the warming predicted by climate models. At the international level, the commitment and cooperation necessary for dramatic emissions reductions also appear unlikely.
To frame and inspire discussion about the consequences of a 4°C world, participants read a recent article by two ELC members, Robin Kundis Craig and J.B. Ruhl, who argue that because a 4°C world is likely, we must recognize the disruptive consequences of such a world and respond by reimagining governance structures to meet the challenges of adaptation. A 4°C world is one marked by dramatic sea-level rise, devastating heat waves, extreme drought, increased flooding, food insecurity, and radical shifts in ecosystems and biodiversity. Some communities may not be able to adapt; they may simply have to move. Adapting our laws and governance structures to physical and social disruption at this scale requires transformative thinking.
In the blog posts we will share this month, ELC participants explore what it means to adapt to a 4°C world. Some posts highlight the inadequacy of current legal doctrines, planning policies, and governance structures to meet the adaptation challenges ahead. Others examine the need to rethink laws and institutions that govern ecosystem services and issues of biodiversity. And some focus on issues of social equity and environmental injustice. Although each post makes its own contribution, they share a deep concern for the future and an urgency to mitigate not only the emissions that drive us closer to 4°C, but also the serious harms that we will suffer if we fail to plan for the worst-case scenario.
Authors and titles of the posts to come:
- Karrigan Bork, Shi-Ling Hsu, & Kevin Lynch, Western Water Rights in a 4°C Future
- Melissa Powers, Designing the 4ºC Electricity System to Achieve a 2ºC Future
- Josh Galperin, Compensation at 4ºC Celsius
- Karrigan Bork, Room for Nature
- David Takacs, In a 4°C World, the Inexorable Climate Change-Biodiversity Nexus
- Michele Okoh, America Erased
- Cinnamon Carlarne, The Mutable Boundaries of a Worst-Case Climate World
- Sarah Fox, The 4ºC City
- Karen Bradshaw, Climate Change Lessons from a Disney Princess
- Keith Hirokawa, More Better Information as 4°C Preparedness: Ecosystem Benefit Flows and Community Engagement
- Jessica Owley, Harnessing Eco-Anxiety and Triaging for the Future
- JB Ruhl & James Salzman, Rawls@4°C
- Shannon Roesler, The Costs of Political Polarization and Gridlock
- Robin Craig, Contemplating Equity from the Deck of the Titanic: A Metaphoric Meditation for a 4°C World
- Clifford Villa, Letting Go of 2˚C, Letting Go of Race?
- Shi-Ling Hsu, Catastrophic Inequality in a Climate-Changed Future
- Katrina Kuh, Precommitment Strategies to Avoid the Justice Worst Case in the Climate Worst Case