November has been a busy month for Three Degrees. Early in the month, Jeni and I participated in The Global Washington Conference on a panel examining the role of law in international development. The questions raised about the value of law in any development agenda are not new. But the role of law as applied across continents and cultures still seems murky when framed or spoken of without care as a once size-fits-all approach. Alternative legal pathways to development thus seem critical for expanding rule of law protections in the future, assuming that expanding rule of law meets a particular development agenda. Debbie Espinosa of Landesa described ways in which Landesa is working with customary law in order to achieve its mission to protect land rights of the rural poor.
Prof. Jon Eddy spoke of when “the law” as seen through western eyes can be a danger to development in Afghanistan. Multiple legal systems in Afghanistan exist that must be clarified, negotiated, and navigated. Jeni and I stressed the importance of law in securing climate policy at the local level that protects human rights. In most instances, these “climate” policies don’t look like climate policy at all. A classic example is changing the dates of the hunting season to align better with changing migration patterns of Arctic caribou so that Arctic people can better adapt themselves to changing conditions rendered by climate change.
November 4–6, Jeni and I traveled to the David Brower Center to attend the Women’s Earth Alliance Advocacy Training. The aim of this 3-day session was to train non-Native legal advocates to better serve Native communities in indigenous environmental justice campaigns. After attending the training, my perspectives on what I define as legally “realistic” or “reasonable” shifted. It became even more clear to me that lawyers don’t create change; social movements do and the role of the justice lawyer is to support those movements. The conversations we had at the advocacy training reminded me of an essay written by Luke Cole, an attorney who pioneered the field of environmental justice at Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, titled “Forward: A Jeremiad on Environmental Justice and the Law” (14 Stan. Envtl. L. J. ix 1995):
“The law is dangerous to social movements because it is a cocooning and self-referential game in which its players believe they are important simply because they are playing….” “In a very real way, the legal groups are re-creating one of the roots of environmental injustice: the making of decisions by people not affected by those decisions.”
I fear that law as a development tool threatens to “regulate people out of existence” if not used carefully. An Alaska Native woman spoke of this same fear—of being “regulated out of existence”—at the Alaska Forum on the Environment last year. It has stuck with me ever since and came up again and again as I participated in the training.
Next, Jeni and I headed to Juneau, Alaska. We gave a 3.5 hour CLE workshop at a summit on the Politics of Global Climate Change Summit sponsored by the Juneau World Affairs Council. Jeni and I presented an adapted version of our “Imagining a Warmer World” slideshow on the human rights impacts of climate change. Then we facilitated a scenario planning exercise to imagine and plan for Juneau in the year 2040. About 40 people actively participated in the workshop on a sunny Veteran’s holiday, which was truly inspiring. (I will write a separate blog post summarizing the results of the workshop.) Jeni and I also had the great opportunity to be interviewed live about the Three Degrees Project on Juneau’s KTOO NPR radio station.